Monday, March 31, 2008

Petition Against the Mortgage Bailout

A central theme of this blog is that things should work. Transit should be about getting people where they need to go, and housing should be about giving people a place to live--rather than an "investment".

So I'm urging all my readers to sign this petition against the proposed mortgage bailout:

Let people who made foolish investments take a hit, learn a little, move on, and let the housing market be more truly a market.

Let's face it, American society is pretty brutal. If you loose a job and/or have serious health problems, you're SOL. We don't even do a very good job of looking out for the health and education of other people's kids. Does owning property suddenly mean you deserve do be coddled?

Besides, the government never bailed out my 401k when it went down. So bite me!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A New Forum: TransitRant.Com

I picked up a flyer on the train this morning. It just launched, looks hopeful. Check it out at TransitRan.Com.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Commuting Irregularities

Yesterday morning I pedaled as fast as I could to Sequoia Station to make my train, only to find out everything was running 20-30 mins late. Which would have been ok, because pretty soon the train previous to the one I'd intended to catch came along--but the crew told us there wasn't any more room for bikes. Assumedly this is due to the familiar fact that when transit runs late, vehicles bunch, and you get crowding. Seems like if the trains are late, they could cut us some slack to make it up.

But along came the next train (really, I don't even know what train it's supposed to be at this point), and I was not optimistic about getting on, because it was a Bombardier (the new trains, theoretically much nicer than the old, but which annoyingly aren't able to, or allowed to, take as many bikes).

It was full, but this crew was more amenable, and allowed a couple of us to stash our wheels in this space (the picture is from another, calmer, day):

Where there is actually plenty of room for a whole other stack of bikes, but where CalTrain has elected to provide neither racks nor seats, and just lets the space go to waste.

I pointed out to the conductor how conveniently everything fitted, and asked why they couldn't just put another bike rack in in the first place. His response was something to the effect of "we just run'em, dont design'em," but added "they don't even listen when we tell them which trains need extra bike cars."

Transit operators are a great source of useful information that transit providers almost never tap--I've read some pretty good critiques of vehicles by drivers over on SFMuniHistory (I wouldn't have guessed, but in retrospect it makes sense, that one of the most important features of a bus or streetcar is how fast you can open and close the doors). Not to mention (ahem!) us riders!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

CalTrain Station Revamps: Burlingame

If you've been through Burlingame lately, especially on a weekend when the work is being done, you may have noticed that the station is getting a bit of work done.

CalTrain has a web page describing the project.

The main objectives of this rebuild are:

  • Replace the between-the-tracks northbound platform with a safer outside platform that will allow passengers to board without standing on the southbound tracks.
  • Move platforms, close a minor street, so that trains no longer block traffic when stopped.
  • General aesthetic improvements.

These are all good things, though the price tag of $20 million seems a bit steep. On the other hand, I was passing through a few weeks ago on a Sunday,

and maybe this is all more complicated than I realized. Where's the tracks?

Everything was apparently all put back together in time for Monday morning's commute.

Still, that's a big chunk of change, and we're not talking about anything fancy like grade separation or a pedestrian tunnel here. That better be some kick-ass landscaping!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Another Reason to Hate Cars

This was almost a sad story, but had a happy ending, but then--meh.

We've been a one-cat family for a few years, since our senior cat, a siamese, passed on. We think our formerly junior cat, a calico, is probably lonely for cat-friendship.

Lately, a black cat from the neighborhood has been sneaking into our house for food. Our cat hasn't exactly made friends, but usually observed without interfering--even though she'll fight off other intruders. So maybe they have an understanding, at least.

Then on Thursday, my wife saw a run-over black cat on Selby Lane, a street bordering Redwood City and Atherton. Selby is a quasi-official speedway; sure it's residential street, but traffic engineers have planned nearby intersections to route traffic to it; it's clearly the way you're supposed to cut through this neighborhood (say, to get from the 280 to the 101 south), and people go through fast.

And for a day or two we didn't see "our" black cat, and were pretty convinced we weren't going to any more. Then it just showed up, and started munching our cat's food (with tacit approval, I guess), like usual. Whew!

We hadn't mentioned any of this worry to our daughter, but I decided to tell her why I was so relieve to see the black cat that time.

She pointed out we should still be sad because some other cat died.

On the other hand, she told me there are pawprints all over our car that are definitely not our cat's, so she must be having cat parties when we're not around.

Oh well. Moving on from cats: along Selby Lane you can find Selby Lane Elementary School. Geographically, it should be pulling students from parts of RWC and some the poshest parts of adjoining Atherton. I guess in hopes that this environment would boost their education, the RWC School District sends kids from the poorest parts of town. A lot of them arrive by bus in the morning, and walk home in the afternoon--along Selby Lane, a miniature expressway with no sidewalks!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hopefully I'm more Visible than That!

How observant are you? Do the test!

Personally I try not to wear black when I'm riding!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Not to Pick on these Folks, But...

Redwood City Cool Families is a group of local moms who I think mean well, but have a tendency to piss me off.

Here is their latest:

Summer travel season is almost here, and spring break is upon us. Everything you do is a little more challenging when you travel, including recycling and saving energy. Here are a few tips to help you reduce the green house gases you generate when you travel. Remember, transportation and home heating/cooling are the biggest contributors to your carbon footprint.

Tip #1: Choose an efficient car: If you travel by car, start by choosing the most energy efficient vehicle that is safe and appropriate for your trip. Follow our previous tips, and make sure the tires have appropriate air pressure.

Tip #2: Turn off home air conditioning or heat: If your whole family is leaving the house: Turn off heat & air conditioning entirely if possible; or adjust it to a lower setting to protect pipes from freezing or to make sure pets stay healthy. Turn water heater to "Vacation" or lowest setting; and Unplug appliances, such as TVs, computers and TV set-top boxes - they use power even when they are turned off.

Tip #3: Pack light: Especially if you are flying, don't over pack. It takes a lot of fuel to move the extra weight across the miles.

Tip #4: Try camping! Consider staying closer to home for your vacation destination. There are so many amazing places to visit in California, check out someplace nearby that you've always been meaning to visit. Camping can be a terrific, eco-friendly vacation.

Tip #5: Reduce power use in your hotel: If you stay in a hotel:

  • Ask housekeeping not to replace your sheets and towels every day; this reduces energy AND water usage.
  • Turn off the lights, air conditioner or heater, and the electronics in your room while you're out.
  • Turn off the water when you brush your teeth, and take shorter showers.
  • Bring your own toiletries, or, if you use what the hotel provides, take leftover items home with you.

Cool Families is a Redwood City-based group of parents concerned about global warming and climate change. The group composes and sends out "Cool Tips," which members forward to local groups, friends and family. Small actions together effect big changes. Everything you do right now, today either positively or negatively impacts the global warming problem. Do make environment- friendly choices in your daily life. Do persuade others to do the same.

Is something missing here? There are plenty of fun places to go without a car, dammit! Here's some actually useful information.

  • CalTrain weekend edition (still waiting for the Spring Edition, though).
  • BART has a printed "destination guide", which I can't find online, but just google for "places to go on BART" and you'll find plenty.
  • AmTrak Capitol Corridor: Click on a station name on this map to see a list of nearby attractions.
  • Yelp knows where all the CalTrain and BART stations are--find one in a town you want to visit, and then search for nearby restaurants/shopping/whatever.

Or just stay tuned. The weather's getting better, and I'll try to ramp down the political rants on the blog, and report on more fun things to do via transit.

There are plenty of transit-accessible destinations around our region and state. And if you get there by train, it'll be more fun, and do a lot more to "reduce your carbon footprint", than driving around in a car full of smelly people who skimped on their showers!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

A Brush with the Law--!@%#*$ Woodside

This episode seems insignificant in comparison with other events this weekend, but it's still worth blogging, I suppose.

Saturday, while my family were off at skating lessons, I decided to up the ante of my usual rides and take on a serious hill. I made it to Woodside, and headed north on Cañada Road. After a mile or so, I decided to head up a random side street, and was surprised to see blue lights behind me.

Yeah, I got a ticket for failing to stop at a stop sign. Which, I suppose, I really did fail to do--albeit, while making a right turn.

The officer eyed me suspiciously, asked for my license, and asked "there's not going to be any surprises when I run this, are there?" I admit I was fairly unshaven, but didn't think I had a fugitive-from-justice vibe or anything. I kept my cool, and by the end I think maybe he felt a little sheepish over the whole thing. He said I would need to pay a fine, but because I was cooperative, the ticket was one that wouldn't go on my record. Or do bike tickets ever go on your driving record? Maybe he was trying to seem magnanimous for something that's just the law anyway. I don't know.

I would chalk all this up to the need to fill quotas, except that the officer said they'd gotten a lot of complaints in the area, and sure enough, while all this was going down, a local driving by leaned out his window to give an encouraging word to the policeman, and something to the effect that "you can catch a lot of them right here!"

Woodsiders' antipathy to bikers is well known (scares the horses? or maybe they just don't like sharing their little patch of the forest). Seems they've enlisted the county sheriff to the cause of harassing us.

They'll be first against the wall when the revolution comes.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

POP with Attitude

Don't ride a bus or tram in Tallinn, Estonia, without a ticket. the city is considering 10-day jail sentences for fare evaders!

I should be less bitter about the fine I paid for riding CalTrain w/o a valid ticket (just one stop past my zone!) a few years ago.

Writers to the Tallinn newspaper Eesti Paevaleht seem to think this is going a bit to far. One jokes--"if that doesn't work, we'll just cut the fare-cheats' hands off!"

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Posting from the Library, Cause I Missed my Train--Musings on Schedules

It's my own fault--after enjoying a leisurely breakfast with my lovely wife at Main St Cafe, and then deciding to ride with her to the ice rink and bike to the station from there, instead of heading directly (and responsibly) to work, I missed the train by a few minutes, and now I'm posting from the Menlo Park library, where they have free WiFi.

(Actually I'm outside of the library, because they don't open til noon on tuesdays--and I've already seen half a dozen people turn back disappointedly in the ten minutes I've been here. Anyway, the signal strength is not great, but I'm getting through, and there's a decent shady spot where I can see my screen ok).

It's a bit of a wait til the next train, and this has me thinking about something I've mused over before--why should you have to adjust your schedule to fit the train's? Why can't they just run trains often enough that you can just show up when you want, and expect one to come along in a few minutes?

This is not just an issue for slackers like me. For a lot of people with regular, non-dot-com jobs, this makes or breaks transit as a practical means of getting to work at all. If you're supposed to clock in a 9:00 am, a train that gets you there at 8:40 means you're wasting 20 minutes of your day, and if you take a train that gets you there at 9:20 too many times in a row, you're fired!

CalTrain operates lots of trains, but with all their specialized schedule types--locals, expresses and baby bullets, and mixed express/locals--maybe they're spreading themselves too thin. There are two big plusses to this approach--there are both fast trains for people going long distances, and closely spaced stops for people making shorter jaunts. Most transit systems only provide one type of service or another, with "commuter rail" (think Metrolink, ACE, Capitol Corridor) on one extreme and typical light rail systems on the other. Some systems, like BART, go for speed in the burbs and closely spaced stops in the city, a reasonable compromise.

CalTrain tries to offer both types of service throughout it's entire length, which is a good objective, but service frequency--and the railway's usefulness--suffers for it.

Well, I've killed enough time to head back to the station now!