Commute experiments

I’ve been trying out more ways to get from home to work.

Carpool, again. Someone on the rideshare board found me. An young blushing new Indian bride who lived in Sunnyvale and worked in Alameda. She had a 2-hour commute on Caltrain and BART (transferring at Millbrae, like me), but she also had to take the AC Transit bus from BART to Alameda ( an extra half half hour). I called her on the cell phone number listed and left a voicemail. The call back came: a deep male voice. “I’m calling about carpooling,” he said. I was confused. “Am I carpooling with you or your wife?”

As it turns out, she had a driver’s license, but hadn’t driven on the freeway. “My husband only lets me drive on the freeway at night . . ”
This didn’t work out: I was looking for a carpooler to share driving responsibilities; I didn’t want to drive everyday (too much stress); and having to drop her off in Alameda and Sunnyvale did not save me any time. Although in the two days we were carpooling I did get a good sense of what it was like to be a woman growing up in sheltered household in Hyderabad without ever having gone out of a tightly prescribed radius for school and college, and then getting married to an equally protective husband . . . Now, welcome to America and its free-flowing interstate highway system!

Two-bike commute: Michelle gave me a bike she found on the abandoned on the street that was too small for anyone she knew but me. Bill fixed it up. And I took it up to San Francisco and left it there. My routine was: ride my regular bike to Caltrain and park the bike the there. Hop on Caltrain, and the retrieve my second bike from the valet bike parking at the Caltrain SF station, and pedal like madman along the Embarcadero to Embarcadero BART, park my bike in the valet bike parking there, and then hop on BART to work. ( I don’t need my bike in Oakland, since my building is right at the BART station)

This bought me some flexibility: I could take any Caltrain from Mountain View, because they all end up in SF, whereas not all trains stop at Millbrae (Caltrain has a convulted schedule of stops); but coming home I was still stuck having to catch the same Caltrain train. (I still got to see my train buddies). Also I got more exercise with two bike rides. Riding along the Embarcadero with its incomparable view of the Bay Bridge, the water, and beyond was a pleasure.

But biking in San Francisco during the commute hours in the Financial District and its SOMA annex takes New York-style nerves of steel and adrenaline. I think of myself as a pretty hardy on-street cyclist, but I’ve been riding in the ‘burbs too long (even with the expressways!) In SF, with the one-way streets (where to merge and position yuorself to turn) and the density of buses to slalom through, it took me a while to get used to it. And I had barely gotten used to it when I got a happy email: a Union City BART monthly reserved parking permit was available for me.

While there is free parking at Union City BART, it is limited and fills up really early. The reserved parking lot doesn’t fill up, and is open to everyone . . . after 10 AM. So for most commuters who want to catch the train before 10 AM, but don’t want to have to get there too early to get parking, well the reserved parking permit is the way to go. The best thing for me is that BART runs every 15 minutes, so I can take any train between Union City and Oakland. And best of all, I can stay late at work. It’s really about the flexibility, because really, I do my best work between 5 PM and 7 PM!

Now my commute time is consistently one hour, saving me 30 minutes over any combination that involves Caltrain. The downside? I have to drive and I don’t get to to ride my bike.

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