Friday, April 16, 2010

Cycling in San Francisco

A few weeks ago I was up in San Francisco for a conference. My travels were entirely car-free, and I brought my bike along. (You can bring your bike on board the San Joaquins, and store it under all connecting Thruway bus services, such as the buses that serve Riverside.) I wanted to quickly share my observations from that trip with you.

Obviously, San Francisco has an incredible and well-developed transit system. Muni runs 24/7 every day of the year, and BART regional rail runs 4am-midnight weekdays, 6am-midnight weekends and holidays. Muni doesn't even switch to their restricted "OWL" late-night service pattern until 1am, and they return to normal service at 3am, and there are regional bus services that parallel the BART lines overnight. (Service on the Pittsburg-Bay Point line and on the Dublin-Pleasanton line past Castro Valley was part of the original network in 2006, but has since been cancelled. Still, 32 of 41 BART stations have 24-hour transit.) I've used this network many times in the past, and while griping about Muni and BART is a perennial San Francisco past-time, the sheer connectivity of the region continues to amaze me. After missing a train in suburban Oakland at 10pm (literally watching it leave the station), we had to wait all of 12 minutes for another one into the City. It's basically transit geek heaven.

The fact that San Francisco has a well-developed, extensive, frequent and all-day transit system was not a surprise to me at all. What was a surprise, however, was the ease of cycling around the City. Granted, I only stayed downtown on this trip, so that may have biased my experience, but I would think that cycling in a busy urban downtown would be unpleasant. I know that cycling around downtown Los Angeles, even mid-day, is quite uncomfortable. Riding around San Francisco in the middle of the morning rush hour, however, was a breeze. Market St. has been effectively closed to through traffic through much of the financial district- bicycles were the most plentiful species of vehicle on offer, with Muni buses and streetcars second and taxi cabs third. Even on busy streets, though, cycling was extremely pleasant- drivers in downtown SF respected the presence and right-of-way of cyclists, and never tried to run me off the road or shout obscenities at me even when I took the lane. Central to this deference, I believe, was the extensive use of sharrows and signs stating "Bicycles Allowed Full Use of Lane". This just shows that bicycles and cars CAN co-exist peacefully, even in heavy traffic- but the key is the education of drivers.

One last thing- I nearly missed my train home in Richmond because of a misunderstanding about the bicycle racks on the San Joaquins. They're normally folded down into luggage racks- simply flip the luggage rack up, and you have space for three bicycles. Don't try to move to another car, thinking yours doesn't have bike space- they WILL leave without you. (My wife enterprisingly shoved her foot in the train door, giving me enough time to return to the train before it departed... but it was an unpleasant moment.)

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