What’s the BART Strike to Bicyclists? – agony and ecstasy
For those in other transit-heavy cities, who are unfamiliar
to the San Francisco Bay Area, a rail-system shutdown might not seem so bad to
a bicycle commuter. In New York, Chicago, Boston, or DC, bicyclists sometimes
think of transit as a sad alternative to pedaling. When I lived in New York,
and later in Tokyo, biking to work saved time and money. It also offered a funeasy
alternative to cramming into rush hour crowds, or sweatily waiting on a
platform during hot humid summers.
But, the unique geography of the Bay doesn’t allow bicycling
to function as a transit alternative in the same way. While bicycling can
substitute Muni trips for the San Franciscans in the compact 7x7 tippy top % of
the peninsula, the vast numbers of BART riders outside the city have no non-motorized
way to cross the bay. You cannot legally walk or bike between the East Bay and
SF/Marin anywhere north of the Dumbarton Bridge. Even with the shiny new retrofitted
East Span of the Bay Bridge (under construction indefinitely), a
pedestrian/bikeway will only carry people to Treasure Island, not the last-(2)mile(s)
of the West Span.
Also, where BART acts like a subway in dense areas, within
SF, or between Berkeley and Downtown Oakland, it plays the role of regional rail
on the sprawling low density fringes, through Contra Costa County or the
Southeast Bay. Many of these distant places are relatively isolated without
BART or a motor vehicle due to geographical choke points. For example, to go
from Oakland to Walnut Creek, bicyclists have to cross a volcano.
Since bikes aren’t usually allowed on BART, or even in BART stations
during commute hours (which I will lovingly refer henceforward to as the “BART
Bike Ban”), the strike doesn’t directly affect bike commuters. Most bicyclists with
transbay commutes take buses, ferries, or the choicest option, the Caltrans Bike Shuttle.Bicyclists are indirectly
affected by the overflow of commuters onto these non-BART alternatives, manifesting
as congestion and/or fewer seats. Count that: bicyclists are already normally restricted
from BART, and with the strike, they face inflated competition on their regular
To add insult to injury, the BART Bike Ban was slated to be
lifted for a 5-month pilot project beginning July 1, the same day BART workers
struck. When I told people about the
unhappy co-incidence, a lot of them replied, “Is that why they’re striking?” People
thought the policy of opening bikes onto BART might be strike-worthy.
Thankfully, although these complaints are intended to
highlight the systemic injustices faced by Bay Area bicycling commuters, I can’t
complain too much since my de facto commute has been relatively painless. On
the first day of the strike, I was prepared for the Bike Shuttle to be snarled
in bumper-to-bumper traffic; my trusty ex-NASCAR shuttle driver edged through the
crawling freeway, bikes trailing behind, and when fully situated in the left-most
lane, he turned on the rotating roof light, zipped onto the shoulder and zoomed
zoomed zoomed. ~30min total, 50% longer than usual, but hardly anything to cry
about. Additionally, Caltrans graciously ran both Bike Shuttle rigs,
accommodating 28 bikes/trip instead of the standard 14. Thanks Caltrans!
It needs to be noted: I am of the lucky and privileged contingent
living within bikeable- vicinity of MacArthur BART, the Bike Shuttle’s only destination
outside SF.I know of numerous others
who begin their commute with a bike ride to BART in the East Bay, lock up at the
station, get on BART, and walk the last-mile to their workplaces in the city. To
those bicyclists who’re forced to shift into driving modes, I mourn your loss,
and I hope that the 30-day contract extension, and the lifting
of the BART Bike Ban, will inspire you to bring your whip into the city and
ride around during and after work. Live it up! Ride away.
Bicycling through Los Angeles, Tokyo, and The Bay, I am constantly struck by the complex bizarre web of relationships and political dynamics, within which I navigate--spatially, emotionally, and intellectually.
I firmly believe in the idea that how we move through space contributes to how we see ourselves and how we interpret society. That is, I believe that our transportation (read: travel attributes, like mode choice, time of trip, travel pattern) affects our identity. Not in a way at all different from race, class, gender, sexuality, age...language proficiency, (dis)ability, citizenship, ethnicity, height, weight, etc.
With any identity comes along discussions of community. And with communities, come notions of convention, normality, hegemony--all the wonderfully fun structures that can create relationships of empowerment, subjugation, inclusion, exclusion, and especially hierarchy and drama.
I want these posts to focus on planning issues with particular notions of identity construction and entitlement by approaching the question from the intersection of cultural identity and bicycling in Los Angeles, Tokyo and The Bay. Who IS bicycling in Los Angeles, Tokyo, and The Bay? And to whom, if anyone, does bicycling belong?