6.16.2013 | The East Bay by bus, in style

Moving to the East Bay from San Francisco, my biggest challenge was finding out where all the little hot spots are. In San Francisco it was possible to get everywhere by Muni; there were clear maps, and frequent service. The street grid was simpler, and so it was easier to figure out where you were. "I don't do bridges," said a friend of mine once, referring to his refusal to cross the Bay Bridge into Oakland. Understandable: it was a strange, far-off place that operated by radically different rules.

Except for the agency's busiest lines (1, 51, 72 … the latter two far from obvious to outsiders), routes can suffer from a lack of sufficient frequency. Transfers aren't free. It's a less wealthy community facing higher transportation costs, so they charge more … a huge disincentive for folks to come from the city. Transbay fares are also high … $3 each way by rail, and there's a $5 toll for cars. Crossing that physical and psychological barrier can be too much for some to bear. And then there's Oakland's unfortunate reputation for crime—if you're not afraid of colored and homeless folks, it's really OK most of the time. Having lived in downtown San Francisco, I consider downtown Oakland cleaner and safer—and North Oakland is a real treasure, more like Berkeley than anything else.

At the risk of possibly raising my rent by telling the world (especially San Franciscans) it's perfectly safe to come here and explore without a car, here are the places I enjoy in the East Bay without using a car, and how to get there.

A guide to East Bay buses for beginners … where to start, what to see
Learning about the history of this place really helped me make sense of the neighborhoods, which were once connected by streetcar. The highway network and even BART, when they came through, destroyed a lot of the true fabric of the area, making it easier to leave than to stay and enjoy what it has to offer. I've left off some BART stations from this map that I think get in the way of that enjoyment, and I encourage folks to get to know the AC Transit routes that connect these fine communities.

This map makes some gaps in transit service painfully apparent: there is no way to easily get between Emeryville, Temescal and Rockridge, three of the area's hottest commercial and recreational centers (once connected, I should mention, by a major transbay train). No matter. Each neighborhood is worth the trip on its own day, so you can come back another time to get more.

In a future post I might write in more detail about what you can find in each of these neighborhoods, but no need to give away the whole store for now. I'm curious to see what people think of the map, without too much of my bias showing through. In doing this map I am hoping to build on the work of others who have attempted to make transit maps clearer and more accessible—but instead of a sole focus on frequency and convenience, I also want to show neighborhoods where a trip might worth the wait.

Any other suggestions? Let me know in the comments below.

Edit: I'm reading a new proposal (PDF) from AC Transit to replace most of the historic 12 line with a new 13, that will meander through Lakeshore, Piedmont, and Rockridge before turning back along Alcatraz to head to Emeryville. They're aiming to create a new crosstown route through Berkeley, which is laudable, but this long and winding route to Emeryville, while politically palatable, misses the point for downtown Oakland residents like me (I usually drive to Emeryville because of the transfers required). It would also sever a key link between Piedmont and Temescal. On the plus side, the 57 would be extended into Emeryville.

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6.14.2013 | The future is car-free(ish)

"So what's the deal with this Zipcar thing?" So asked an electrician standing behind the bar where I was about to get into a car to run a grocery errand. After hearing the $10 hourly rate, he suggested I get a scooter. But that's not very handy for groceries. And, unfortunately, neither is transit—quick errands can become a journey when suffering bus lines don't run often enough, especially here in the East Bay.

Where transit leaves a hole, Zipcar steps in. For less than the cost of taking a taxi one-way, I can have a car for an entire hour, one I didn't have to clean or maintain. 150 miles of daily driving are included, as well as unlimited gas, and insurance. For a weekend jaunt to Fresno I rented from Enterprise, and it ended up costing about what a Zipcar would have at the daily rate. With no rental counter to deal with, this is serious convenience. I've been won over.

And I'm not alone. Car sharing is on the rise across the continent, and around the world. For the first time, more people got rid of cars than bought them. Why? Most people don't need a car most of the time—The average car is used just one hour a day and costs hundreds a month to maintain. By using transit for most trips and limiting my car use to quick, occasional errands, I'm able to cut that budget in half. I get to walk to work most days, taking my savings even further. And sometimes I go for late-night joy rides when everyone else is asleep, and carsharing services charge even lower rates. Car sharing takes care of most of the reasons I need to own a car.

Sure, I'm a young professional. But with transit-oriented development taking hold in other parts of the country, families can reap the benefits too, and see their budget fall even more (by two-thirds).

There are times you might need a car in only one direction. Car 2 Go isn't in the Bay Area yet, but for now there's Uber X, which recently announced lower fares to compete with taxis. For $8 one-way for short trips, it's not a bad deal when you need to press the fast-forward button on a journey.

These costs may seem high to someone used to budgeting for a car. But with more room in your budget to play with, other possibilities open up. And in more sense than one, that's the beauty of change.

Edit: All these services are made possible by smartphones and the sharing economy they've enabled. And lest we give up on transit, a new service in San Francisco has taken that principle and launched a transit system of their own. Let's hope they go far!

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