Travels to California

As a Transportationist, I observe transportation. These are my observations on travel to  last week from Minneapolis to Berkeley (via Metro Transit, Delta, BART). Some things work better than others, some better than I imagine. Some still puzzle me.

On this trip, I left Minneapolis, taking Metro Transit #8 bus (I was the only passenger on this run) to the Franklin Avenue LRT, with an almost perfectly timed transfer, and straight to the airport. Using the security off the skyway which connects Piers C and G, the security line was essentially empty (or should I not mention that secret). The Delta airlines flight was on-time and landed safely in San Francisco. I walked to the AirTrain which I took to the BART station.

I brought a paper BART card with me, which nominally had 5 cents remaining, from my previous trip. Sadly the machine did not accept this or allow me to add fare, so I abandoned it. Maybe someone with more patience than I will be able use the 5 cents. Instead I purchased a new $20 BART card. The new ones are plastic-y. I did not see any place I could purchase a Clipper Card, the multi-modal contactless smart card payment system the region is promoting (the region’s GoTo or Oyster Card), which would have been convenient were I to also take other transit services. The trip from SFO would cost about $8.

At the station, I waited for BART about 10 minutes before it was ready to depart. I transferred at MacArthur Station, pleasingly located on a platform outside in the middle of a freeway designed to maximize my intake of automobile emissions. The timed transfers within BART though are very efficient, so I could just walk across the platform to the Richmond bound train without delay.

At North Berkeley, I exited BART and walked to my motel, the Rodeway Inn. I really liked the idea of walking to a 1950s era parking-lot centered motor court. University Avenue in Berkeley, like University Avenue in St. Paul, was re-designed for the auto era. Still the fine-grained nature of shops in Berkeley is more pedestrian oriented than that in St. Paul. But the sidewalks are narrow and there is on-street parking as well as four travel lanes plus a median turn lane, and sometimes right turn lanes. University does feed to I-80, so it carries a lot of freeway directed traffic. But the street front is like the section of Fourth Avenue in Dinkytown. San Pablo Avenue is probably the better analog to St. Paul’s University, as it was the main route before the Interstate, and thus probably saw its heyday in the 1950s or 60s.

Still, there is a surprisingly large amount of traffic in Berkeley in general. Part of that is undoubtedly because of the traffic calming on side-streets pushing traffic from the smaller grid streets onto the arterials. Still, there are a lot of cars for such a small, pedestrian-friendly, transit served place in a good climate.

Also, where is the bike-sharing system? I normally think of the Bay Area as ahead on social and technology trends, but it seems to be slipping. Even bike-worshipping Davis is only talking about it now.

Perhaps it is the cooperative culture of Minnesota that allowed NiceRide to be launched so much earlier than in California. Perhaps California just took its “eye off the road” so to speak, fascinated so much by information technology that it missed some basic applications.


On my return, it took 90 minutes door-to-door from my hotel via BART and the airport AirTrain  to the security line at SFO. Driving (off-peak) would have been about 35 minutes. Though BART is fast, it still has stops, and it is not as fast as the freeway. More importably, the frequency (on Saturday morning at 6 am) is about every 15 minutes, and I waited most of that time. BART sounds faster because it is so loud in the tunnels (metal wheels on metal tracks in an echo chamber). In the tunnels, my iPhone was at maximum volume and I could barely hear the (or any other) podcast.

The configuration at the mostly remodeled SFO (they are now rebuilding the tower) still puzzles me. If I still have to ride a shuttle at the airport from BART, why did they bother extending it “to the airport” at all, why not just extend the shuttle to the BART line, which would have been cheaper, since it deals with smaller, lighter vehicles. This never made sense, I still have to have a “two-seat” ride, who cares which seat they have to ride in for the 1 minute extra difference.

SFO surprisingly doesn’t have electronic message signs saying which gate various flights are at. Though SFO and MSP have topologically similar configurations (the terminals are basically a closed square around a central parking ramp). SFO seems to have the shorter walks (perhaps due to Air Train), while MSP provides overall better service to users (more shops, more traveler information).

Do Smartphone Traffic Apps Really Work? – Strib

Katie Humphries at the Star Tribune asks: Do Smartphone Traffic Apps Really Work? I briefly get quoted:

While tech-fueled traffic updates aren’t always accurate, they can help people adjust their expectations, said David Levinson, a civil engineer at the University of Minnesota who specializes in transportation.

“If it’s going to be 15 or 30 minutes because of some incident and you can’t change it, then you can notify people or feel much more comfortable about accepting it,” Levinson said. “You feel better about the situation when you have more information about it.”