There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Friday, August 31, 2007

Transitarian Summer of Love

This is a conjunction of cosmic forces where the stars align to create the perfect transitarian moment.

Sunday is the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love free concert at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. In honor of the event, a daylong free concert featuring some of the stars of that original festival will be held at Speedway Meadow in the park.

The Bay Bridge is closed Sunday.

Following me?

The wife and I and maybe a kid or two are taking light rail downtown to the Amtrak station. (We'll have to drive to the Watt/I-80 station and walk from St. Rose of Lima Station to Amtrak to catch the 7:40 a.m. Capitols train.) We'll get off Amtrak at Richmond some time after 9 and walk to the BART station. We'll take the Fremont train to the MacArthur station, where we'll switch to the Daly City train. We'll get off at Montgomery Street around 10 a.m. and climb out of the station to Market, where we'll catch the No. 5 Muni bus. The bus will take us to the northern edge of the park. We'll get out at 30th and hike to the concert.

View Larger Map

With luck, we'll arrive before 11 a.m. (The concert starts at 9:15, but I'm just not dedicated enough to the idea to get there for the entire show.)

Just reverse it for the return. The concert is over at 6 p.m. and Amtrak runs until 9 p.m., which even leaves time for dinner in the City.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Back to the future (continuted)

The Sacramento History blog has posted the second part of its series on Sacramento's Streetcar Suburbs. The tale of real estate investor Edwin K. Alsip and plumbing and tinware seller Leonidas Lee Lewis and the Central Street Railway they founded to serve their new Oak Park neighborhood certainly makes this transitarian long for those bygone days.

Imagine if today's developers of, say, Placer Vineyards were equally enlightened. The Oak Park neighborhood probably had a density similar to Placer Vineyards' proposed three housing units per acre.

Instead, we have neighboring Sutter County suing because Placer County's planning process didn't take into consideration the traffic mess such a low-density project would create.

What if the Township 9 project on Richards Boulevard in the city of Sacramento were the model for Placer Vineyards? A development with 36 housing units per acre might generate enough transit ridership that even a modern developer and businessman would see the advantages.


Sorry, I can only maintain that much optimism for so long before reality comes crashing back down. I have genuinely enjoyed my first six months of relying on Sacramento Regional Transit to get to and from work. Sure, I'm fortunate to live on a popular bus route and work at a location near a light rail stop. There must be more people in Sacramento in similar situations who could leave their cars at home, even if just one or two days a week. One or two more riders here, a couple there and pretty soon you are talking crowds. I certainly hope the recent decline in ridership is a temporary reaction to the rate increase.

Trying **puff puff** to remain **puff puff** optimistic.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What to say when "please" doesn't work?

"I don't understand how some people have any eardrums left," said the man as he plopped down in the seat facing me on the Watt/I-80 train last night.

Music could be heard over the constant rumble of the moving light rail car, which is not a minor feat. But the man's assumption that a rider was using earphones was wrong. No, this was noise produced by the nuisance of new technology: Cell phones masquerading as MP3 players. From transistor radios to boom boxes and now to musical speaker phones -- the parade of annoying technology marches on.

The man had been seated across from a 20-something young woman playing rap music on her cell phone. He had gotten up and walked to the rear of the car only to realize that he hadn't escaped. Eventually, he got up and walked back to the woman and asked her to turn down the music.

"Please," I heard him repeat.

The music drowned out whatever the woman said in response. The man shook his head and gave up. He walked to the other end of the train and waited for his stop.

A Regional Transit contract security officer asked the lady to turn the music down as he walked from one end of the car to the other. She turned it down, but only until the officer walked away. Then she turned it back up, louder than ever. The officer didn't try to make her keep the volume down.

This wasn't just inconsiderate behavior. This was deliberate rudeness.

I have a teenage son, and he has an unlimited number of teenage accomplices. My house is often the victim of teenage slovenliness. As a result, I have a higher tolerance for the inconsiderate jerks I run into while riding regional transit.

But with Sacramento Regional Transit ridership in the first six months of the year down 7 percent on buses and 2 percent on trains, the system can't afford to be annoying people off transit and back into their cars.

What can you say when "please" isn't enough?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Wheeeh! The "E" ride at RT

I was alone in the driver's side corner of the bench along the rear of the bus. About a dozen passengers were scattered in the seats beyond the benches that line the back of this old-style bus.

The Hispanic mother with a toddler daughter on her hip shepherded her preschool son to the opposite corner of the back of the bus, arranging her son and daughter on the bench against the window as she sat facing them on the back bench.

The girl looked around and then swung and hit her brother.

The boy swung and hit his sister.

The girl swung harder.

The boy swung harder.

And then the girl started crying, which finally brought the mother into the girl's game.

This girl will grow up to be an evil genius.

She is old enough to walk but not out of diapers. She sits quietly for a moment, one shoe on and one shoe off. I'll guess she's about 18 months. The boy is older, out of diapers, the sophisticated older brother. He's probably 4. I imagine he's anxious to start kindergarten.

* * *


The girl is now kneeling on the bench facing the window. With her left hand she holds tight to the top of the seat back and with her right she points at passing scenery.

"Wheeh ah wheeh ah wheeh!"

In her excitement, the girl stands and tries to jump up and down only to be restrained by her mother, who cautions her in Spanish. Held motionless my her mother, the girl loses interest in the outside and finally sits facing away from the window, her feet barely reaching the edge of the bench.

She makes tiny fists with her hands and rubs her eyes. Her mother picks her up and attempts to have her lay down on the bench next to her for a nap, but the girl is having nothing of it and won't stop wiggling until she is back on the bench next to her brother.

The brother watches his sister.

She whacks him in the arm.

He whacks her harder.

She whacks him back.

His return whack makes her cry. The mother finally intervenes.

There's a saintly air about the mother. Her patience seems boundless. She attempts to engage her son in a conversation, but the novelty of the bus ride is too distracting. The boy and girl are again kneeling on the bench watching Sacramento pass by.

* * *

The boy lies down on the bench, his head just touching the outer thigh of his sister.

She whacks him indignantly for this breach of her personal space.

He pretends to be asleep.

She nudges him.

He doesn't move.

She leans over and places her face in front of his. He suddenly opens his eyes and she squeals. The pair settle into a brief game of peek-a-boo.

Finally, play that doesn't require a motherly referee.

* * *

"Ha bee! Ha bee!"

The girl is back facing the window, chattering excitedly about something. Her brother is watching her, rubbing circles softly on her back. I imagine he pets the family puppy in much the same way.

The girl appears unaffected one way or the other by her brother's affection.

He watches her and rubs her back.

"Ha bee!" she exclaims.

When I was a child "E" signified the exciting rides at Disneyland. Today, "E" means a video game suitable for everyone. It was all "E," old and new, on the morning commute today.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

RT to finalize budget cutback service changes

On Aug. 13, the Sacramento Regional Transit District Board of Directors held a public hearing on the candidate list of service changes prompted by cutbacks in state funding. Following the meeting, the staff revised the proposed changes.

The RT Board is expected to finalize the service changes at its Aug. 27 meeting, which will be held in the RT Auditorium, 1400 29th St. at 6 p.m.

The revised proposed changes are available here.

A Mighty Heart on the bus

Finished reading Mariane Pearl's "A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl" while riding the bus. This a powerful, well-written account. If you cry easily, this is not the book to read in public.

This is a classic tragedy. You know how it ends for Daniel Pearl, Wall Street Journal Mideast correspondent, kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan, while researching a story on terrorists, and eventually horribly murdered. What holds the reader's attention is the story of the effort to rescue Pearl and, most important, how Danny Pearl's wife, pregnant with their first child, will survive the ordeal.

Mariane is a journalist in her own right. At the time of her husband's kidnap she was working for French public radio. She has won awards for her documentary work. But she and her husband were not "war" correspondents.

"War held no appeal for Danny or for me. What interested us was the challenge presented by peace. People often see peace as the simple absence of war, but it is instead the result of courageous actions taken to initiate a dialogue between civilizations. Both Danny and I saw our profession as a way to contribute to the dialogue, to allow voices on all sides to be heard, and to bear witness."
This idealism about the role of journalism suffuses the book. Danny, and by extension Mariane, are victimized because of the threat journalism poses to tyrants.
"This is how we end up in a world where people talk not to communicate but to subjugate; where ignorance keeps people hostage; where those in power simplify complexity so as not to be questioned. This why those same people hate journalists, at least those who reject black-and-white views of the world, because by exploring the gray zones, journalists can shed new light on issues like Arab-Israeli relations, American foreign relations, or Islamic fundamentalism. We have the tools and the language to reveal truths. We believe we can change the world by changing the way people think about one another. We can even create links, frail as they may be, between peoples. Thus, for those who promote hatred, we are the most hateable of all."

It is Mariane's struggle to keep faith with these ideals in the midst of savagery that I found most compelling. After Danny's death, Mariane met with President Bush and several of his top Cabinet officers.
"[What Bush] really wanted to understand from me was, 'How come you're not bitter?' I told him that if I let bitterness overcome me, I would lose my soul, and if I lost my soul, I also would lose Danny's. 'This,' I told the President of the United States, 'is my biggest battle.' "
Danny Pearl was a Jew, although not a practicing one. Danny's father was born in Israel, the child of Zionists who had moved to Israel in 1924. His mother was born in Baghdad and emigrated to Israel. Danny's parents moved to the United States, where Danny was born in 1963.

Mariane Pearl is a Buddhist, a follower of the Japanese sect founded by Nichiren. One of the reasons I was first attracted to this book was because I too am a Buddhist with the same sect. In fact, right now as I write this in my home office, the local youth division of Soka Gakkai International, a Buddhist lay organization, is holding a pool party in my backyard.

Mariane's father was a Dutch Jew, a wannabe revolutionary who met his future wife in Havana just after the revolution. Mariane's mother was born in Havana with Spanish and African heritage, with a Chinese grandfather added to the mix. Mariane and her brother were raised by her mother in Paris. Mariane writes about her life in Paris in an essay contained in "The Buddha Next Door," a collection of stories about daily Buddhism compiled by Zan Gaudioso and Greg Martin.

"A Mighty Heart" is divided into two parts. The first covers the time from the day of Danny's kidnap to the birth of his son after his death. The second part of the book contains 37 pages of letters she received after Danny's death.
"After this excruciating ordeal, there was nothing I needed more than to be reassured about human nature. I had just experienced how barbaric human beings can be, and I was about to bring a child into the world. Living through the nightmare was like falling down a well. Those letters -- your letters -- have been the rope that, word by word, allowed me to raise my hopes again and see the light at last. ... I am convinced that if we ultimately overcome terrorism and the spread of hatred, it will be because there are millions more on this earth like those who wrote to me.

"We call them ordinary people. To me, each one is extraordinary."
And she is not kidding when she says these are ordinary people. Mixed in with the letters from George Bush and Vladimir Putin and various Arab potentates are letters from the customers of Deegan's liquor store in Woodhaven, N.Y., the Wal-Mart associates from Store No. 2281 in West Mifflin, Pa., the 26 students from Mrs. Rudolf's fifth-grade reading class at East Hampton Middle School, East Hampton, N.Y. and "Ten Useful Baby Tips" offered by Mrs. Brosius's fifth-grade class, Laurin Middle School, Vancouver, Wa. ("Try not to give them too many small round foods. They stick them up their nose.") One Pakistani gentleman from Karachi apologized on behalf of his countrymen and offered to have her live with him. "I am ready and willing to support you and share your sorrow including the esteemed matronial relationship if you desire so."

In the end, the fact that Mariane was pregnant at the time of the kidnap was very important. This is underlined with a letter to her unborn son:
"Dear Adam,

"This is the first time I am writing to you. So far, we have communicated in a different way and I have asked you to just be with us. And you have done exactly that.

"In a few days, I will merge both, life and death.

"These will be joy and pain as you come to the world. But please always remember how your birth granted me a future and granted your dad eternity. . . ."
I wanted to read the book and then see the movie, but by the time I got around to the book, the movie was no longer playing locally. I'm now looking forward to seeing the movie when the DVD is available. In the interim, I strongly recommend this book.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tales of horror on the commute

You really know you're in for a fun commute when the bus arrives and promptly dies at your feet.

The driver tried several combinations of switches and magic spells but nothing he did could revive the beast.

"What did you do?" the driver asked when he finally opened the door manually. He was kidding.

I went inside while the driver went outside to look around. The driver returned and called home to report the fuel door had popped open. Apparently, unlike passenger cars, you are not allowed to move a bus with the fuel door open. Something in the coach union contract, perhaps.

The driver complained that he doesn't have a key for the door and someone on the other end of the conversation gave him instructions on how to fix the door without a key. And, voila, when he returned the bus started immediately and we were on our way.

Until the bus stopped again.

This time we were not next to the curb at a stop. We were in the left turn lane of J Street at the entrance to Sacramento State.

The driver reported his situation to the maintenance people, and then opened the door. He considered exploring beyond the safe confines of the bus. As he leaned his head outside several cars roared by. He pulled his head back in the bus, closed the door and announced: "We're going to be sitting here folks because that's the way it is."

Everyone was calm. From my perch in the first elevated row of seats in the back of the bus I imagined someone who writes horror novels as a sideline placing the characters of his story in a disabled bus in a turn lane of a busy intersection. No one can leave. It's too dangerous. But what about the danger on the bus?! Trapped!

The dozen or so passengers lack my imagination. They haven't said a word. The driver had a few more conversations with maintenance as arrangements were made. One lady opened the top windows to let in some air. We waited.

Eventually a Regional Transit security officer arrived at the front door of the bus and told the driver to try starting the bus again.

The bus started.

"It was your fuel door," the officer offered.

I think the driver said, "Thanks." In any event, the bus made it through the intersection and to the CSUS bus stop. I decided to take the No. 30 bus downtown. While I waited, a replacement bus arrived and the new No. 82 and its horror novelist driver were soon on their way to the 65th Street light rail station.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Back to the future

The Sacramento History blog offers an interesting take on the origin of transit in Sacramento. In the post entitled Sacramento's Streetcar Suburbs, the author explains:

Despite the contemporary image of public transportation as primarily a means for the working class and poor to get around, streetcars (along with other early public transit methods like steamboats, steam railroads and omnibuses) were originally intended for the middle class.
Perhaps this offers a historical answer to the RTDriver guy's rant.

One happy transitarian

Upfront I must confess that I want to be able to say Sacramento Regional Transit is a great service. I want people to use the system because the more people who ride transit, the better the system will become. I'm not an unbiased observer.

So perhaps my enthusiasm today can be blamed on my unyielding desire to promote RT ridership, but frankly I have proof that sometimes stuff just works.

On Aug. 27 I need to get from my home near Carmichael to the City College campus for a 9 a.m. orientation class.

My first stop in planning any trip is always, RT's online Trip Planning service. I'm not sure what riding RT would have been like back before the Internet. My experience with 321-BUSS hasn't been encouraging. But the site has been a real joy to use, although I learned today that you still need to be careful.

I decided to try out my options before Aug. 27. I asked for schedules today between my home and City College, explaining that I want to arrive at City College at 8:30 a.m. I figured I would need time to find the classroom by 9 a.m.

The Trip Planning site offered 10 choices of routes that would get me to City College between 8:08 a.m. and 8:40 a.m. Nine of those choices had me leaving my house before 7 a.m., which I don't want to do. But one choice left at 7:24 a.m. -- No. 82 to 65th Street light rail station, No. 81 bus to 65th Street and 14th Avenue and No. 83 bus to from 14th Avenue to City College -- arriving at the light rail station at 8:40 a.m.

Today, I took that route and discovered that if the No. 82 bus is just a little early (as it was today) I can catch the No. 83 at the 65th Street light rail station and skip the No. 81. I arrived at City College at 8:40 a.m. Having successfully tested this arrangement, I happily caught the Watt/I-80-bound train to 16th Street and walked to work.

Back at work, however, I returned to Instead of an 8:30 a.m. arrival time, I said I wanted to arrive at City College at 9 a.m. This time the 10 choices included three new ways I could leave my home at either 7:24 a.m. or 7:26 a.m. and arrive at City College at 8:38 a.m. on the Meadowview-bound train.

I know from experience that the No. 82 bus runs late once Sacramento State students return to school. Therefore, the No. 82 most likely won't be early at 65th Street and could even miss the No. 81 connection. But now I find I can leave two minutes later than I did today, catch the Meadowview-bound train at the start of its run at the Watt/I-80 station and ride all the way to City College, arriving two minutes earlier.

The new route will require meeting the train at Watt, but even if I miss that scheduled connection, the next train will put me at City College before 9 a.m. As an added bonus, I will be sure to have a seat for the long train ride and therefore plenty of reading opportunity.

From a transitarian perspective, this is heaven.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

'You don't make any sense'

Hat tip to beancounter for her link to the Book Quiz at Blue Pyramid. According to the quiz, I'm Ulysses by James Joyce. The quiz is spot-on:

Most people are convinced that you don't make any sense, but compared to what else you could say, what you're saying now makes tons of sense. What people do understand about you is your vulgarity, which has convinced people that you are at once brilliant and repugnant. Meanwhile you are content to wander around aimlessly, taking in the sights and sounds of the city. What you see is vast, almost limitless, and brings you additional fame. When no one is looking, you dream of being a Greek folk hero.

Of course, I must admit that I never could get through Ulysses in college. Perhaps I'll give it another try now that I have hours of time on my hands as I wander not so aimlessly on Sacramento Regional Transit.

Comfortable, but worn

Her shoes are black flip-flops, the sort sold in the seasonal aisle of the supermarket. She wears black capris and a tank top of an orange color suitable for highway construction zones. Both the pants and top show the signs of many washings. Comfortable, but worn; washed out, but serviceable -- the image of a morning bus rider.

She sits in the first seat behind the driver. Her ample breasts loll on folds of her belly that stack on her lap. She is a blonde model for the wife of the Michelin man.

As she settles in her seat and begins talking to the women nearby, she casually slips her left hand under the right strap of her top and tucks her bus pass between her bra and the outside of her right bosom.

She doesn't carry a purse.

I return to my book wondering where she keeps her spare change.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bible and Sword on the bus

Finished reading Barbara W. Tuchman's 1956 history of England's connection to Palestine and its role in the re-creation of the Jewish state. "Bible and Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour" was Tuchman's first book. The title is a reference to the dual motivations that prompted England's involvement in Palestine.

When I finished Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent Philip Caputo's 1991 memoir "Means of Escape," I had intended to then pick up Mariane Pearl's "A Mighty Heart," her tribute to her husband, Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent Danny Pearl, who was killed by terrorists in Pakistan. When Pearl's book didn't arrive in time I went to the bookshelf in my home office and settled on Tuchman's book. It seemed a nice bridge between the tales of Lebanon and the Mideast of the 1980s and Pakistan and the Mideast of today.

I have read several books on the creation of the state of Israel and the persecution of the Jews in the late 19th century and into the 20th century, but I had never before read of England's Christian acts against its own Jews:

By the time of the Third Crusade in 1190 the association of Crusade and pogrom was automatic, and the killings began immediately on Richard's coronation, though not on his order. Once started, they spread in waves from London to all the cities in which Jews lived, until the final ghastly climax at York, where the only Jews to escape slaughter by the mob were those who slew their wives and children and then died by their own hand.
In 1291 all Jews were expelled from England, and they would not be allowed to return for 350 years.

For Arthur Balfour, whose declaration at the end of the First World War set the stage for England's role in the creation of a homeland for the Jews in Palestine, the proposal "was an opportunity not only of bringing the Holy Land back to life out of the desolation of Moslem rule, but also of 'doing something material to wash out an ancient stain upon our own civilization'."

For her part, Tuchman stands firmly with the Israelis against the claims that promises made to the Arabs at the end of World War I were broken when the Jews were promised a homeland:
No one, neither Feisal nor Lawrence nor Weizmann nor Sykes nor the Cabinet nor anyone else, thought of the promise to the Arabs as conflicting with the still inchoate plans for the Zionists, or even with the Balfour Declaration once it was issued. A huge bulk of territory was covered by the MacMahon promise to the Arabs, but not what Balfour used to call the 'small notch' that was Palestine proper. All the Arab claims of later years cannot conceal the fact that both the old Sherif Hussein and Feisal, the active leader, were cognizant of and acquiesced in the exclusion of Palestine from the area of their promised independence, whether or not they had any mental reservations. ...

Weizmann visited Feisal at his desert headquarters in Amman, and there under the stars, with the omnipresent Lawrence making the third of a remarkable trio, the basis for a common understanding was reached. Later, in Paris, it was put in the form of a written document, signed by Feisal and Weizmann, in which the Emir agreed to 'the fullest guarantees for carrying into effect the British government's [the Balfour] Declaration of November 2, 1917,' including 'all necessary measures to encourage and stimulate immigration of Jews into Palestine on a large scale.' Feisal moreover addressed a letter to the American Zionist delegates at the Peace Conference saying ... 'there is room in Syria for us both,' and that 'indeed, I think that neither can be a real success without the other.'

Only later, after the Hashimite family failed to unify all the Arab lands and people, when they were pushed out of Syria and lost Arabia to Ibn Saud, did a new set of Arab leaders maintain that Britain's pledge to the Jews had conflicted from the beginning with the Britain's pledge to the Arabs.
Amid the swirling claims and counterclaims about Palestine it is helpful to consider what Tuchman had to say about national history in general:
A nation's past history governs its present actions -- but only in terms of what its citizens believe their past history to have been. For history, as Napoleon so succinctly put it, "is a fable agreed upon."
The Arabs and the Jews lack this common fable agreed upon.

In her introduction to the book, Tuchman wrote:
Historically the occupier of Palestine has always met disaster, beginning with the Jews themselves. The country's political geography has conquered its rulers. But now that the original occupant has returned, perhaps the curse will run its course, and the most famous land in history may some day find peace.
Fifty years after Tuchman wrote those words it is still not clear if "the most famous land in history may some day find peace."

"The Bible and Sword" is an excellent example of why Barbara Tuchman became a widely popular historian, eventually winning two Pulitzers.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Between fantasy and reality

Between my glorious vision of transit as a major player is society's efforts to rein in our environmental degradation and the reality of today's transit system is a chasm so deep and so broad as to defeat all manner of wishful efforts to build a bridge.

For the first three days of the week I've been taking the No. 82 bus that leaves American River College at 8:34 a.m. This is not a commuter bus since it isn't scheduled to arrive at the 65th Street light rail station until 9:23 and won't get riders downtown until almost 10 a.m. With Sacramento State still on summer vacation, that leaves this route to serve "the other riders."

Who those riders are was evident on the No. 82 bus today. My fellow riders mirrored almost exactly Sacramento Regional Transit's annual percentage of minority and elderly total route hours, a measure of the populations served. (See this document from the package discussing route cutback proposals.)

The chart on "ethnicity (minority) impact consideration" shows that 95 percent of Regional Transit's existing service covers areas with a higher minority population than the region as a whole. Among age considerations, 70 percent of RT's existing service covers areas with a higher percentage of residents 65 and older in comparison to the district's overall population. Clearly, RT has gone out of its way to serve minorities and the elderly.

When I boarded the bus, an elderly man wearing a sun hat was the lone passenger. The next passenger to board was woman in casual clothes. She was close to, if not over, the 65-plus dividing line. I imagined her as a retiree. At Kaiser Hospital, we picked up a middle-aged woman in a wheelchair.

At Arden, we were joined by a woman clearly over the 65-plus line. She sat across from the elderly gentleman and attempted to pass him a religious flier. He declined.

Next to board was a young black woman. The lady with the pamphlets managed to get one into her hand as she passed in the aisle. "Thank you," she said. She sat in the seat behind the pamphleteer and put the religious tract in her purse unread.

Later, another young woman of color boarded. This time the pamphleteer blocked the new arrival's path with her offering. The woman stopped, considered and decided to accept the pamphlet, obviously annoyed but unwilling to make a federal case of it.

As the pamphleteer departed, a Hispanic woman join us on the bus. She was dressed in clothes that made me imagine her as an office worker.

By the time we arrived at Sacramento State the bus had just four riders. The Hispanic woman and the not-very-elderly woman got off, leaving the middle-aged white guy and the young woman of color in the first row of elevated seats in the back of bus. We were both reading as the bus reached the 65th Street light rail station.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Addition to the lexicon

Perhaps it is time to formalize the meaning of transitarian. A blog in Los Angeles devoted to the "Los Angeles Public Transit Lifestyle" mentioned transitarian:

A transitarian is so enamored with transit, so invested in the good that comes from leaving the car at home, that he takes light rail ... and then walks nine blocks in the rain to get to an important appointment ... . [Edited to remove local references.]

A transitarian, therefore, often resembles a drowned rat, his jacket soaked through, his slacks wet from midthigh down to his squishy-wet shoes. But inside, beneath that wet exterior, is a proud transitarian ... .
I like that abridgment of this post. But that version -- and the original post -- lack an important facet of the meaning of being a transitarian: Choice. A transitarian chooses to leave that car at home. A transitarian exchanges the convenience of a car for the knowledge that doing so will make a difference. One person here. One person there. Another person and then more.

Making the choice to take transit just one day a week for a year would prevent 55 pounds of pollution from being emitted into our air, according to the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.

It all starts with each individual's choice to act.
"We need to be the change we wish to see in the world"

Monday, August 13, 2007

Back in the back of the bus

Richard Brautigan's "certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along" was welcomed this morning after a week at the suburban ranch harvesting "Honey, Do..."

Back to work means back to the bus. And that's probably the best demonstration of what is wrong with the transit options in suburban areas served by Sacramento Regional Transit. Outside of commuting to work and the odd special event -- Jazz Festival, Mather Air Show, Raley's Field baseball -- there's little reason to leave the car at home when "Honey, Do ..." calls.

This morning I took my customary seat in the first elevated row in the back of the newer bus. In the front, three women occupied the seats immediately inside the door. As the bus continued on its route the matriarch of the three resumed her conversation with the driver. It was a very animated conversation, with the occasional hand gestures from the driver when the bus was stopped.

I have no idea what the topic was. The woman and the driver were talking in Russian or Ukrainian or Bulgarian or some language transplanted to Sacramento by the breakup of the former Soviet Union. As the saying goes, it was all Greek to me.

The matriarch did all of the talking for the three. It could have been grandmother, mother and daughter. Certainly they were family.

So engrossing was the conversation that the women forgot to remind the driver of their stop at Butano and Sam's Club. When everyone finally realized the mistake, the driver pulled over. The matriarch rose and stopped at the door. She turned and shook the driver's hand.

A woman anxious to get to the next stop pulled the stop request cord.

"Stop requested," announced the bus.

There was more talking as the matriarch and driver said their goodbyes. The two other women stood silently.

The anxious woman pulled the stop request cord again.

Once the three women were on the sidewalk, the driver gave a final wave. The women waved back. The driver then closed the doors and the bus traveled the half-block to the next stop, where the anxious woman anxiously departed.

I went back to my book, welcoming a return to my routine.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Painting Regional Transit green

As any student of art will tell you, blue and yellow, when combined, create green. Something similar happens when commuters combine with Sacramento Regional Transit's blue and yellow fleet.

Consider this green fact the next time you are driving down the street and see one of RT's blue and yellow buses: "If you leave your car at home one day a week, you prevent 55 pounds of pollution each year from being emitted into our air," according to the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.

Or consider these green factoids from the Center for Transportation Excellence: If one in five Americans used public transportation daily, carbon monoxide pollution would decrease by more than all the emissions from the entire chemical manufacturing industry and all metal processing plants in the United States. Overall, public transportation generates 95 percent less carbon monoxide, 92 percent less in volatile organic compounds and about half as much carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide per passenger mile than passenger vehicles.

All of this green has a direct effect on public health. The Surface Transportation Policy Partnership reports:

"About one in twenty Americans, or nearly 15 million people, suffer from asthma. Asthma ranks among the most common chronic conditions in the United States, causing over 1.5 million emergency department visits, about 500,000 hospitalizations, and over 5,500 deaths per year. The prevalence of asthma has been increasing since the early 1980s for all age, sex, and racial groups.

"Over 113 million Americans live in cities with polluted air. It has long been known that poor air quality triggers asthma attacks, but recent research shows that poor air quality may actually be causing asthma. Findings released by the University of Southern California in February, 2002 indicated that healthy children with prolonged exposure to smog (ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and small particulates) developed new cases of asthma. The most active children, those playing team sports outside, were three times more likely to develop asthma than their counterparts in areas with cleaner air. Motor vehicles are responsible for one-third to one-half of the smog in most metro areas.

"Asthma is the number one reason children visit the emergency room and miss school."
Increased use of transit and other steps to reduce vehicle congestion can have an immediate, measurabe effect on public health. During the 1996, Olympics in Atlanta, the city made 24-hour transportation available, added buses, closed streets to cars and implemented flexible work schedules in a concerted effort to improve traffic conditions to accommodate the spectators. A health study conducted before, during and after the Olympics examined the effect on asthma attacks.
"The study showed the result of these efforts was a remarkable decline in ground-level ozone and other air pollutants, which reduced the number of emergency rooms visits for asthma during and shortly after the games," according to another factoid from the Center for Transportation Excellence.
Transit is not just for the poor and disabled. The green created by combining commuters with Sacramento Regional Transit's blue and yellow is good for everyone and deserves broad community support. It certainly deserves more support than the governor and state lawmakers showed in the state budget.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Lifesaving value of transit

Want to stop the war? Ride the bus.

OK. That's a bit of a stretch, but everyone can agree that if America were to reduce its reliance on foreign petroleum supplies, national security would benefit.

In January of this year, the American Public Transportation Association released "Public Transportation and Petroleum Savings in the U.S.: Reducing Dependence on Oil," a study prepared for the association by ICF International, a global consulting firm that specializes in the connection between transportation and energy.

Sacramento Regional Transit's local system is part of a national effort that, according to the report's executive summary, "reduces U.S. gasoline consumption by 1.4 billion gallons each year. In concrete terms, that means:

  • 108 million fewer cars filling up – almost 300,000 every day.
  • 34 fewer supertankers leaving the Middle East – one every 11 days.
  • Over 140,000 fewer tanker truck deliveries to service stations per year.
  • A savings of 3.9 million gallons of gasoline per day.
"These savings result from the efficiency of carrying multiple passengers in each vehicle,
the reduction in traffic congestion from fewer automobiles on the roads, and the varied
sources of energy for public transportation."

The study goes on to explain that "if public transportation services were expanded so that ridership doubled, the total national fuel savings from public transportation would double to 2.8 billion gallons per year, or more if improved coordination between land use plans and public transportation could replace even more car travel."

And if those benefits aren't enough motivation to leave the car at home and ride the bus to work, the report explains that riding transit helps households save money. A household with two adults and one car that uses public transit saves an average $6,251 every year, compared to an equivalent household with two cars and no access to public transportation service. When you consider that the average household spent $5,781 on food in 2004, it's obvious that using transit can save bread and buy it, too.

The savings come first from just driving less. "The average household in which at least one member uses public transportation on a given day drives 16 fewer miles per day compared to a household with similar income, residential location and vehicle ownership that do not use public transit – a savings of hundreds of dollars a year," the report noted.

In addition, a household with just one car instead of two saves $5,586 a year, which is the annual average cost of operating a vehicle in 2006, according to American Automobile Association.

Which begs the question: Why did California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers feel it was useful to cut state funding of transit? What sort of a future does the governor, who professes such concern for global warming, envision for the state? He wants Hummers running on bio-diesel, but what value is that if the transportation system is gridlocked?

California can do better. We need a vision of a better tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Commenting on RT's proposed cutbacks

Date: Wed, 8 Aug 2007 12:48:45 -0700
From: "John Hughes"
Subject: Commenting on RT's proposed cutbacks

Please include the below comments in the record of the public hearing
scheduled for Monday, Aug. 13, at 6 p.m. in the RT Auditorium at 1400 29th

* * *

Sacramento Regional Transit's proposed service cuts don't affect the No. 82
bus or the No. 30 bus or light rail, all of which I use regularly to get to
and from work. The cutbacks don't even affect the No. 1, No. 80 and No. 84,
which I sometimes rely on.

Doesn't affect me. Must be OK then. Good job, RT!

But it is not that easy.

Transit is a critical piece of the puzzle of the region's transportation

Take a little here to make ends meet. Take a little there to shave costs.
Cut back some more and then some more, just a little bit each time. And then
one day everyone wakes up and finds what's left isn't worth saving, and at
that point it will all collapse.

Cutting transit isn't going to make anything better.

From what I have read of the documents justifying the changes, management
has singled out the least productive runs for cuts. I am willing to accept
that the proposed cuts are the least damaging of the options considered, the
best of a bad deal forced on the district by state legislators too cowardly
to face their own real budget problems.

I have a request to make of the board: More must be done to emphasize
transit's broader role in the community. The vision guiding transit must see
beyond mobility for the poor and disabled to the greater environmental
benefits that accrue with a feature-rich transit system. Only with a broader
base of riders, those who choose to leave their cars at home and ride
Sacramento Regional Transit, will RT find the resources to expand.

Thank you,

John Hughes
Sacramento, Calif.

RT documents available

Here are the documents related to the FY 2008 service reductions prompted by the state budget cutbacks in transit funding.

1. FY08 Service Reduction Analysis and Candidate Refinement IP

2. CEQA study

3. CEQA exemption

Monday, August 6, 2007

The "Honey, Do..." harvest

I'll be at my suburban "Honey, Do..." ranch harvesting another crop this week. These things grow faster than zucchini. Last week, there were none; this week, I've got "Honey, Do..." everywhere. From a seed of an idea to burdensome fruit before the ink dries on the paper.

Anyway, since my bus travels will be less regular I'm going to focus here at RTrider on a personal project, a rare "I Want To Do..." This week I am going to explore why a healthy transit system is good for the whole community.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Means of Escape on the bus

Finished reading Philip Caputo's 1991 memoir "Means of Escape" while riding the bus.

Caputo worked his way from suburban reporter to foreign correspondent in a career with the Chicago Tribune. He had a degree in English and no journalism experience when he joined the paper.

I picked up "Means of Escape" when I was moving bookshelves from one room to another. I have Caputo's "A Rumor of War," which describes his experience as a Marine lieutenant in Vietnam in 1965-66, and his "DelCorso's Gallery," a novel that explores the life of a photojournalist during the same period that Caputo worked for the Chicago Tribune.

Caputo explains in the preface that this is not strictly an autobiography: "There is too much fact in this book to properly call it a novel, too much fiction to call it reportage. Nor is it a fully drawn autobiography -- a partial self-portrait, rather. The rest is a picture, often highly impressionistic, of events I lived through as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, Vietnam and other places between the late sixties and the late seventies."

The book is structured as a series of short stories covering his career in chronological order. It is not history. It lacks the bigger picture insights that can be provided with hindsight. He talks about the journalist's role as writer of the rough draft of history, but offers surprisingly few examples. Instead, this is a book about Caputo and his life, and it is clearly influenced by this later career as a novelist.

There's plenty of action. The most graphic and dramatic work covers his time in Lebanon, first as a prisoner of the Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and finally in 1975 when he was shot and seriously wounded in a random attack by gunmen. His stories detail the horrors of war and the senseless acts of barbarity committed by people who have become little more than beasts. He also offers exotic travelogues such as his search for the last traditional Bedhouins, but I found little in the book about the job of being a foreign correspondence, or the importance of the role he sought to play.

After retiring from the Tribune and settling in Florida to write novels, Caputo took one last foreign assignment, a job for Esquire magazine to write about resistance fighters in Afghanistan battling Russia's modern war machine with World War I era Enfield rifles. His experience there seems to apply equally to his entire career after his experience in Vietnam:

"As I sat, cradling my Gunga Din rifle, an old feeling crept into me: that quickening of the senses and perceptions created by a synthesis of fear, excitement, and hope. I saw then, in one burst of insight, the fundamental reason why I had come so far at such great risk. I was still the escape artist, a kind of Houdini. I was not a fugitive from ordinary life on this journey but from ordinary death. With no knowledge of how to face it or how to live with the awareness of it, I had fled its dreary angst for the thrill of the close call and the near miss, the cleansing, cathartic terror of being shot at without effect. Who knows, maybe I was trying to preserve some illusion that violent death was the only kind; if I could evade it, then I would live forever. But come which way it would, by bullet, disease, or old age, there wasn't a soul with the velocity to escape it."

Reading a memoir about an award-winning foreign correspondent in a time when the newspaper industry is melting before our eyes added a tinge of melancholia to my appreciation for what Caputo accomplished. What will journalism be like when there are no deep pockets to pay for the extra effort necessary to dig behind the press releases handed out by the media managers?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Budgets and service cuts

Sacramento Regional Transit has announced a series of proposed route changes in anticipation of a cutback in state transit funding.

According to RT's press release:

The State budget expected to be approved calls for a $1.3 billion loss to public transportation, which will result in a $14 million annual loss to RT and a $1.6 million reduction of bus service. In anticipation of this budget shortfall, RT has implemented cost saving measures and internal cuts to offset further reductions in service.
The full press release is available here.

A fuller explanation of the proposed cutbacks is available from RiderShip for the Masses on this page.

A public hearing will be held Monday, Aug. 13, at 6 p.m. in the RT Auditorium at 1400 29th Street (at N Street). Comments must be received by 5 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8. Submit comments to RT Planning Dept., P.O. Box 2110, Sacramento, CA 95812-2110

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Half an anniversary

Traffic badminton. Among spectator sports its closest cousin would be crowd watching from a bench at the mall, only less intense.

Standing at the curb waiting for my bus, I watch a shuttlecock as it crosses in front of me and flies into the distance and then watch as another shuttlecock makes the return trip. Left, right, left, right, back and forth, back and forth.

I watch the people encapsulated in the shuttlecocks, swatted into motion by the hidden forces that propel morning commuters out of their beds and off to work.

This is my half anniversary. I've been watching traffic badminton now for six months. That's 3 1/2 dog years.

I can't imagine going back to solo commuting. Not only am I more relaxed when I arrive at work, but I ha
ve read 17 books while riding Sacramento Regional Transit buses and light rail. I would like to find a way to convince more people of the joys of riding transit to work.

This morning I watched a man attempt to read the newspaper while he drove his car. He had his left hand on the wheel and was holding the paper in his right. In the brief time he crossed my path, the guy took his hand off the wheel so he could turn the page, then looked up at the road and then down at the paper, returning his left hand to the wheel. I waited for the sound of the collision at the all-way stop in the distance, but apparently he made it through the intersection without incident.

I wanted to tap on the glass and suggest to the guy that he could do all the reading he wants riding a bus to work and not endanger a single person with his reckless disregard for proper vehicle operation.

Instead I boarded my bus and had a very uneventful commute to work.