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, September 26, 2008

Carless and carefree

Let's imagine. Let's pretend today was unexceptional.

This morning I walked out of my front door and next door to my bus stop. I boarded the bus and took out my book and read as bus lumbered along. At Sacramento State, I got off the bus and after a short wait boarded a bus headed downtown to the Amtrak station. Again I read my book, immersed in a tale of Sherman's march through Georgia.

The bus arrived at the Amtrak station on time, and I walked to the train platform. The Amtrak train soon rolled into the station, its horn blaring and bells clanging, the ground rumbling with the throbbing of the massive engine. I boarded a car and found an empty table and sat down. I got out my laptop and plugged it into the power outlet and got down to work. At one point I got up and walked to the dining car, where I bought a cup of coffee and a discounted $10 BART pass for a total of $9.50.

At Oakland's Jack London Square I got off the Amtrak train and walked to Webster Street and headed downtown. Once I crossed under Interstate 880 I was in Chinatown. This is my favorite part of my morning commute. Oakland's Chinatown isn't as touristy as San Francisco's. It's more like a real community. This morning, like every morning, I stopped at one of the street-side fresh produce stands and purchased fruit for lunch and for the trip home. I then walked to a coffee shop that prides itself on being owned and operated by Oakland residents who are doing all things good for the planet. I purchased a French-press cup of coffee and walked next door to my office.

At noon, two of my co-workers and I walked across the street to a nearby outdoor mall and had lunch. When we finished we walked back to the office.

Later in the afternoon, my boss spoke at the Sustainable Communities conference at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco. I took BART from my office to the Powell Street station and then walked up the hill three blocks to the hotel.

One point from my boss's speech stuck out for me. If we just met the existing demand for walkable communities joined by effective transit systems, she told the gathering, we could reach our goals to reduce our reliance on oil and lower our impact on global warming.

On the BART ride back to the office I rolled that idea over in my head: Just listening to what many people are already saying they want and making it possible for builders and local governments to meet those needs would have transformational effects.

It's not hard to imagine. How nice it would be if everyday could be as carless and carefree.


Anonymous said...

Hi there! Just wanted to pop in and say that I really love your blog. I've been carless since May, and it has been *great*. I live in Midtown Sac and have been inspired by your tales -- if you can make it work living in the suburbs, there's no reason why I can't make it work from the grid!

I'm hoping I can take advantage of your transit expertise. Next Wednesday I have to be at Stanford University at 9am, and I'm trying to figure out the best way to do it. I was thinking Tuesday night train to Oakland, where I'll spend the night at a friend's house; Weds morning Bart to Caltrain; then Weds evening Caltrain to Bart to Amtrak. Can you think of a better way to do it?


John said...

I did a quick check using Google Transit. It's possible to take Amtrak from Sacramento to Richmond. At Richmond you board BART. You take a couple of buses and arrive at Stanford at 8:38 a.m. Here are the instructions.

In theory you could leave Sacramento at 4:30 a.m. and arrive at Standford at 8:38 a.m.

Staying at your friend's house in Oakland cuts the travel time. Try Google Maps and enter your starting location and the destination of Stanford University. You can specify the arrival time in the "options" menu.

John said...

One other point: Amtrak sells $10 BART tickets for $8, which will come in handy for this trip.

Anthony said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anthony said...

I think there is an easier (and faster) way to Stanford. AC Transit has an express bus ("U") that goes from the Amtrak station in Fremont (Fremont-Centerville) directly to Stanford. See and select Line U. With that bus, you only have to transfer once (no BART). From the 4:30 train, you would get to Stanford at 8:02am. If your time is flexible, you can take the 5:30 train and get there at 9:02.

John said...


Excellent suggestion -- and it saves a half-hour and two transfers. Can't beat that!

Anonymous said...

You guys are the best! John -- thank you for the tip about Google Transit. I haven't used that before but I am going to start, what a great resource! Anthony -- thanks for the AC Transit tip. I was hoping something like that existed, so that's looking like the way I'm going to go. Again, thanks to you both. I'll let you know how the trip goes next week. :)