Friday, January 29, 2010

BART and Bike: A potent commuting combination

Met Gus today on BART: a serious bicycle commuter. He bikes to work everyday from San Leandro to Walnut Creek. That's 46 miles roundtrip. He says he uses BART to save money on gas. For cyclists, riding BART also dramatically cuts the travel time and avoids the freeway which is the only direct way to get between the two points. Still, he estimates he bikes 12 miles of it everyday, 6 in and 6 out.

Cost Comparison
The IRS assumes that the total cost to operate a car (including gas, insurance, licensing, etc.) is $0.505 cents/mile. For Gus, that means $23.23/day if he drives and $7.80/day if he uses BART and bike. Given these estimates, he's saving $15.43/day by using bike and BART. 

The cost of bike maintenance is not included here but given that a lot of employers will offset  travel costs for use of public transportation, the actual savings for a lot of people is probably this good or better.

Time Comparison
The Caldecott tunnel sits between the two cities and is jammed in both directions during commute hours. Google maps estimates 35 minutes as the travel time by car between downtown San Leandro and downtown Walnut Creek on a good day. BART estimates  37 minutes as the travel time by BART over the same distance. This is probably due to the fact that there's no direct BART line between the two towns. BART's sparse and inconsistent arrival times ensure that any transfer adds a lot to the travel time. Travel times improve dramatically on direct lines.

This would seem to imply a tie between the two methods regarding travel times. However, traffic snarls are a lot more frequent than BART delays so the 35 minute car travel estimate seems ambitious. The BART travel times, despite, the inconsistent arrival times are more consistent than the car arrival times.

Intrinsic Value
Regardless how the time comparison works out, the ride time is comparable. What's more, the ride itself provides added value by allowing you to do something else (texting, talking, reading, etc.) while you get to work. Doing that in a car will get you into an accident or thrown in jail.
For cyclists in particular, BART also provides added value by whisking you past the least safe bits of road (freeways). This saves your ear drums and your life.

Gus demonstrates how combining a bike with BART or Caltrain can be a potent combination in a daily commute.

BART's Challenging Bike Support
One thing to note about BART, however, is that it needs to catch up to CalTrain on bike support. Caltrain almost always has a dedicated bike car on its trains going in and out of its busiest destination: San Francisco. Consequently, CalTrain does not restrict when bikes are welcome on the train. BART, on the other hand, has no bike car and has a lot of vague rules that make using a bike really unpredictable at the most popular parts of the line and the most popular times of the day.

For instance, BART has a "bike curfew" through the downtown San Francisco corridor during rush hour even though this, of course, is exactly when you want the most people on their bikes. The list of dodgy rules for bikes on BART can be found here.

Luckily, in Gus' part of town, the BART rules are not a factor.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

50°F and Rainy: Perfect Cycling Weather Apparently

Josh, seen here, is gettin' it done in the Diablo Valley on a rainy cold Thursday morning. This picture is a bit blurry because of my slippery hands but you can still make out the fact that he's not on a sport ride. He's getting somewhere he needs to be on a weekday. And he's doing it without a fancy rain suit. The only extravagance seems to be the plastic bag on the seat (such a lush life).

Many would-be commuter cyclists cite weather as an impediment. This scene and others I've found, like in Jackson Hole, demonstrate that weather is just not that big a deal for cyclists. I'm gonna try to prove that for myself in Whistler in a few weeks but I'm waiting for the studded tires to arrive.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Profile of Convert #1: A Conservative Cycles Home

My friend Christine and I love to debate. Typically, we debate politics and religion. Most recently, we debate environmental issues and what to do about them. She tends to be right-wing on a lot of issues. I tend to be left-wing.

Nevertheless, both of us like to think we can cross those traditional lines for good ideas. This year Christine proved she can. Rather than replace her aging car, she bought a used bike and started getting to work with a combination of the bike and CalTrain. She does this not once or twice a week but everyday, rain or shine.

Although Christine is skeptical of some claims about climate change, she didn't let that stop her from cycling to work. She says she has shaved 20 minutes off her commute in the process because she doesn't sit in traffic anymore.

She gets to park her $200 bike right outside the front door of the law office where she works. No trawling for nearby parking spaces.

To me, she is an inspiration. She saw the plain common sense of taking the most time- and cost-efficient mode of transport to work and did something about it.

She also succeeded in putting the pressure on me to show I can think just as flexibly.