City by the Bay

There is something about having someone meet you on a train platform that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I wasn’t expecting it in San Francisco, so it was doubly pleasant to have two people waiting for me: Jim Allison with the Capitol Corridor and Alex Khalfin with Amtrak.

What they informed me of, though, is that they were meeting me because I needed to get on another train, northbound, in about 15 minutes. Normally this wouldn’t have been stressful, but having just stepped off a train that required boxed bikes added another thing to track, and I had the very measured reaction of running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Luckily, Jim from Capitol Corridor was extremely patient and, by some miracle (he may have figured out how to put the pedals on before I did), made our north-bound train. The Capitol Corridor handles bikes unlike any service I've experienced on this trip, allowing you to you roll them on and store them in the lower racks of the car. Their capacity is also excellent—each Capitol Corridor train has two “bike cars” with three bike racks on the lower level that hold about a dozen bikes. The train serves mainly commuters as it runs north to Sacramento, but we got off in Richmond where we boarded the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART for short). The ride up was really beautiful, but for me one of the most interesting things was the ads all over the train telling people to bike to the stations. Thinking about it, this made perfect sense because of the enormous amount of effort that has gone into bike infrastructure on the Capitol Corridor and BART systems. I got a chance to explore some of that infrastructure when we got off the BART in Oakland, when Jim took me to a bike storage facility. It is a 24 hour key-card access and during working hours offers a free bike valet! It was totally unlike any other system I’ve encountered and I’m sure has made a concrete difference in the number of people riding their bikes. 

After the rail tour concluded, Jim was nice enough to accompany me on the ferry from Jack London to San Francisco. The SF ferry terminal is such a good example of how full of life a transit hub can be. It looks at times much more like Chelsea Market than anything else, and is teeming with people. Also food. Its full of really awesome food. I would highly recommend a visit and getting as much ice-cream as you can carry. 

After finishing our ice cream (I would never recommend without sampling first. I take that burden on for you dear reader. You're welcome.) Jim and I headed up Market Street to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition offices, where we were welcomed by Chris Cassidy. Jim had to leave me there, but Chris was a very able and willing guide through a variety of San Francisco's bike infrastructure. I rode down designated bike lanes, some protected, some just buffered. I also learned about a plan to actually change the grade of the bike lanes on several of SF's busier streets, the idea being if they are actually higher than the road, cars are significantly less likely to park on them. 

On the subject of parked cars, I also learned that registered SF taxi's undergo bicycle safety training with the coalition and that those classes are available to any interested entity. That, to me, was definitely one of the cooler partnerships I have learned about and something that would be really valuable in any city. Unfortunately that agreement does not extend to Uber and Lyft drivers, meaning that that they can often be some of the worst offenders in terms of opening doors and parking in bike lanes. A passing bike cop actually told me to watch out for them (how do you watch out for an Uber?) which spoke volumes. 

Those partnerships are just one thing that makes the SF Bike Coalition unique. Their scope, in-house talent, and knack for getting stuff done was really inspiring. Particularly coming from another member-based non-profit, it was awesome to see how we are different in mission, yet so similar in the passion and proactive nature of our membership.