Golden Gate Bridge-Connection to Marin 

To Drive or Take Public Transit?

Golden Gate + BobGolden Gate-CarTrain Passengers

If you’ve ever felt like you’d like to go somewhere without driving, and without paying for parking or gas, but don’t know where to start, here are some helpful hints. Intrigued by the possibility of traveling and exploring, while reading and relaxing and saving money? Read on.


                         Highway Map                                                           Transit                

After bouncing around the San Francisco Bay Area, (without a car) for nearly a month, for the third time in two years, I have gathered some useful information that I would like to share.  As an architect and planner, I view traveling as part of exploring the urban and regional structure, something that should be logical and fit together. It usually is. In this two-part article I hope to help others who want to travel by transit learn how to think about it, do the research, find the maps and transit schedules. After choosing a destination region, you will need to do some research. Most cities and regions have a transportation office, with numerous maps, routes and schedules available in print. For the most part they are very accurate and the personnel are helpful. They are glad you are traveling by their system and they know a lot about it. The Google machine can be very helpful here also, but hard copy makes it more concrete. What we want to know first is how much transportation is there in the region, how do the systems connect, what’s the wait time between conveyances, how and where do you purchase tickets and how much will it cost. In Part Two, you can join us on some sample trips.

 San Francisco Bay

While often referred to as the most beautiful part of the U.S., the San Francisco Bay area can also be a nightmare to get around in. With its moderate climate and beautiful landscapes, people like to get out and move around. For most, that means driving, which can be tiring, expensive and boring. There is a lot of competition for road space. This was particularly evident during the recent BART strike!

The Greater Bay Area can be roughly defined as San Francisco north to Santa Rosa, east to Sacramento, south to Stockton and then farther down south and back to the coast at Monterey. The center of this geographical area is San Jose, which was the historical starting point for Bay Area prospecting for settlers from the east. It still is. That’s why the Oakland A’s want to move there. Most of our destinations are within a 75 mile radius of San Jose. Key cities include San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Monterey, Sacramento, Stockton and San Rafael. I was amazed to learn that the whole area fits into a circle with a radius of about 75 miles. It always seemed larger to me because of the way people complained about driving and how long it took.


Proposed New A’s BallPark, Downtown San Jose near Diridon Station

 Some History:

From the earliest days, native American tribes led nomadic lifestyles, moving around on foot from one campsite to another. When the Spanish brought in horses, that made the commuting area larger. With mules and oxen to transport goods, a network of roads and trails were developed. And the transcontinental railroad brought people to the West Coast very quickly. The discovery of gold on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and tributaries led to a great expansion of population and an intense pressure to move people and goods. Settlers arrived on wagon trains, horseback and on foot, and later by railroad. San Jose was a convenient point to divide travelers northwest to San Francisco or north to Oakland and then Sacramento. And the recent “Silicon Rush” has brought huge numbers of people to the Peninsula, centered in Palo Alto. So from the beginning, the Bay Area was about movement.

Transportation Modes and Nodes:

Ferry boats used to be the primary means of crossing the Bay, before construction of the bridges; Golden Gate, Richmond/San Rafael, San Mateo, Bay bridge and the short toll bridge near Palo Alto, the Dumbarton. The first streetcars and cable cars appeared in the late 19th century and were then replaced by light rail lines.

San Rafael Term Transbay Term

San Rafael Transit Center                                      TransBay Terminal, San Francisco

         Caltrain Stat                     VTA-SJ

                  CalTrain Station, San Francisco                                                VTA Light Rail, San Jose

BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) which opened in 1972, is a rail system which links the east and west bays with a line that goes under the Bay. There is some talk now of expanding BART’s reach to San Jose.

There are heavy rail lines linking all parts of this region, including CALTRAIN, from San Francisco to San Jose, and the CAPITOL CORRIDOR, running from San Jose, through Oakland to Sacramento. There is also the ACE commuter train (Altoona Corridor Express) which runs at rush hours from San Jose to Stockton. The key connection node is San Jose’s Diridon Station. The VTA light rail system runs from downtown San Jose to the Airport.

.ACE DASHMuni-N-Judah

N Judah Trolley, San Francisco to Ocean Beach

There are also important bus lines, such as MUNI in San Francisco and AC transit in the Oakland/East Bay area. An express commuter bus (The 55) runs from San Jose to Monterey in the south. Most of the small cities have municipal bus lines as well, often connecting to transit nodes. There is also a neat, free DASH bus from Diridon station to downtown San Jose, and a free shuttle bus running down Broadway in Oakland, from Lake Merritt to Jack London Square.

Currently, all of these systems act independently. They have their own schedules and routes, though they make some modest attempts to show connections. BART’s Clipper Card, for instance, can be used on Muni Buses, light rail and on CALTRAIN.

In Part Two, pack your bags and please join us on some sample trips where we can compare times (and costs) of voyages.


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