Car Pooling and Commuting in the Cold First Week of the Year


Wednesday, January 5 Icy cold morning. No fog today, and an incredible sunrise, with bands of pink and gold against a sharp blue sky. I’m in a small Hyundai sedan and snug and warm in the back seat. The driver is a slightly plump pleasant-looking fellow with a beatific smile and wire rimmed glasses. In his black jacket and trousers and white shirt, with a close-cropped thinly-haired head, he’s a stereotypical country preacher. He graciously accepts our toll contributions. It’s a quick ride today, moderate traffic. When the San Francisco skyline comes into view it’s a knock-out. The early sun is bouncing off the high rise windows making a golden light show. The toll gates are nearly empty – where is everybody? Maybe skiing in all that lovely Sierra snow.

Thursday, January 6 We are squealing and moaning in the carpool line this morning. There’s a really dense frigid fog and a brisk wind that feels like small sharp knives on your skin. After about 5 minutes of this agony cars start pulling up. One rider ahead of me in lin is a guy I frequently see. He’s huge – must weigh well over 300 pounds. When I’ve watched him getting into cars the car noticeably sags. Two drivers this morning turn him down, refusing him a ride. Poor fellow. I and another lady get into a small and tidy 4-door Dodge sedan. I’m in back next to a child’s car seat. The driver is being stingy with the heat. I can see it turned down to the lowest setting. Perhaps because he himself is a quite large fellow. The sun is out in Berkeley – no fog, but the city is invisible, covered in the same thick fog we left in Vallejo.

Friday, January 7 Brrr. That damp cold wind is still with us out here in the casual carpool line. About 20 riders are lined up waiting and shivering. The lady in front of me has a horrible cold and I instantly decide not to get in a car with her, even if it means waiting longer. The rider in line in front of her turns down a ride so the coughing, sneezing lady takes the ride. I move up behind the rider who declined the ride and ask her why. “The car smelled like cigarettes and the ashtray was overflowing”, she said. I agree I would not have taken the ride either. After 10 minutes our ride is a big lovely BMW sedan, the full luxury model. Warm. Yum. A young very pretty dark-skinned driver greets us. Unfortunately, just after we enter the freeway she gets on her cell phone and spends the entire 40 minute commute laughing and chatting and I stop relaxing. She occasionally adjusts the heat and radio (KISS-FM) with her one free hand.

It’s a very gray morning, no lovely sunrise to welcome us on our journey. But traffic’s light and we’re breezing along at 70 mph. (and with only one hand!).

MUNI BUS SHELTERS. I usually walk the 3 blocks up Fremont from the carpool drop off to Market Street and catch a bus. Often I have to wait in the bus shelter, and I’ve noticed that it’s really not much of a shelter, especially in this cold, wet miserable weather. The good feature about it is that is has automated signage that keeps riders informed when the next bus is coming. I noticed in Monday’s Chronicle (January 3 Bay Area section) that SF Chronicle writer Will Kane wrote about the bus shelters, and it sounds like I’m not the only one who finds them lacking in, well, shelter.

They are aesthetically pleasing to look at, but they’re full of cracks and openings and on a rainy, windy, 40-degree 7 o’clock commute morning, they provide little comfort. The designer, Olle Lundberg, disagrees, saying they needed to be open for people who are disabled or in wheel-chairs, but I’ve seen people in wheelchairs trying to navigate in and out of them and it isn’t easy. They’re just not wide enough for people to really get into out of the weather and they are very breezy.

Muni has installed 100 of these shelters so far, with 1,000 more planned before 2013. The cost per shelter, $10,000 is underwritten by Clear Channel in exchange for exclusive advertising rights.

Inadequate bus shelters are perhaps a small issue, compared to the greater woes of commuting and working and getting through each day, but when added to the frustrations of traffic, tolls, inadequate public transport, it matters.

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