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  • Waiting for a ride

November 18 and 19 The Rain Begins and there’s more Toll Talk

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 18 is a shivery windy day with the sun poking through lots of clouds. Rain predicted for Friday and the week ahead. Cars are lined up and waiting. I pass on the first car – the hip hop blaring from behind the closed windows is practically shaking the car. No thanks. My ride is the next one in line – a Lincoln MKZ. A luxury suv with all the trimmings, and the driver declines the toll. Hey, speaking of tolls, have you heard the one about the Toll Plan for Downtown San Francisco?

This is a congestion pricing plan that would levy a $3 toll for travel in a downtown zone 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. There would be a cap at two trips or $6 a day for travel in and out of the central area as well as within it. Bridge toll payers would get $1 off the congestion toll. People living within the toll zone, low income people and disabled drivers would pay 50% of the toll; taxis, buses and emergency vehicles would not pay at all.

I know, I groan too at the thought of yet more tolls, but have you tried to drive a vehicle in downtown San Francisco during those hours? When I drive and pick up carpoolers, it takes me nearly an hour to get from Union Square to the carpool line on Beale Street. The traffic is practically gridlocked. Something has to be done.
And tolls may help discourage people from bringing their cars into the city; HOWEVER, some sort of alternative needs to be offered – shuttles, better bus and BART connections, and so forth. According to TOLLROADNEWS (Google, and see for yourself), this sort of toll plan has worked in London, Rome and Stockholm. If it happens in San Francisco, it would be the first such plan in North America.

Some years ago when I visited London, I took the subway everywhere and it truly goes everywhere. Connections are easily made with buses and it was easy walking distance to get to where I wanted to go once I emerged from the subway. It’s not quite like that here. BART is good, but limited; MUNI is getting better, but there are long waits between buses on many of the lines. And keep in mind there are people who simply have no alternative way to get to work other than driving their car.

But it doesn’t look like this plan is going into effect any time soon. The project is now in its 4th year of studies and public consultation and there’s a long way to go. Still, it’s encouraging to know someone is thinking about ways to fix this traffic/commute mess. Thank you to Paul Minett at Trip Convergence, Ltd in New Zealand for passing this information on to me. He is a true sustainable transportation hero!

Cars are lined up waiting for riders. I join 2 guys in a big Chevrolet van. And away we go into a gray misty and chilly morning. The driver is dressed very Friday light, from his 2 layers of t-shirts and loose gangsta style jeans to his reclining position in the driver’s seat. He’s almost laying down. Once underway he strikes up a conversation with the fellow next to him in the front seat. The driver is on disability leave from MUNI, and is on his way to group therapy today. Sounds like he had something like a nervous breakdown from too much MUNI. “I stopped seeing the passengers as people after 9 years,and just saw them as numbers. I couldn’t do it anymore.” Ahem, and this guy is driving my carpool today. Okay, well so far so good. He continues talking about his life, his frustrations as a single parent of 3 kids under 10 years of age (also one 25-year old back east who just made him a 49-year-old grandfather of twins). He was raised in the Bayview section of San Francisco, as was the front seat passenger, and they fist bump when they realize they had classmates, teachers, and various adventures in common. They’ve both moved out of the city for survival reasons. “Too many kids gettin’ shot. I didn’t want that to happen to my kids. I’ve got full custody of them now.”

Intense. The view out the window as we round the corner onto the bridge is a welcome relief. About 30 wild geese are resting in the shallow water, rinsing their feathers and gearing up for more flight. Magnificent.

Tuesday, November 16 Changes in the Air

Today’s ride is in a VW sedan – a two-door. It’s a squeeze to get into the back seat but once I’m in it’s quite roomy. The couple in front seem to be together, both 30-somethings. The guy is driving – he’s a big fellow, probably 300 pounds. The lady is petite. It’s a golden morning, that special California sunlight that only we have. Traffic is awful. The carpool lane is great and is moving, but on heavy days like this many single drivers break the rules, taking a chance on a big ticket, and cut into our lane. So we all wind up slowing down. The warm weather is vanishing, but what a treat these few days have been. Autumn and Winter are about to move in along with Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Each day when I exit the carpool at Fremont and Howard streets, I walk up Fremont to Market Street, where I catch my bus, the #2 Clement. (I have yet to try catching a bus at the new temporary bus terminal.) I’m sure many of you carpoolers walk the same way past the rapidly vanishing old Transbay Terminal. It’s been quite a dramatic demolition over the last couple of weeks. The overcrossing on Fremont street is completely gone, drastically changing the light on that street. Demolition is scheduled to take a total of 8 months, with 4 phases. We are now approaching Phase 3, which will include walls and windows and sidewalks. The crews have been working 24/7, scheduling the noisiest work for nights and weekends.

I walked slowly past the crumbling cement and naked iron supports of the old bulding this morning, recalling an article written by Callie Millner (SF Gate, August 16, 2010 – “Transbay Terminal thrown Under the Bus”). She expressed her surprise that there wasn’t a greater effort made to save the old building, or at least more noise made about it. She took one of the final tours through the place (sorry I missed that) and talks about the old diner and bar: “I was particularly taken with the old diner, which has a teal-and-butter color palette and a long teardrop of a counter. On the far right side of the diner, a shelf of plants were still green, and it wasn’t hard to imagine a former, bustling life for the place – complete with plastic-backed menus and uniformed waitresses slipping pies out of the old-fashioned refrigerated shelves above the sink.”

The architect for the old terminal, Timothy Pflueger. also designed the Castro and Paramount Theatres, 450 Sutter, and the SF Stock Exchange. Callie notes, “it’s loaded with historical features, many of which have been covered or shuttered for years: banks of phone booths, a long and lovely newsstand, an old state police office with a jail cell.” When I turn around at the corner of Market and Fremont and look back at the building, I can still feel the energy of the old place, and am glad to know that some of its artifacts are being preserved in historical museums and in other train and bus terminals.

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 2 – The Days After

The Giants won last night and it’s a gorgeous autumn morning. Unfortunately, I have to drive in today, so no sitting back enjoying the scenery for me on today’s commute. My friend is the passenger in the front seat, and a lovely lady named Barbara rides in back. Traffic’s a bit frantic, but we move along and are in the city in less than an hour. Along the way we pass 2 CHPs on motorcycles, and further down the road a couple more in their cars, watching for cheaters in the carpool lane. Although a few single drivers ducked in and out along the commute, no one ‘cheated’ long enough to get caught. That dramatic looking low-lying fog hovers in the meadows near the water and makes this beautiful morning even more so.

In case you haven’t seen some of the recent toll update information . . . . .

Fewer drivers are making the trip across the Bay Bridge during the busiest commute hours (5 – 10 a.m. and 3 – 7 p.m.) They are either crossing at a different time period or taking BART. There are also fewer drivers in general crossing the bridge – a gradual reduction since 2003 when tolls began to increase and employment decreased for many commuters in the bay area. But with the increase in tolls, the reduced traffic hasn’t hurt the pocketbook of the Bay Area Toll Authority – they’ll be using $30 million of that new toll money we’ve been shelling out since July 1 to re-build the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza’s headquarters. When they announced the tolls and how they’d use the money, they never mentioned a new headquarters office building. There was a lot of talk about ‘seismic retrofitting’ of the bridge, plus freeway repair and maintenance. Goes to show.

Tuesday, October 12 – Now Where Was I?

September came and went and my blogging sort of went with it. Crazy workload at my job overwhelmed me. But casual carpooling continued and so did my observations. Here’s a synopsis of the last few weeks.

It’s quite chilly today, overcast and not a hint of sun. Monday morning ride with such a pleasant looking guy. A nice “good morning”. A great new and comfy Honda Prius. But once we hit the freeway it all went very bad. Tailgating like you’ve never seen. 80 mph right up to a car, then a lane change. Thankfully, traffic got heavy around Pinole and all lanes, including carpool, were moving at about 35 mph. Mr. Kamikaze Driver is in his 30s, striped shirt and tie, suited up for the office.

On Tuesday, I’m off to an early start and a full and crazy day of work waiting for me. It’s still overcast and chilly. A large flock of geese fly over on the way to the carpool. We’ve got a full and crazy commute this morning, too. 20 or more cars are lined up waiting for riders. I’m in a small Honda sedan. I pay my usual dollar, the rear seat lady pays $1.25. Lots of cars on the freeway, but we’re all moving pretty fast. Electronic sign says ’39 minutes to San Francisco’. The driver is a small fellow all in black, pleasant. Near Berkeley a flock of wild ducks flies over the freeway towards the bay. I always enjoy the sense of timelessness I experience when I see the bird migrations. They did this before we were here and they will be migrating after we leave. I hope. The toll plaza is hideous today – huge backup. We of course whiz through at 60 mph.

Wednesday I’m riding in a Saturn with a sun roof. A child seat is next to me in the back. Once again there’s lots of traffic and the weather’s a bit chilly. I’m wondering if I should have worn my white suit jacket today or not. There’s an event at work which calls for a bit more dressing up and I’d already planned to wear the jacket, thinking we’d be enjoying our typical warm September. Maybe it will warm up once the fog burns off. A nice calm driver. He’s a big guy and tall and the other gent in the front seat is about the same size. The front seat passenger wears a cap with “Giants Community Fund” printed on the back. We’re 23 minutes from San Francisco according to the sign near Berkeley.

Thursday it’s another Honda – a Civic sedan. There are 2 fellows in front, myself and another lady passenger in back. A warm day is predicted for everywhere but San Francisco. As we get closer I see a huge fog bank shrouding the city. By the time we reach San Pablo the sun is a memory. There’s no talk in this car, no chochkees hanging from mirrors. The lady next to me carefully applies makeup. We are four workers ready to go to our jobs. Approaching Berkeley and Golden Gate Fields I see the Marin hills off to the right looking unusually spectacular with bands of fog and sunlight wrapped around them.

Here’s Friday with a lineup of cars around the block at the carpool lot. The ride is a 4-door pickup with a humorless driver. I think I’ve ridden with this guy before and he got real nasty about the quarter situation ($1.25 toll vs $1.00), so I just pass him $1.25. He doesn’t even say thanks. Traffic’s light and we move along at close to 70 mph. Thick fog at Pinole – it’s like being in a cloud. Visibility and speed diminish along with a sense of up and down. Fall starts next week and it truly feels like the season is a’changing.

Tuesday, September 21 is a great and memorable ride. I’m back to my later 7 a.m. departure and am happy to see a long line of rides waiting. I pass up a low-slung sports car and get in a car from the movie “Harlem Nights”. This is a white DeVille Chrysler 2-door convertible sedan. The interior is white and red leather. The dash is all red, the steering wheel white. The driver is wearing a crisp white shirt which sets off his dark skin dramatically. His hair is very short and curly. Various beauty product bottles – oils, lotions – are stuffed into the pouch on the back of the driver’s seat. The car is really warm which nicely compliments the decor. This car was built before air bags and harness type seat belts. Although it looks like a lot of restoration and love has gone into this car, the interior of the roof is loose and sagging a bit, creating a tentlike feeling. I’m in the back seat and my head brushes the draped ceiling. The music is loud but good R&B that I don’t recognize. Heavy drums and bass. I feel like I’m in a 1950s movie. I love that DeVille is embossed in the white leather on both the driver’s and passengers’ doors.

Wednesday it’s chilly again but we’re promised hot weather as the week goes on. After a 5 minute wait I’m in the back seat of a Honda sedan. I remember this driver. He has a twitch of his right shoulder. Traffic stops and goes for a few miles. The driver’s twitching as he soldiers along at the wheel in this hellish traffic makes him seem somehow vulnerable and brave at the same time. Near Albany I look across the bay and see the city splashed with the morning sunlight with a backdrop of thick puffy fog which at a glance looks like a mountain range. I flash on Denver.

Thursday’s traffic is heavy and a mess. The ride is a 4-door pickup which sits high in the air. I like those rides because I can get a good overhead look at the costly and lengthy construction of the Bay Bridge. A wide green ribbon with a medal attached hangs from the mirror – like an Olympic medal. I can’t make out what it says. The tide is totally out today with mud stretching a couple of blocks away from the shore. It’s a long ride.

Friday comes with beautiful weather. It’s sunny and sure to be a warm day. I climb into an SUV with I assume a husband and wife in the front seat. A passenger is in the back seat. They signal they’ll take another passenger and as I walk around the back of the van to get in I suspect they will want full toll from both of us. Sure enough, there’s a printed sign strategically placed in the tray PLEASE PAY DRIVER $1.25 AS YOU ENTER. THANK YOU. Well at least there’s no question about what’s expected. But I find it quite irritating. There’s a smug kind of attitude up there in the front seat. Although it doesn’t seem that there’s any liability or licensing situation when a carpool driver receives reimbursement, this is an INFORMAL carpool and I wonder about having a sign like that without an appropriate license or insurance. I’m going to do more checking. The wife in the front seat is playing with her I Phone. The rider next to me is passive, unreadable. Dark glasses and earphones. A grim ride.

This Week. The express lanes are coming.

WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 8. A cool and overcast day but a spectacular sunrise is breaking through the layers of fog. I’m in a 4-door Ford pickup truck. Both guys in the front seat are chuckling as I get in and we all say good morning. The driver is a guy in his late 50s and seems unaware of the dollar I lay on the armrest next to him. Traffic starts to crawl along after only a few miles. ’46 MINUTES TO DOWNTOWN SF’ the electronic sign says. Summer lite is really over.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 9. Another overcast and somewhat gloomy morning as I leave the house, but no wind at all. It’s very still and quiet. Not so out here on the daily commute. This morning’s freeway sign says ’39 MINUTES TO DOWNTOWN SF’ and traffic is moving but plentiful. I’m in the front seat of a large Chrysler minivan, a Town & Country. A rotund fellow is driving and when I pull out my dollar he grins and taps the pull-down eyeglass pouch above the windshield. “That’s great”, I say. “A little toll pouch!” He looks pleased with his solution. He’s sporting chiseled long sideburns that extend down to his chin. A blue and white tassle, like the ones from graduation caps, hangs from his mirror along with a small wooden cross on a chain of wooden beads.

Traffic starts piling up as we get closer to Berkeley and the Bay Bridge, and single drivers from other lanes start pulling into the carpool lane, slowing us down. As I watch them, I think about how our commute would (will) be once it also functions as an express lane. And it will happen.

On Monday, September 20 the Bay Area’s first express lane will open on Interstate 680. This will be a 14-mile length of the 680 heading south from #84 to #237, and it is also a carpool lane. The ‘express’ feature means that single drivers can use the carpool lane, for a fee. The toll will vary depending on the amount of traffic on the freeway at the time. Stripes painted on the road will indicate entry and exit points and the single drivers will be electronically monitored and charged through their FasTrak transponder. You may wonder, as I did, how the carpool drivers, who also have transponders, will avoid being charged. They will need to obtain a mylar bag to hide their transponder so that it is not charged. There will not be vid cams as a backup, as there is on the bridges, so disputing charges will be difficult, if not impossible. Wonderful.

The next express lane is scheduled to open next year on eastbound Interstate 580, between Pleasanton and Livermore, followed by another opening on the westbound 580 in 2012. The plan is to eventually have all 800 miles of carpool lanes converted into express lanes.

Sounds like an ingenious plan for making more money, but unfortunately another way to weaken the carpool system. Dave Hyams, a spokesman for the express lane project said the project will reduce congestion. “The carpool lanes are not full, so there’s plenty of room”, he said. Well, sure, Dave, the carpool lanes are not full. They’re not supposed to be. If they were, who would care about driving in the carpool lane?

How about decreasing congestion by providing more incentive to carpool? Like not charging bridge toll to carpoolers? Eh? ‘Course there’s no money in that!

It’s a beautiful morning in Vallejo and I’m in the front seat of a bright red Scion. I like these funny looking box-like cars. They are amazingly comfortable to ride in. Comfy seats with lots of leg room. There are 2 fellows in the back seat – KUDOS to our driver! – and they look comfortable, too. Mid-aged lady in Friday jeans is driving wearing a cluster of beaded bracelets on her wrist. A GPS is tracking our trip, and of course KCBS Radio is all about the horrible explosion and fire in San Bruno.

Traffic is much lighter today. I made a huge effort to get up and get moving so I can get some gym time in before work and it looks like I might make it. A wonderful hanging beaded wire ornament dangles from the mirror.

Tide is way out this morning and the shoreline a shiny, muddy swamp. A flock of geese are coming in for a landing in the grassy recreation area near Berkeley. Fall migrations are underway. Another huge flock of at least 50 snow-white birds, maybe small gulls, are out in the water bobbing in a curved line that simultaneously lays in a beam of sunlight. Wow.

The toll plaza is a mess, frozen in time and space. We fly by. The weekend starts in 8 hours. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 7 – We’re Back!

Yes, we’re back, us casual carpoolers, along with the fog. Vacation’s over, and a lovely one it was. A week away on the northern California coast was much too short. Deer, tidepools, long walks on trails along the ocean and through the sunny sweet-grass-smelling meadows, and always, the glorious Pacific ocean. Ahh.

I’m in a Honda Insight (a hybrid) this morning with a relaxed, pleasant driver in a comfortably warm car. He’s an Asian-American guy in his early 40s dressed casually in khakis and a windbreaker. KDFC is on the radio with good classical music. I contribute $1 to the toll; the rider in the back seat pays $1.25. The driver thanks us both. A brief blast of sunshine splashes over us as we cross the Carquinez Bridge and then we return to the fog and the sluggish back-from-vacation traffic. The electronic traffic alert sign tells us 39 minutes to San Francisco and that’s exactly how long it takes this morning. We pass the sign at 7:05 and arrive at the San Francisco drop off corner at 7:44.

Plowing through my messages and newspapers, it looks like there’s been a lot going on for commuters during these last few weeks of summer. Big news is that the first of the new express lanes has opened on the 680 freeway, (remember these are actually carpool lanes that are now being made available to single drivers who want to pay extra); new numbers for the number of carpoolers and toll revenue should be coming in soon. Plus there are freeway lanes widening and some improvements in public transportation options. I’m just back and catching up and will be sharing my views on all this as the week unfolds.

Take heart fellow travelers, it’s a short week. Tomorrow’s already Wednesday.

Friday, August 27 – Vacation Next Week!

Finally Friday. I’m on vacation next week and especially after the last few days, I really need it.

This morning is cool but sunny and I’m riding in the back seat of a Toyota Tacoma 4-door pickup truck. A cheery driver in a long-sleeve white polo shirt and jeans greets me with “Happy Friday!” He looks to be in his early 50s, close cropped hair, glasses. He’s wearing several rope bracelets and has a large Starbuck’s sitting in the cup holder. I pass him a dollar and he looks back to see if there’s more, and then quickly looks away. Young Asian-American guy in the front seat gets in and pays “full fare” ($1.25). Nearing Richmond we leave the sunny morning and enter the massive fog bank that’s enveloping the bay and San Francisco. Traffic’s heavy for a Friday, but we’re all moving at the limit.

Next week I’m vacationing with my family on the north coast, south of Fort Bragg. It’s just a few hours away, but wireless connection is iffy, so I may be out of touch. If I can latch onto the internet, I’ll keep you posted on the thrills of driving on scenic coastal Highway 1.

When we’re all back after Labor Day there should be some interesting views and news to share on the increased post vacation commute traffic. I’ll be looking for the new numbers on toll revenue and carpool lane tallies. Till then, keep pooling and enjoy the last of the summer days.

California One

Wednesday, Thursday, and Today, August 23 – Finally, a Change in the Weather

I’ve fallen behind a couple of days. My dear cat, Lucky, is very ill and I’m giving him all my attention. But I’ll catch up today and take a break from my sick cat duties.
Last Thursday, August 19, I had absolutely no interest in working so was dragging and very late to the carpool line. But after a 10-minute wait I had a great ride. As I approached the car – a VW Passant – the driver signaled through her window that she’d take 3 riders, and I thought oh great, she’s planning to make a little profit on the toll this morning. But no! Just the opposite. She said ” no toll”, looking snappy in a bright cherry-red velour cardigan, black pants and a good looking big yellow leather bag. They two guys in the back seat looked happy and put their money back in their pockets.

I asked her why no toll. ” If I can’t afford the $5 a day to commute, then I shouldn’t be driving”, she said. “And I don’t think the riders should have to be responsible for my toll.” But she was quick to add that she appreciates the offers of toll payment. She mentioned that her husband, an insurance adjuster, had brought up the question of liability for drivers who charge a payment for rides. I’d wondered about that too, so when I got to my computer later that morning I looked up the California State law on such matters. It turns out there is no extra licensing or fee for driving a car-share or carpool vehicle with the riders contributing to the expense of the commute. So all you toll takers are perfectly legal, I’m sorry to say.

The next day, the 20th was a typical Friday light traffic day, Many cars were lined up and I got in the back seat of a Honda sedan. The driver looked like an older version of Miles from “Lost”. He was wearing a short-sleeved white polo shirt with an expensive looking brown suit, the jacket tossed over the back of his seat. He kept flinching as he drove. An unconscious habit perhaps or maybe a nervous disorder. Or maybe, like me, he could use a massage. Near Pinole we pass the In ‘N Out. Many mornings as we go by I think of how good those burgers are and wish I could pick one up for lunch. On this cold cheerless morning, I could use one right now!
We whiz past 3 lanes of suddenly congested non-carpool traffic and are in the city by 8 a.m.

Monday, August 23. My god, summer is finally here! No half-way about it! 80s and 90s predicted for today and it’s already comfortably warm at 7 a.m. Very,very nice and somewhat odd to see the sun at this hour! I walk up to a big Honda SUV. It has two rows of back seats and is actually more of a van. The woman driving must be incredibly tiny. Her seat is pushed so far up that the steering wheel is resting on her chest. A colorful cotton bag covered with about a dozen various sized pouches is hanging off the bag of her seat. It looks like those over the door devices that hold multiple pairs of shoes. These pouches are holding kleenex, bottled water, a power breakfast bar. A huge silver crucifix hangs from the mirror. I lean forward and toss a dollar into a little white plastic basket between the front seats.

A giant truck with a load of smashed cars go by us. These always fascinate me. It’s something about those neatly stacked layers of colorful metal that were once complex engines and roaring vehicles transformed into silent slabs.

Speaking of many cars in small spaces, did you see this picture?

These guys need casual carpool!

This is part of a 62-hour traffic standstill on a road leading to Beijing! 62 HOURS! Some of the drivers have been trapped in it for three days. I examined the picture carefully and it looks like most of the cars have only one person – the driver.

Once again I am delighted to speed past the log-jam of traffic at the toll gates on the Bay Bridge and am thankful for the carpool. The warm weather has lent a tropical flavor to the vegetation near the freeway and there’s a whole patch of the vividly pink naked lady lilies abloom, nodding as we pass.

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 18 – The Art of Tailgating

There’s an Accura sedan waiting at the curb as I walk up to the carpool line this morning. I take the front seat and another lady gets in back. She immediately and self-righteously offers her $1.25 to the driver, even before sitting down. She must have been clutching it in her hand as she walked up to the car. That sets the tone of what SHE thinks is the right thing to do. I dig out a dollar after I get my seat belt on.

There is an overwhelming, and not really pleasant, shaving lotion/men’s cologne fragrance saturating this car. The driver is a 30’s something swarthy looking sort of fellow, dressed all in black. He drives too fast and has taken the art of tailgating to a level I have not experienced before, thank God. He is consistently about 3/4 of a car length from the car ahead and keeping the speedometer between 70 and 80 mph. It would be quite nasty if we had to stop suddenly and I check to be sure there are air bags in this car. Small comfort. Just before Berkeley he picks up his cell phone and struggles to punch in a number. Looks like he got it wrong the first time and he tries again. I decide that if he continues with the cell phone I will say something. Fortunately we hit the ‘Berkeley Crawl’ area of the freeway and traffic slows to about 25 mph. He ends a short phone call to someone who he tells he will arrive at 8 a.m. It is 7:30.

I did some research on tailgating and tailgaters and learned that there are no definitive answers on why some drivers do it and why some don’t. But there are some interesting observations.

First of all, tailgating, or following too closely means different things to different drivers, depending on their perception. Safety experts used to use the car length rule – for every 10 mph of speed the following distance should be one car length (2 car lengths for 20 mph, 6 car lengths for 60 mph, etc.) But in more recent years the 2-second rule has been adopted. This says you should never be more than 2 seconds behind the car ahead of you, regardless of the speed. Two seconds in slow traffic might be a car length or two, but at high speeds it would be much more. This rule is based on perception and reaction time. If the driver ahead of you slams on his brakes it will take a certain amount of time to be aware of it and then more time to react. Allowing two seconds for all of that doesn’t seem like a very generous margin. Plus, it sounds confusing to me. I think the car length rule is easier to visualize.

Knowing that, which seems like useless information since I have only seen, perhaps one driver observing that rule, as well as the speed limit, in the last 14 years I’ve been driving on the 80 freeway, what makes people tailgate? It is very obviously dangerous to do, especially at high speeds.

Defense of territory is one theory, and this goes hand in hand with overly aggressive drivers. There is another silly ‘slipstreaming’ argument (following closely enough saves you fuel because you are using the energy of the car in front of you to move forward). Ridiculous. Then there are undoubtedly drivers who do it simply for the thrill and to test their own proficiency in being able to follow as closely as possible without colliding with the car ahead of them. Combine this attitude with the fact that many of these drivers have never had a collision and they become complacent about driving this way. And some drivers are just lazy and drive that way out of force of habit. You have to be alert and pay attention to be a good driver.

If tailgaters are driving in this reckless manner because they are in a hurry, they are actually defeating their own purpose. Tailgating requires a limited vision of the road. If you’re tailgating you HAVE to watch just what’s right in front of you; you cannot look ahead or to the side. You cannot calculate a better route in perhaps another lane or do any sort of long-range traffic planning when you tailgate. And because of this you may be stuck behind that car you are following so closely and miss some great opportunities to move ahead through traffic. And you are probably unaware that you are terrorizing the carpoolers who are clutching the edges of their seats and gasping.

At least the car is warm. I can see the Golden Gate Bridge and the SF skyline for the first time in many mornings, but its only because the fog cover is up higher today. It’s still another gray cool day. In the distance on the other side of the bay the sun has pierced the fog and is shining on the Marin County hills. It looks like a painting. Lovely.

We survive and arrive in the city at 7:50. Looks like the driver will make his 8 o’clock appointment.


MONDAY MORNING VALLEJO CAR POOL. A cold sluggish start to the week. No cars and 8 riders lined up. But the rides start pulling up right away. Here comes a sad little Toyota. The right front fender is smashed in and a naked tire pokes out. Clutter is visible inside the car and the driver is frantically scooping things up as she pulls up to the line. The guy at the front of the line passes and the next two fellows take the ride. I move up behind the first rider. “Turned it down, huh?” I ask. He smiles apologetically and sort of stammers, “Well, yeah, I, uh. . ” I chuckle and tell him I would have passed on the ride too. We both get in the back seat of the next car, a giant Honda SUV. The kind that has two automatically sliding doors. A couple, husband and wife probably, are in the front. I pass up 4 quarters, which the wife checks out and then drops into the cup holder. My sense is that they took two riders so that their toll would be covered. They’re not big on the warm and friendly greetings. Especially not the warm part. Both of them are wearing short-sleeve cotton shirts and it’s about 50 degrees in the car.

A sparkling green Chinese charm hangs from the mirror. A Chinese food take out menu lays on the floor. The woman is sitting on a flowered, ruffly seat cushion and has a small green blanket tucked around her feet. I wish I had a blanket. My fellow rider in the back seat next to me looks like he could use one, too. He’s huddled over, asleep, arms wrapped around himself.

Traffic is moving at the limit and is light, until the toll area where it’s a gridlock with traffic backed up for about half a mile. The new Bay Bridge is definitely taking shape. From today’s high SUV view I can see the two sweeping side-by-side lanes of the new bridge, nearly all the way to Treasure Island now. The traffic signs and lights posts have been installed on much of the completed section. As much as I resent the inflated expense of the new bridge and the undoubted boondoggling with how long it’s taking to build, I am pleased to see that it will be a very dynamic part of the architectural look of the bay area. A real knock out.

TUESDAY MORNING. A great start to the day. A big flock of Canadian Geese fly over our car on my way to the carpool. Beautiful flyers, flapping and honking as they carry on their mystical and eternal tradition of migrating. It’s a short wait at the line today and my ride is a sleek 2-door BMW. The rider in front of me takes the small back seat and we adjust and settle before getting out our toll contributions. The guy in the back asks as he prepares to hand over his money, “Is that a cup of coffee or a toll cup?” We all laugh. It actually IS a cup of coffee and the other cupholder contains a berry smoothie. “I’m a road warrior today,” the driver says. “I have to drive all the way down to Santa Clara, so this is my breakfast and coffee break.”

The other rider says one car he rides in has a mason jar sitting in the cup holder with a ‘toll’ sign on it. And another ride has a sign on the glove box that says ‘Paying passengers only’. He says it’s still a great deal and he is happy to pay the toll. He doesn’t understand why some riders resent paying. I comment that the drivers are saving $3.50 even without being paid by the riders. I also mention that some drivers are jerks, too.

Yesterday’s Chronicle had a front page story on the toll issue and its effect on carpooling. (“New Bay Bridge Tolls Shake Up Economics of Casual Carpooling”, SF Chronicle Monday, August 16, by Will Kane). Will interviewed 3 dozen drivers and riders and came up with three different ‘camps’: those who will pay a portion of the toll, those who pay only on request, and those who refuse. Most drivers don’t require a contribution, according to this article, but there are some who will turn off their car and wait until the passengers pay up. Several carpoolers he talked to, both riders and drivers, are abandoning the carpool because of the tolls and the discomfort with paying or not paying drivers.

The article also points out that a recent count of carpoolers on the bridges throughout the Bay Area shows 12,000 fewer drivers using the carpool lanes. Time will tell if this is a sign of things to come.

KNBR radio murmurs in the background and we end our ride with a discussion on the summer weather.