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The freedom of a 31 day bus pass

11 Jun

A year ago, I decided to switch from purchasing single ride fares to buying an AC Transit 31 day bus pass every month. I have to admit that I went back and forth for months before doing so, trying to figure out what made the most sense financially. I figured out how many rides I’d have to take for the value of the 31 day pass to kick in (40) and tried to figure out how often I rode the bus every month, which varies greatly. Ultimately, I decided to go for it, even though I didn’t imagine it would save me more than $5 or maybe $10 per month.

Now, I’m sure it usually saves me more than that, but the savings have turned out to be not the only (or primary) benefit of having a 31 day bus pass. Having the pass has instilled me with a sort of transit freedom that I hadn’t felt since giving up my car because I no longer have to calculate the cost of individual bus trips.

In the past, for example, I might try to do my grocery shopping by walking. This would often create more trouble then it was worth because I could only buy a limited amount of groceries, and it was mostly because I didn’t want to pay $1.75 for the return bus trip, just to ride 10 blocks. Now, I wouldn’t think twice and hop on the bus with my groceries.

This freedom goes far beyond regular errands though. Sometimes I’m out with friends and someone offers me a ride home, but I want to stay out a bit later. In the past, I might have taken the ride, but now I know I can stay out as long as I wish and take the bus home. Or a few weeks ago, I was looking for a couple particular clothing items so I walked down to check out a few stores near Rockridge BART, but found nothing. Before having the 31 day pass, I probably would have just walked home, but instead, I hopped on the 51 down to Berkeley and was able to find one of the items I was looking for. Then I hopped on the 51 back home. And transferring buses is now something I don’t think twice about – I don’t have to worry how much time lapses in between and there’s no additional cost to me.

Having a monthly bus pass has been a huge help in taking the Car-Free Challenge! I honestly don’t think I could make it through this month without it.

A 31 day pass is probably not for everyone, especially for those who walk, bike, or BART to work, but if you’re a frequent bus rider, it’s worth looking into. And now is the perfect time to do it, since it currently costs $70 but will go up to $80 on July 1 (when all fares will increase). So consider taking the plunge, and join me in enjoying the freedom of a 31 day bus pass.

Taking the Car-Free Challenge

4 Jun

This month, TransForm is hosting the Car-Free Challenge, and yesterday I signed up to participate. What is the car-free challenge?

During the month of June the average Bay Area resident will drive 540 miles (that’s 135 miles/week) and the average American driver more than 1,000 miles. Think you can do better?

Join a huge community of people from California and around the country in setting and reaching a personal low mileage goal in the month of June – plus win great prizes and share your stories of taking transit, walking, and bicycling.

Whether driving less (or not at all) is stretch for you or already a way of life, we want you to take the Challenge!

Together we will send a powerful message to our leaders that a critical mass of people want to drive less and live more.

I gave up my car more than a year ago, so I mostly get around by the bus or walking (in case you didn’t know, I’m terrified of riding my bike in Oakland). Still, I sometimes drive my girlfriend’s car or get a ride, and I’m guessing those short trips add up. So this month I’ll be tracking my miles and aiming to drive 20 miles or less. I’ll also be writing, both here and at my car-free challenge blog, about my experiences with this challenge and about my mostly car-free life.

You should get involved too. Here are two ways you can help out:

1. Support me in my challenge by donating to TransForm. My initial goal is to raise $100, but I hope to surpass that and set a new goal. TransForm is an incredible group that does political advocacy and education on transportation and land use issues (they used to be called the Transportation and Land Use Coalition). They have taken the lead in fighting for an alternative to the Oakland Airport Connector and have also been instrumental in advocating for AC Transit’s bus rapid transit project. Whether you can donate $5 or $500, everything makes a difference.

2. Sign up for the Car-Free Challenge. It’s simple to create a page, track your miles, and tell the world about your experience. Besides being a great cause, there’s fun involved. At the end of the challenge, TransForm will be hosting not one, or two, but three parties for challenge participants. They’ll also be giving out many prizes. So sign up today!

Feb 23-27 Oakland Political & Community Events

22 Feb

Another busy week ahead of us in Oakland. Here are some meetings and events worth checking out:

Monday, February 23rd – East Bay Young Dems Meeting

Join the East Bay Young Dems for our first general meeting of 2009. We’ll be introducing the club’s NEW initiatives to engage more young adults into the political process, hold our elected officials accountable, increase our online presence, and continue to celebrate our successes with style. At this meeting, we’ll also be electing our new club Treasurer. The meeting will be from 6:15-8:00pm at Spud’s Pizza, 3290 Adeline Street (at Alcatraz) in Berkeley. The Executive Committee will convene after the general membership meeting. All are welcome to stay and participate.

Tuesday, February 24th – Walk Oakland Bike Oakland Meeting

Help put the “Walk” in WOBO! At last month’s meeting (which saw our biggest volunteer turnout yet) we told you all about our priority bike campaign. Apparently you liked what you heard, because we got tons of sign-ups up to help with Broadway bike counts, outreach at community events (like to Bike to the Movies Night) and collecting signatures from businesses in support of the campaign. At this month’s general meeting, we’re asking for your help identifying WOBO’s next pedestrian campaign. Come to this Tuesday’s general meeting – at a new location this month: 2301 Broadway, Suite B – with your top ideas for how WOBO can make walking in Oakland safer and more inviting! Snacks will be served. The meeting will be from 6:30-8:30pm at Bay Area Wilderness Training, 2301 Broadway, Suite B – enter on 23rd Street.

Wednesday, February 25th – MTC Hearing on Use of Stimulus Funds

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is proposing spending $70 million of new federal economic recovery funding on an “Oakland Airport Connector,” which even BART acknowledges is nowhere near “shovel ready.” This $70 million is urgently needed RIGHT NOW to keep existing local transit agencies from imminent service cuts and fare hikes. If you ride BART, AC Transit or any transit in the Bay Area, we need you to join us in fighting service cuts and fare hikes! Join us on Thursday, Feb. 25th at 10am at MTC (101 8th St., across from Lake Merritt BART) in telling MTC to direct new funding to critical public transit needs, not the costly Oakland Airporter.

For further info on this issue, check out V Smoothe’s article at OakBook. Also, look for a lengthier post here tomorrow (Monday) about this MTC hearing.

Thursday, February 26th – Charter Schools: A Step Forward or Backward for Public Education – CANCELED

UPDATE: This event has been canceled. You can find out why at NovoMetro.

Via NovoMetro:

Charter schools are a hot topic in Oakland, and this debate will be a face off between pponents and advocates of charter schools. Arguing that charter schools are part of a new Jim Crow system of education that forces an increasing number of black and Latino students into separate, inferior schools will be Shanta Driver and Yvette Felarca, representatives of the civil rights group Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary (BAMN). Arguing that charter schools provide students with an education to enhance their academic skills  in order to compete and be productive members of society will be Ben Chavis, founder of the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, and Janet Roberts, current Principal of the American Indian Charter School. Oakland Unified School Board Director Chris Dobbins will be moderating the event. The public is invited to attend and will have ample opportunities to pose questions to the speakers in what is sure to be a hotly contested debate. The debate will take place at 5pm in the OUSD Administration Building, Hunter Hall, 1025 Second Avenue.

Thursday, February 26th – The Strength in Debate Series Part 1: Global Warming & Environmental Justice

The Bay Area Urban Debate League (BAUDL) and Standing To Represent Our Next Generation (STRONG) will host the first public debate event in the Strength In Debate Series, featuring the most talented orators in Oakland high schools. The purpose of the Strength in Debate Series is to showcase the exceptional talent of these students and to reward their dedication and commitment to argument and advocacy. Eight Oakland high school students will face off to debate about engaging and controversial issues and to propose solutions to such important problems as global warming and urban decay. The evening promises to be both exciting and informative — these young people have a lot to tell us about urgent matters and they are eager to do so. The debate will be held from 7:00-8:30pm at St. Sugustine’s Episcopalian Church, 529 29th Street.

So that’s what it’s like to get hit by a car…

3 Dec

Last night I went to the Walk Oakland Bike Oakland (WOBO) monthly meeting, which I’ve been meaning to attend for quite some time. The meeting was great. Though I was the only non-biker there, I felt very welcomed and was excited to hear about WOBO’s recent successes.

After the meeting, a bunch of us decided to head over to Z Bar for a drink. Most everyone biked over there, but one of the WOBO leaders was kind enough to walk his bike over with me. We walked down 27th from Harrison, and when we reached Broadway, we needed to cross the street. Since 27th intersects with Broadway at an angle, there’s a short pedestrian crosswalk with no light that crosses in front of the right turn lane onto Broadway. A car was stopped at the crosswalk. We made eye contact with the passenger and then started walking across the crosswalk.

After we had walked several steps and were right in front of the center of the car (almost directly in front of the driver), the driver accelerated and started driving forward. Since I was closer to the car, the car hit me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but apparently I flew up just a bit in the air.

The driver stopped almost immediately. I think all of us were in shock because we all just sort of froze there. Eventually, I kind of glared at the driver, motioning to him that he needed to at least apologize. So he rolled down his window and offered a lame apology, saying he didn’t see us. I told him that next time he should be more careful and pay more attention.

I’m a bit shaken from the experience, but aside from a huge bruise on my leg and my back hurting a bit more than usual, I’m fine.

But being hit by a car as a pedestrian got me a bit riled up. It was so clear to me that the driver had not even been looking for pedestrians and bikers because he was so fixated on looking to his left for oncoming car traffic. To him, we were essentially invisible.

WOBO has a lot of work to do, not only to get the City to increase visibility and safety for pedestrians and bikers, but also to increase awareness among car drivers. WOBO’s doing a big membership push right now so if you want to help insure that fewer accidents like mine last night occur, please sign up to become a member. Basic membership is $35 and for a $50 donation, you’ll get a brand new WOBO t-shirt.

And if you’re a driver, please remember to always look out not only for oncoming car traffic but for pedestrian and bicycle traffic too. You could end up saving a life, or at least avoiding an accident.

Oakland Art Murmur

6 Sep

I have an embarrassing confession to make – until last night, I had never been to the Oakland Art Murmur. It always seems like I’m out of town on the first Friday of the month, or I simply forget it’s the first Friday, or I’m just too exhausted at the end of the week.

But I’m so glad I finally made it out to the galleries!

At about 7:30 last night I met up with a co-worker of mine and headed to Awaken Cafe, where they were showcasing Concrete and Steel, a photography exhibit by Jorin Bukosky. I like taking pictures of odd, sometimes seemingly ugly objects too so I really appreciated this exhibit. Especially the photo of the steep, long escalator in a subway station.

There were dozens and dozens of people inside and outside Awaken – I’ve never seen so many people on 14th Street (well, except during a protest).

After leaving Awaken, we turned and walked down Broadway to Telegraph. My co-worker, who recently moved here from Chicago, kept commenting on the beautiful buildings (like my favorite Oakland building at the V intersection of Broadway and Telegraph), and I realized he had never been to Uptown! I felt like a bad friend but was glad to share his appreciation and wonder, as I played tour guide, explaining the history of the Fox Theater, pointing out all the buildings that used to be medical marijuana dispensaries, telling him about Flora (which incidentally used to be a dispensary).

We soon arrived at the heart of the Art Murmur, at 23rd and Telegraph, and I was amazed at how many people crowded the streets and the galleries. It was so inspiring to see hundreds of people in downtown Oakland on a Friday night! Every gallery was packed – as you entered, the temperterature rose 10-20 degrees and you had to maneuver quite a bit just to get around. So if you get claustrophobic, the Art Murmur might not be for you.

I found most of the art I saw last night to be at least visually interesting, but there were three standouts of the evening:

  1. Outpost at Johansson Projects, featuring David Hamill and Jeff Konigsberg: I think I could have spent hours in this gallery if it wasn’t so crowded. I really appreciated the play of light and dark lines that created a visual depth to the paintings and drawings. I’m not doing the best job of explaining this so do yourself a favor and head down there sometime this month – they’re open Thurs-Sat from 12-6.
  2. The laser cut butterflies at Ego Park: There were about 20 paper butterflies in glass display cases that had extremely intricate designs laser cut into them. I have no idea who the artist was, but the work was inspired by a British military spy who used to enter enemy camps and draw maps hidden within drawings of butterflies. Also, Ego Park was serving up some delicious sangria.
  3. The Poor Man’s Art Show at Rock Paper Scissors Collective, presented by Everybody Get Up: Incredibly creative paintings… on cardboard! There were hundreds of art pieces, and they were all on sale for under $50 (which stood in stark contrast to the other galleries, where few works sold for under $1000). Go check it out – chances are that if you really like something, you can afford it.

Besides the fun in the galleries, there were street musicians, ranting stilt walkers, and neat city images being projected onto a nearby building.

The only regret I have is not printing out the map of the galleries to bring with me, as we missed quite a few. I plan to be back again soon, and if you haven’t made it out to the Art Murmur yet, make sure to mark the next one – Friday, October 3rd – on your calendar now!
First friday of every month from 6-10pm (individual gallery times vary)
Uptown Oakland, mostly between Broadway and Telegraph, and Grand and 29th
Accessible by 19th Street BART station or by AC Transit lines 1/1R, 51, 72, 11, 12, 59

(I consider the Oakland Art Murmur to be an essential Oakland experience. Read about other essential Oakland experiences here.)

Middle Harbor Park = Awesome

9 Jul

(So I haven’t been doing too good a job of writing about the places and events on my list of essential Oakland experiences, but I’m back on track now and will hopefully write some more soon. Also, I went back through old posts and linked to some of them on the essential Oakland experiences page, so head over there if you want to check those out.)

On the advice of V Smoothe, my girlfriend and I drove out to Middle Harbor Park on Saturday. Part of the reason I was so easily allured to the park was the promise of nice views of the crane, and as we drove down 7th, we started to catch glimpses:

After we passed the West Oakland BART station, we could still see the cranes, but there wasn’t much more to see. If we hadn’t looked up directions before going, I would have thought we were lost by how empty it was:

After enjoying the view along the way, we arrived at the park, which was full of people eating lunch, riding bikes, hanging out in tents, playing volleyball, and playing the guitar. The park was also full of geese:

We sat down at a picnic table to eat the Vietnamese sandwiches we had picked up at Cam Huong on our way, and were intrigued by the shade structures and the seemingly random polls that filled the park:

But we soon found out that the structures and polls weren’t random at all. As one of the informational signs told us, these structures were part of Building 122, which was part of the old Naval Supply Depot. It apparently was used by the Navy up until 1998, when it was turned over to the Port of Oakland.

There’s other bits of history scattered around the park, like the mast of the USS Oakland:

And of course, there’s plenty of evidence of Oakland’s continuing use of the port in the dozens of cranes that can be seen from the park:

There were some surprises for me at the park, like the fact that there’s a sandy beach in Oakland. It may be small and certainly not fit for swimming, but it was nice to walk along the sand and look across the bay:

There were also free binoculars that offered stunning up close views of the Bay Bridge, San Francisco, and, of course, the cranes:

We had a wonderful afternoon at Middle Harbor Park. We couldn’t believe that we hadn’t heard about this incredible Oakland park sooner, and I intend to tell everyone I know that they need to go there.

My only complaint it’s almost completely inaccessible by public transit. On weekdays, there’s no bus that goes there! It’s not walkable from West Oakland BART and it would be a long bike ride. Fortunately, the 13 line goes there on weekends, but it runs only once an hour and stops service in the late afternoon. There’s no reason this Oakland gem shouldn’t be accessible by the carless 7 days a week!

There’s also a depressing historical fact about Middle Harbor Park, that I found out last night while reading The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area. During World War II, “the Army and the Navy expanded their Oakland and Alameda bases, moving the East Bay’s shoreline a mile closer to San Francisco.” So where Middle Harbor Park is today, used to be the Bay and was home to sea creatures and birds. Luckily, there is an ongoing effort to restore this habitat, some of which I witnessed by the scores of birds that could be seen in and around the park.

So if you have a car or are willing to wait around for the bus on the weekend, check out Middle Harbor Park soon:


Middle Harbor Road
Oakland, CA

Park Hours:
8 a.m.-10 p.m.

Public Transit:
Take AC Transit #13, hourly from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends, from Park/14th Street along Broadway and 7th Street in Oakland.

New Blog Design & My Favorite Oakland Intersection

6 Jul

I finally got around to updating my blog’s design. Let me know what you think.

Also, I was walking around downtown Oakland yesterday with a camera and got a chance to take pictures of my favorite intersection at Webster and 9th (there are actually a few intersections like this in Chinatown but this is the one I walk through the most):

San Francisco has some of these diagonal crosswalks – the walk signals allow you to cross in any direction from any of the corners. But none of them are as pretty as these.

While these don’t make sense in most parts of the city, I think we could use more diagonal crosswalks in some other heavy pedestrian areas, like near City Center and Rockridge BART.

Bike to Work Day makes me feel lame

13 May

I love the concept of Bike to Work Day. I think it’s great to celebrate alternative transit modes and think we should do so more often. But the truth is that Bike to Work Day makes me feel kind of lame.

As I revealed a few months ago, I didn’t learn to ride a bike until a few years ago, and I mostly save my bike riding for the Black Rock desert. I’m actually pretty terrified of riding a bike on busy Oakland streets. To ride from home to work, it would be a straight shot up Telegraph, and though there are bike lanes on part of the route, I know I’ll get hit one day.

I do my part for the environment by riding the bus and walking, but when Bike to Work Day comes around every year, I feel somehow inadequate and like I’m missing out on something.

I know I shouldn’t need a Bus to Work Day or Walk to Work Day to validate my actions, but it does seem a bit unfair that bike riders get their own month and own day when pedestrians and transit riders are largely ignored.

Ultimately though, if Bike to Work Day gets commuters out of their cars and onto their bikes, I can’t really complain. Also, I guess I shouldn’t expect someone to create a Bus to Work Day for me so I’ll be sure to add that to my list of projects I’ll maybe get to one day.

If you’ve gotten over your fears of urban bike riding, make sure to stop by City Hall this Thursday morning (May 15th) for free pancakes and a raffle. I’ll be the bikeless one across the street with my head held down in shame.

San Diego/Oakland Reflections: Sprawl, Transit & Walkability

11 May

I spent last weekend in San Diego, and as usual when I travel, I couldn’t help myself from comparing the city to Oakland. It’s been a couple years since I’ve visited San Diego, and I realized that though I’ve been there at least a dozen times, I’ve never spent even 24 hours there in one visit and I’ve never really gotten to know the city.

When remembering San Diego, I often thought of the one factor that’s true in the southern California cities I know better – sprawl. And this part I remembered correctly. San Diego is incredibly spread out, and it seemed difficult to get between most neighborhoods without a car. Oakland’s not the most compact city, but I feel like it’s fairly easy here to get from almost any neighborhood to the next, as long as you’re willing to hop on the bus or BART and maybe even transfer to another bus.

And just as I had remembered, it did seem as if pretty much everyone in San Diego had a car. Parking was sometimes difficult in popular neighborhoods – not San Francisco difficult, but certainly more competitive than most parts of Oakland.

But there were a couple things about San Diego that surprised me. Though much of the city was difficult (or at least very time consuming) to navigate by public transit, there is a trolley system that covers the downtown area and a few of the surrounding areas. So if you live in one of these areas, it does seem like you wouldn’t need to use a car very much. Considering that we’re having trouble even implementing bus rapid transit in Oakland, I’m a bit jealous that central San Diego is way ahead of us with rail.

Also, many San Diegans commute to Los Angeles, and unless they like sitting in traffic for 3 or 4 hours, many of them use the Metrolink train, much as some Oaklanders commute by Amtrak to Sacramento. So though there’s still tons of driving that’s symptomatic of southern California sprawl, I learned that there are alternatives to driving in San Diego that are fairly widely used.

Another thing that surprised me was the walkability of individual neighborhoods. Though it’s mostly inconvenient to walk between neighborhoods, there are several neighborhoods in San Diego where it’s possible to walk to just about everything (markets, shopping, parks or the beach, restaurants, bars, etc.). In fact, my friend’s apartment in Ocean Beach has the same walk score as my apartment in Oakland (88). On Sunday, we went to a friend’s house that is in between neighborhoods (near Hillcrest) and I was a bit shocked when we did not get back into the car and instead walked a few blocks to a restaurant (her house’s walk score is 89). It really seemed to me that it was just as easy to find a walkable neighborhood in San Diego as it is to find one in Oakland. This surprised me because I always had assumed that San Diego was much like LA in that respect, and though there are a few walkable neighborhoods in LA, it’s usually not so easy to find a walkable neighborhood that’s affordable to live in.

It was nice to clear up some of my misconceptions and to find out that San Diego isn’t quite as car-centric as I had assumed. But don’t worry, I’m not planning to move to San Diego anytime soon. I still think it’s a whole lot easier to be carless in Oakland than it is to be carless in San Diego.

Essential Oakland Experiences

8 May

Over the past week or so, I’ve started to realize that there are a lot of amazing things in Oakland that I haven’t experienced (and probably an equal amount that I have). With life as hectic as it is, I really don’t think I’ll get to most of these experiences anytime soon unless I make a list and commit to it.

I’ve already done some of these things/been to some of these places, but I plan to do them all over again and hope to make it through the majority of the list by the end of 2008. I’ll try to blog about all of them here. So here’s the list (in no particular order):

  • Checking out galleries at the Oakland Art Murmur
  • Seeing a movie on a couch at the Parkway Theater
  • Going to one of the farmers markets (Temescal, Lake Merritt, Jack London, etc.)
  • Seeing the sun set (or rise) over the shipping cranes
  • Seeing a show at the Paramount Theatre
  • Visiting the Oakland Rose Garden
  • Visiting the Oakland Zoo (I have mixed feelings about zoos, but I’ll put those aside for now.)
  • Visiting the Oakland Museum of California
  • Sitting through an Oakland City Council meeting
  • Visiting the Chabot Space and Science Center
  • Walking through various neighborhoods/business districts
    • Rockridge
    • Temescal
    • Uptown
    • Piedmont
    • Old Oakland
    • Jack London Square
    • Lakeshore
    • Park Ave
    • Fruitvale
  • Walking around Lake Merritt (believe it or not, I’ve never done this)
  • Going to an event at the Historic Sweet’s Ballroom
  • Going on one of the Oakland walking tours
  • Attending a neighborhood group meeting or forum
  • Seeing a show at Yoshi’s
  • Having a picnic in Joaquin Miller Park
  • Going hiking somewhere in the Oakland hills
  • Visiting Children’s Fairyland
  • Going to a fire arts event at the Crucible
  • Going to a neighborhood street fair

I’m sure I missed a lot so I’d love some help filling in this list. (Keep in mind that I purposefully kept restaurants off this list because the list would go on and on if I hadn’t.)