Author Archive

The Big Cross-Bay Move

I have recently moved to San Francisco.  I had lived in the East Bay for eight and a half years.  I’m not one of those rabid “Bay divide” folks.  I like certain features on both sides of the bridge.  However, I have been under the impression for a long time that the East Bay tends to be more bike-friendly and that the majority of the car/bike accidents I hear about happen in SF. 


That said I welcome advice on best and worst places to ride in the city.  I am living near 3rd Street.  I have found that 3rd is too busy and narrow to accommodate bikes well.  However, Illinois St. runs alongside it for many blocks and is far less congested.  I have not yet figured out whether bikes are allowed on the Third Street Rail (T-Line).  I know that regular Muni buses have a bike rack on the front.  However, I don’t think that’s the case with the rail lines.  The rail seems like it might be big enough to accommodate bikes at non-busy times.  However, I’m really hesitant to just try it out, because Muni drivers can be incredibly surly—probably for some good reasons—and I’m not usually in any mood to be yelled at in front of a large group.



Also, even though my wife and I found a nice place to live and our street seems pretty quiet, the overall Bayview/Hunter’s Point neighborhood has quite a bad reputation.  I haven’t had any problems yet, but I welcome tips about safe commuting in and around the neighborhood—aside from avoiding the most obvious: rough housing projects and intersections in which drug deals appear to take place or a lot of loitering happens. 


Outside of my immediate neighborhood, I am eager to find good places to ride in the city just for fun.  Any street that has a bike lane and isn’t too terribly steep is a welcome route to explore as far as I’m concerned!


August 26, 2008 at 8:39 am 2 comments

A Ride Through Alameda

Last Saturday, I took a little bike jaunt over to Alameda from Oakland. A good portion of the route I chose is flat and has relatively few traffic lights. The most difficult part is getting through downtown Oakland in both directions.

From my apartment building in Adams Point, I rode downhill toward Lake Merritt. Getting around the lake is one of the harder tasks, because it’s closer to go around the west side of the lake. However, Lakeside is one-way in the wrong direction, so I either have to maneuver my way around the pedestrian throngs on the pathway along the lake or choose another street. I continued along Harrison, which isn’t very bike friendly, all the way down to Jack London Square. I turned onto Embarcadero. From that point on, the ride is generally a breeze.

Embarcadero follows 880 south on the bayside. Therefore, for about fifteen blocks, it’s not the most scenic route, as anyone who’s ridden southbound on that freeway knows. Old, weathered homes, section 8 housing, rusty cars, and old warehouses, some converted into lofts, line the other side of the freeway. The busy expressway itself creates as much noise as one would expect. On the bayside, on which I was riding, the industry is a bit cleaner, mostly catering to boaters: water craft stores, bait and tackle shops, and the occasional hotel or Starbucks outlet. There are no stop lights on this stretch, but there are a couple cross streets that lead on to the freeway, and there is some glass and other debris on the roadside.

Embarcadero eventually turns away from the freeway and is lined by portside restaurants and taverns and an increase in businesses catering to water sports accessories. The road winds around a bit before meeting up with Kennedy St. Kennedy runs into 23rd, which has a bridge that crosses over into Alameda. A sign warns bicyclists to disembark and walk their bike on the pedestrian path over the bridge. I did so, until I was passed by a number of other cyclists still on their bikes, and I got back on mine.

Once in Alameda, I turned right onto Blanding, left on Oak, and right again on tree-lined Buena Vista Avenue. Compared to downtown Oakland and 880, Alameda always feels bucolic. I rode many blocks down this street, almost as far as I’d come from downtown Oakland before making a couple lefts and then back the other direction down Lincoln Ave., past mostly quaint, Victorian houses, interspersed with the occasional book store, burrito shop, or yoga studio. I made a right on Benton, hoping to surprise a couple friends who live on that street, but such was not the case. From there, I made a left on Central, which looks much like Lincoln. About five blocks later, I turned right on Chestnut, hoping to surprise yet a couple other friends who happened not to be home either.

However, I stopped at the Chestnut Encinal Market for a bottle of water and a bottle of wine to take home for dinner. This gives the impression at first glance of being the typical corner market, specializing mostly in liquor and magazines, with a few shelves full of junk food. While it does indeed have these items in abundance, it also has a respectable selection of food items and may very well serve the main grocery needs of many nearby residents. The store has probably been around for quite a few decades and is the size of what a typical grocery store was before the age of big boxes.

I turned left on Encinal toward Park St. I was tempted to go browsing through Kevin Patrick Books, which is one of those small bookstores that has piles of paperbacks and hard covers in complete disarray and is tempting as the complete foil to bordersbarnes&noble homogenization. A friend, however, warned me that the owner is a very outspoken right-winger, and that just sounded like a perfectly good way to ruin an afternoon, so I kept riding.

At Park, which, along with Webster on the other side of the island, is the most commercial and busy strip in Alameda, I got off my bike and walked, in search of a coffee shop in which I could sip a cup o’ joe, read a book, and repair for a bit before venturing back toward Oakland and home. I found the perfect location at Java Rama, which is an old coffee house with couches and comfy chairs and music programmed by the workers and not piped in from Starbucks-Central. I sat in a overstuffed chair and read the book at which I’ve been slowly plugging away, Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. As the music of the Yardbirds gave way to Neil Young, I gazed around at other customers, some typing, some reading, some sleeping, and I rested my head back against the chair, in no big hurry to get back home.

August 6, 2008 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Bicyclist Takes a Stand at Wal-Mart

I’ve linked below to another bicyclist’s blog entry, in which this person details an encounter with a Wal-Mart greeter and manager. It’s absolutely brilliant, even if I’m not so naive as to believe that Wal-Mart will change their policy because of it. If anything, they’ll probably use it as an excuse for sterner, more ridiculous rules. Still, it’s a fun read:

July 25, 2008 at 8:47 am Leave a comment

Handicapped User Turnstiles at BART

Too frequently, I get a very small taste of what the disabled face in this country on an ongoing basis. I often get cut off from the wider turnstiles at BART, meant especially for the handicapped but also for people with extensive luggage and, yes, bicycles. What’s especially frustrating is that I’m not waiting behind people in wheelchairs or on crutches or walkers; rather, this is done by folks who, as far as I can tell, are perfectly capable of entering or exiting through any of the other turnstiles.

For a long time I didn’t assume that bicyclists are granted the right to use these ticket gates. I always used to park my bike up against the wall, used one of the narrow turnstiles, went through the swinging gate, retrieved my bicycle, and went back out the swinging gate. This was slightly more time consuming and always seemed very inconvenient when I’m in a hurry to get somewhere–which for me is far too often. I also sometimes had to deal with station agents who didn’t fully see what I was doing and assumed I was going through that gate to evade paying fare. Finally, one such station agent informed me that I should be going through the wide ticket gate. And, this has been a huge source of relief for me. Well, that is when others use it the way it’s meant to be used…

Many is the time that, bike in one hand, I’ve gotten my pass out fully prepared to offer it to the gods of electronic ticket reading, when I discover that someone on the opposite end has beat me to it. Not only are these commuters not in any visible way impaired, they are often fit as a fiddle, and they tend to be bearing nothing that would be difficult to clear through one of the other gates. Either they are so incredibly lazy that moving a step or two over to one of the other gates seems like a monumentally tasking ordeal for them; they are completely ignorant of the fact that someone else with a far greater need to use the gate has gotten to it first; they are unfamiliar with the concept of handicapped facilities; or they are selfish boneheads. Whatever the case, this irks me to no end!

Now, it would be easy to assume this sort of behavior is perpetrated by the young and immature brood of our BART-riding family who can be self-centered and distracted and may not even be noticing what they are doing. However, many such individuals appear to be well-heeled professionals who, one would assume, are held accountable for important decisions on a regular basis and should be expected to be cognizant of something as simple as a BART ticket transaction. Even more obnoxious are parents with kids in tow who see fit to model such inconsiderate behavior to their offspring.

At any rate, these people are out there. I think we should start calling them on their douchebaggery!

July 25, 2008 at 8:28 am Leave a comment

Thoughts on Bike Safety

Sometimes equally frustrating to all the bike-blind or bike-hostile motorists in existence is–yes!–bicyclists themselves that deliberately disobey road rules with a cavalier attitude. Now, let me just say that I’ve been guilty on a number of occasions of committing small traffic violations when I thought no one was looking or the situation otherwise seemed safe. I’ve been known not to stop at stop signs when it’s completely obvious that nothing is coming for miles in the other direction. Now and then, I ride on sidewalks when there is no bike lane and, between congested lanes and parked cars, riding on the street is patently unsafe. I’ve even “jaybiked,” for lack of a better term, when slow traffic makes going all the way to the next intersection to cross seem unnecessary. Still, I like to think anyway, I do this sort of thing as conscientiously as possible, making sure that I’m not imperiling others or myself. Some behavior on bikes is not only dangerous but more evidence to those unsympathetic with bicyclists that we are an irresponsible lot.

While I don’t think this is true of most bicyclists, it is still all too uncommon. Needless to say, flying full-on through a red light at a busy intersection, attempting to ride while juggling large coffee drinks and/or other unwieldy items, or making a call while weaving through traffic are some of the more unwise choices I’ve seen cyclists make. Riding with headphones on also seems troublesome. Indeed, many auto drivers have the radio on, so this would seem fair enough for bike riders. Still, most drivers are able to hear other sounds on top of their radio music or chatter. Noise on headphones all but precludes the ability to hear traffic, environmental, or other noises of interest to the cyclist. I can’t speak for others, but I know that I feel tremendously disadvantaged with this sensory deprivation. I save my mp3’s for the BART ride.

I do more head-scratching when I see so many riders, even those whose first mode of transit is the bike, ride in heavy traffic without a helmet. I don’t know if this is a sort of libertarian “let those who ride decide” attitude or there are people who are afraid they look “uncool” with a helmet. I know no helmet is foolproof, but it’s SOME protection for one of the most delicate regions of the body, and not wearing one makes about as much sense to me as the refusal of some in cars to wear seat belts. Anyone that can give me a good reason for not wearing a helmet, other than laziness or vanity, is a better man/woman than I.

Also, please, please, please don’t ride after dark without lights. I know a guy who does so without even reflectors. That’s just plain suicidal.

Sorry, I don’t mean for this to sound preachy. I hope I haven’t put off any of you. As stated, I have a less than pristine record myself. I just don’t understand deliberate unsafe decisions in an already far too dangerous riding world, be they by drivers, cyclists, or pedestrians.

July 17, 2008 at 6:38 pm Leave a comment

A Nice Stretch Along the Bay Trail

One of my favorite features of the Bay Area is the Bay Trail

In an age of perpetually developed land and privatization, I take heart in the work being done to convert formerly abused or otherwise unusable shoreline into accessible pathways for bicyclists, runners, pedestrians, skaters, and dogs. With some 500 miles of trails altogether, there is tremendous scenery yet to be explored! In the East Bay, I am particularly familiar with a picturesque section in the otherwise economically-blighted city of Richmond.

I live in Oakland and work in Richmond, so I not uncommonly get off at the El Cerrito Plaza BART station and head for the Bay. The initial minutes of this journey are always daunting, as I have to negotiate congested intersections along Central Avenue at San Pablo Ave as well as freeway ramps for I-80 and 580, not to mention countless souls en route to or from Costco. I am nevertheless rewarded off the downside of the 580 overpass, as I make a right into much more serene environs along the trail. Although the beginning stretch of this pathway is lodged between a heavily used freeway and an enormous mail warehouse, I begin to see wetlands on my right, and quickly the noise pollution diminishes.

After crossing a bridge over a canal, I still have the marshy area on one side and a dog park on the other. Frisky pooches, both on and off leash, walk with and beyond their owners but are generally obedient enough not to mind bicyclists. The growth along the path soon becomes more tree and reed heavy, all but drowning out the freeway traffic.

After rounding a bend, the dog park gives way to close, rocky shoreline and cooler breezes. On most days, I have an unobstructed view of both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge, downtown San Francisco, and several islands in the bay, including nearby Brooks Island.

On my right, are some fenced-off areas with man-made ponds of unnatural hues and odd clumps of earth that may be landfills. However, I think it is all connected with the UC Berkeley Richmond Field Station which claims to be doing marsh cleanup and restoration. At any rate, signs are posted to keep people out, seemingly for good reason.

On the shoreline, I pass an old, rotting pier that probably hasn’t been functional for decades and looks as if its remains could topple into the bay at any moment. It is fenced-off from humans, though it is easily too treacherous to be tested by any sane person. Even the seagulls that roost on the moist wood are probably in some peril.

The trail forks off in two directions as it reaches an extensive condo development near the Richmond Marina. While the trail quickly morphs from a protected wildlife region into a residential one, the ride remains pleasant.

In one direction, the trail continues to follow the bayshore, albeit in a meandering way that isn’t very helpful when I have somewhere to be. The name of this area is the Shimada Friendship Park. The other route is a more direct way to work and still somewhat scenic for awhile. The path is tree-lined and parallels a creek bed before intersecting with Marina Bay Pkwy, on the other side of which is a small city park called the Marina Park and Green. From there, I follow Regatta Blvd. to Marina Way, and the serenity of well-heeled condo life is soon behind me, as I enter light and then heavier industry and must breathe the noxious air that Richmond residents breathe everyday.

Were I to continue northward, I could pick the trail back up in a more congenial landscape, but alas, I must sign in for work. If I have time, I’ll complete the same tour backwards in the evening rather than just taking BART most of the way home.

July 12, 2008 at 1:07 pm Leave a comment

Some Ordeals in Parking the Metal Horse

I tend to patronize businesses that have bike racks, both for obvious logistical reasons and because I figure it says something good about the ownership’s consideration. Of course, at some locations, during peak riding hours, even very ample bike racks aren’t quite sufficient, and I have to squeeze my bike onto an already used rack space and hope the owners of the other over-crowded parked bikes will be understanding. The MacArthur BART station is a prime example of a location that offers abundant bike parking space, yet, if I don’t arrive early enough–7:30 or so–finding a space to park can prove well nigh impossible.

But this is to be expected at a heavily used transit station that serves as a prime transfer point. The parking at MacArthur is far better than that at many other BART terminals–including 19th St. station, from which a bike of mine was stolen–and it is infinitely better than that of many businesses. Too often, I’ve had to lock my bike up against a street sign or light post. I’ve often wondered if this is legal, though it seems to be common, and I’ve never seen anyone harassed for doing this.

Although this is easy enough in some spots, it can sometimes require much competition for street signs. In other cases, I can find only poles beyond a certain circumference that preclude narrow kryptonite locks. This occasionally entails an awkward amount of aimless traipsing up and down streets in search of bike parking when all I want to do is buy a sandwich or a damn bottle of water! I don’t doubt that bike racks are expensive on top of rent that is already outrageous, but it still seems very sensible for business on streets that have considerable bike traffic.

In rare instances, I find bike racks that are more trouble than they’re worth and opt instead for other poles. I used to stop at the Pacific East Mall in Richmond periodically for a puff pastry from Sheng Kee Bakery–that is, until someone locked a clamp to my bike. They have these very awkward, low-to-the-ground racks with mesh canisters attached (to which I have yet to figure out a use) that require rigging locks through a tiny hole. If I’m lucky enough to get my bike to stand upright against one, I’m much luckier still if I’m able to get the bike locked properly.

In lieu of this, I chose instead to lock the bike against a banister by the stairway. Now mind you, I took care not to obstruct the way for those using the entrance. Nevertheless, I returned to a bike that was doubly locked, and I didn’t have the key for one of the locks. I went to the security office in a bit of a huff. I was already a bit grumpy that evening, having sought out the bakery as a treat for myself after a rough day. I probably came across as more confrontational than I typically am, as the security manager seemed overly apologetic and promptly unlocked the bike. Still, in spite of his good nature, I was soured on the idea of returning there because of this.

I’m not one to complain often. I can usually be pretty resourceful and have enough will to figure something out in times of crisis. In the whole scheme of things, this is small beans. Still and all, it’s been an ongoing issue for me and my bike.

July 7, 2008 at 7:16 pm Leave a comment

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