Car Free Challenged, Part 1

So, the Car Free Challenge has come and gone. I know you’re supposed to blog about your experiences during the challenge, but I just was not able to find the time (plus, I was having terrible blog problems). But I figured that since I did it, I might as well write about it, even if it is a little late. Plus, it seemed like a good way to ease back in to blogging.

Before the challenge

So. I don’t own a car. I don’t even have a driver’s license. Obviously, driving is not some huge part of my life, which makes car free challenge somewhat less of a challenge for me than I’m sure it would be for many people.

But I don’t live a completely car free lifestyle, either. I do take taxis pretty regularly. If it’s really late, and especially if I happen for some strange reason to be intoxicated, I will totally take a taxi even a very short distance rather than walk home by myself. If I am running late for something, I’ll often just head straight to the cab stand at 13th and Broadway. Or if I need to carry a lot of heavy things that I just can’t get on the bus, like after a trip to BevMo.

So I use taxis a lot. And sometimes I get rides places. I mean, I try not to be gratuitous about it, and I pass on rides probably about half the time. It just depends on the situation. Like, in general, I’ll say no if someone would be going way out of their way to drop me off. Unless it’s raining really hard, or the bus isn’t coming for a really long time, or something like that.

But for the most part, I prefer being able to say that I’m fine taking the bus, because I like reminding people that the bus isn’t anything near as bad as the people who don’t ride it think it is, and educating them about the convenient bus lines right near their home or whatever. But if people are going to and from the same place as me, or if they argue about it, I usually give in, because sometimes people get really offended and take it personally when you say you would rather take the bus than spend like 10 minutes alone with them or however long the ride is. Which I think is kind of crazy, but whatever.

The world’s worst bus stop

Anyway. A lot of weeks, I don’t get in a car at all. Most weeks, it is probably more than zero, but less than five miles. And of course some weeks it is substantially higher. It didn’t seem right to pledge more car miles during Car Free Challenge week than I would have in like half of normal weeks, and since the point of the car free challenge is that it is, well, a challenge, I figured I didn’t have much choice other than to say I would go zero miles.

Tuesday was totally easy. I was working from home that day, so I technically didn’t actually have to go anywhere. I took a long walk around lunchtime (for recreation, not cause I needed to get somewhere), and then walked like 2 blacks down the street and back to meet a friend for drinks in the evening. No car, no problems, hooray! One day down, six to go.

Wednesday represented significantly more of a challenge. I had an event I had to go to way up on Skyline Boulevard. I am sure it will surprise exactly none of you to learn that Skyline Boulevard is not a part of my normal stomping grounds. In fact, it is one of those places that I just automatically assume using transit isn’t even an option, and my first thought when I find out I have to do something up there is to wonder who else I know who might be going, so I can call them and ask for a ride.

Which was my first thought about this event too, and it wasn’t until after I asked someone and they said no that it even occurred to me that it conflicted with my Car Free Challenge goals.

So then I realized that I shouldn’t get a ride after all and started looking into transit options. Getting there was actually totally easy — the 39 stops like across the street from where I was going. I was very happy that the bus went so convenient to my destination, but I cannot pass on commenting on the horrible bus stop.

Bus stop on Skyline

This is where it drops you off. Just on the road right there. There’s a sign stuck in the median, but of course you can’t walk in or stand on the median because it is full of grass that goes up to your waist! I mean, I know busses are not such a priority in the hills as they are in other parts of town, but I’m not asking for a full blown shelter or something. Just a place you can stand and wait for the bus that is somewhere other than in the middle of the road! OMG.

But aside from getting dropped off in the middle of the street and the minor annoyance of having to leave work a little early in order to make my bus, getting up there was no big deal.

Streets made only for cars

Getting home, on the other hand, was a total pain in the ass. I mean, even figuring out how to get home was annoying. AC Transit’s Trip Planner wouldn’t even suggest a bus to take, because there is no option on the preferences where you can indicate that you’re willing to walk more than one mile to get to your bus. Annoying!

Happily, Google Transit has no such limits, and was happy to inform me of a bus I had previously been unfamiliar with that runs once an hour and that I could pick up not too far away. I had to leave my event early, which sucked, but otherwise it didn’t seem so bad.

Until I was explaining my plans to a friend and they totally flipped out and started insisting that it was completely unsafe to walk along Skyline at night, saying the cars drive super fast and there are no lights and that if I did it, I would get run over by a car and even in the unlikely case that I did manage to walk to the bus stop without getting hit, I would probably get kidnaped by a serial killer or something, because in the hills, there is no one to hear you scream.

I put the question to Twitter about whether it was safe or not, and the responses came back about half and half. Since most of the people who said it was fine were people who get around without driving most of the time and most of the people who said don’t do it were car people, I decided to go for it.

It was…well, it wasn’t totally horrible. Happily, we’re so late in the year that it was still pretty light out at 8:30. But I wouldn’t do that walk again if I didn’t absolutely have to, and I definitely would not do it at night when it was dark.

Nowhere to walk on Skyline

I mean, the cars on Skyline drive very fast. And there really is nowhere to walk except right on the street.

I had thought, based on looking at the route on Google Maps, that there would be plenty of space to walk alongside of the road or on the median. Alas, that turned out not to be the case, because, like I said before, the grass there was as tall as my waist.

Waist high grass

I don’t know if this just never got mowed, or if it has something to do with the fact the City has abandoned maintaining it because of all the cuts in public works, or if this space is someone else’s responsibility besides the City’s, but it really is just awful. I mean, it looks terrible, completely uncared for, and also it really makes it impossible to walk on the street.

I made it to Redwood Road without incident, and breathed a huge sigh of relief when I got there, because OMG, there was a sidewalk!

Sidewalk on Redwood

Well, not really a sidewalk, I guess. It wasn’t paved. But after being forced to walk in the street all along Skyline, I was overjoyed at the opportunity to not be on the actual road anymore.

Of course, that lasted about a minute.

No sidewalk on Redwood

The sidewalk-y space was still there, but it was so overgrown with shrubbery that you could not actually walk on it. Once again, I was back on the street. Slightly less scary, since there was a big shoulder, but really, I feel far more comfortable as a pedestrian when I can walk on a space that is physically spearated somehow from cars.

Other than the lack of sidewalk, it was a really pretty walk.

View from Redwood

Eventually, I made it to the bus stop, and the bus came right on time, and I felt pleased that my first challenge of the car free challenge had been a success. Would I ever use transit to do that trip again? Um, maybe if I have to go there during next year’s car free challenge. Otherwise, no way. This is a street made only for cars.

And for the rest of my car-free week? Tune in tomorrow.

12 thoughts on “Car Free Challenged, Part 1

  1. Mike Hardy

    I will state right away that I’m going to sound like a bike-nut for this comment, but I think this may be a practical use for a bike as a transit-extender. The bus can carry the bike up the hill on the front rack – getting you past the tough part – then once you have the elevation handled via diesel power, heading either across skyline to redwood for the next bus is easy via bike or you can just go ahead and cruise down the hill (Skyline/Redwood/Joacquin Miller/Mountain/Park -> you’re at Lake Merritt) with no uphills along the way so you can even dress fancy both ways and it’s fine.

    I won’t pass judgement on any one that thinks that’s a pain or is worried about bike theft while they’re at an event though – those are totally valid.

    +1 for you for even giving a car free week a try – “low” is hard, “zero” is much harder…

  2. Ralph

    I may sound like a walker geek, but I always like to have a reflective vest and flashers for nighttime walks and runs. I want to be seen before it is too late. I even recommend them for people casually walking Lake Merritt as bikers don’t always ride safely for the dark conditions.

    In the hills no one hears you if you scream, everywhere else they jsut ignore you.

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    I was thinking while I was walking that a bicycle would make traveling around that part of town a lot easier. I don’t own one right now. I confess that riding a bicycle on busy streets terrifies me. Maybe someday I’ll take the plunge, though.

    I don’t own any reflective vests, but it did occur to me that it would probably not be a good idea to walk back at night wearing all black, which is the color of like, every item of clothing that I own. I managed to dig out an old chef’s coat from my professional cooking days and stuffed it in my purse with plans to put it on for the walk to the bus. But I had totally forgotten about how it was summer now and it stays light really late. So since it wasn’t dark, I ended up not wearing the jacket after all.

  4. Mike Hardy

    Admittedly going out on a little bit of a tangent in response to your comment V Smoothe, Craigslist is pretty good for finding cheap “beater” bikes to see if it is worthwhile at all (in case you’re interested), and you’re point about traffic is definitely valid.

    I’ll mention (as a bike commuter myself) that the most important thing I do is to plan my route very carefully. Almost as a general rule, you can use a “one block over” trick from whatever road you’d use if you had a motor. An example would be that Broadway is very busy and scary but Franklin is pretty relaxed. Also, since they re-did Lake Merritt, the bike lane there is really a thing of beauty. Knowing which streets are good and which are bad is almost a life-n-death decision and makes all the difference between being afraid of death or thinking “hey, this is liberating”. So if you ever dip a toe in the urban bike commute waters, chat up any biker friends you’ve got to get street-by-street reqs

    The one problem I never solve well is parking though. Sure there are places to put your bike but you can never trust it (or all its parts) will be there, so I find I just don’t do things on my bike if I can’t park it inside where ever I’m going, with me.

  5. Lindsay

    Your comments about having to stand in waist-high grass totally cracked me up and then depressed me.

    We’ve got a lot of work to do to make streets for everyone…

  6. Ken

    obviously a need for a complete street. but by the time there’s no gas/diesel, the rich folks will have people like me huffing them up and down the hills in palanquins. or doing it by horse.

    i bet the ‘walkscore’ for where you were would be below ’50′

  7. Ralph

    I would like to see more secure bike parking both on the sidewalk and possibly in parking structures. I like the BART boxes. Is it possible to use a space for multi-bike parking and use little boxes to secure one’s seat. There needs to be better acknowledgement of the needs of cyclist.

  8. Freddy

    Public transit into the hills exists for nannies and maids. Don’t kid yourself. Do what they do: deal with it.

  9. Quercki

    I’m proud of you.
    My daughter (who didn’t drive) had a summer job off Skyline. Whichever trip planner we used suggested a bus that the next run wasn’t until September.

    Maybe Walk Oakland, Bike Oakland can offer reflective vests as a fund raiser? Maybe I can make a light-up one for myself? (I’m currently trying to learn enough electronics to make a project with LEDs.)

  10. Kymba

    Wow, this is a great entry and the photos are very helpful.
    I have one request, practically a begging style request; please send this text in the form of an e-mail, photos attached, to AC Transit. They need to see this, and the only way to enlist their help (I know, I know) is to ask them for what we want and need. Please do! Sometimes my friends and I get very adversarial with ACT, but sometimes you ask for things and it gets on their list and (a year later) we’re pleasantly surprised. Not always, and I’m not going to be all Pollyanna about this, but I’ve been reading a lot of blogs that start a lot of great conversations about bikes and transit and walking and.. I don’t think that any of them make their way into the hands of the agencies that can act on them.

  11. Catherine

    Actually, Freddy, public transit in the hills exists for school kids. I wish there was a bus that went up and down that ran even once an hour. As Quercki points out, most of the hills buses (except, of course, the 51 and the 39) don’t start up again until they say “Montera/Skyline” on them in September.

    That being said, Mike’s comments about finding a parallel route for bikes is fairly applicable to walking in the hills as well. I certainly wouldn’t walk up Snake, for example, for fear of being flattened, but I regularly walk up and down the hills using side streets and pathways (thanks, WOBO, for the path map!). Hill walking just takes a lot more planning than walking in DTO.

    As to the grass, this is about the time of year that it gets cut back, to comply with fire prevention regulations. That being said, many property owners (including the City and PG&E) don’t weed whack (or get goats) until at/after the mid-June deadline because they don’t want to do it twice, and if you cut the grass back too early it will regrow. Not justifying it, just explaining. It does look like absolute shit.