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San Francisco Bay Area Traffic

I have always viewed the traffic of the San Francisco Bay Area, particularly in and leading to Silicon Valley, as an economic indicator.

When the economy is really good, your vehicle can barely move. When the economy is tanking, your travel time is decreased.

During part of the “Dot Com Boom,” I was a Netscape guy based onsite at Apple (then, “Apple Computer”), helping to bring up the .Mac service (then, “Mac.com”). I was commuting about 100 miles/day round trip between Livermore and Cupertino. Traffic was abysmal, and gas was pushing $3/U.S. gallon (ah, those were the “good old days” :-) ), so I learned to ride a motorcycle by taking a Motorcycle Safety Foundation beginner course (highly recommended). One of the students in the class was a California Highway Patrol officer (who had moved north from Los Angeles) who wanted to have the life of a motorcycle cop. My reasons were 1) economic and 2) because I always wanted to ride a motorcycle. OK, OK, “economic” was number 2. :-) I will never forget some of the sights between here and Cupertino – like a car with 4 people strapped in, spinning on its roof in the #2 lane (that is the next-to-left-hand lane, for you non-Calfornian folks) on Interstate 280. Also, inexperienced drivers in very expensive sports cars who tried to mate the vehicles with the concrete median divider, also on I-280. I have always believed that inexperienced motorists (especially motorcyclists) should be required to take a “high-level” course in physics, with labs like the one I took in high school called “collision in 2 dimensions.” I ride a motorcycle like 1) someone who likes to *live* and 2) someone who understands physics (at least “classical” physics). (There is only a small sub-population that even claims to understand quantum physics.) Things like the “v-squared” term in the energy equation are pretty important in collisions.

Tonight, I had dinner at an overpriced burger joint in Santa Clara with a good friend of mine from Netscape and Sun Microsystems days. At 60 degrees F and declining, I decided to spend the extra gasoline this evening and leave the bike in our garage. Driving my other vehicle up the east side of the infamous “Sunol Grade” on Interstate 680, I encountered a slowdown near the top, where a couple of police cars were looking at a badly mangled (I could not tell the make) vehicle on the right-hand shoulder. Although motorists slowed down to gawk, this sort of thing happens every day somewhere in the Bay Area, so much so that I referred coworkers at my previous place of employment to the Sigalert.com web page for the Bay Area. A “Sigalert” arises from a very bad traffic situation, which usually arises from a very bad traffic accident. Oddly enough, when I look at the page at 9:45 PM U.S. Pacific Time, all is “green” i.e. “moving and good” except for 3 minor traffic accidents and slow traffic around the Golden Gate Bridge.

The traffic (sluggish) in the Bay Area this evening seemed to indicate that the economy is improving, especially since I was traveling at non-“Rush Hour” times. (Actually, there is no “Rush Hour” in the Bay Area – traffic sluggishly moves one direction for part of the day and then reverses to move sluggishly the other direction (in “good” economic times). :-) And the Los Angeles area is worse…. Los Angeles is the only place that I have traveled where people have strung “razor wire” to protect traffic signs from graffiti “artists” (a.k.a vandals).

Vistors to the Bay Area and to other parts of California should incorporate, into their travel plans, the effects of weather (“we brake for RAIN” :-) ), natural disasters (mudslides, earthquakes, and flooding can ruin your day), sporting events (is there a game in San Francisco AND Oakland today?), the garden-variety “maroon” (as in an R.K. Maroon cartoon) and automobile accidents, like the 8-car collision on the Golden Gate Bridge yesterday that locked up traffic for hours and miles.

[Update April 9, 2008: In addition to rain, natural disasters, sporting events, the garden-variety “maroon,” and automobile accidents, visitors should also include protests of various types, such as those by bicyclists, and the hanging of “Free Tibet” banners on the Golden Gate Bridge that occurred yesterday. Today, the Olympic Torch is passing through San Francisco, as it did through London and Paris, and we shall see what events unfold, and what their effects on traffic will be.]

Other than some of these minor inconveniences, California is a wonderful place to visit and to drive!

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™ 

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