Transit Oriented Vacations (Part 1)

Transit Oriented Vacations (Part 1)

Getting out of town in the Bay Area via transit

There’s a place just outside of San Francisco where breakers crash against fog-covered cliffs, framed by pristine green hillsides and deer that show no fear of humans. I’ve lived in the Bay Area for ten years but only found this place when I got sick of driving to destinations further afield – world renown places like Tahoe and Yosemite – and the increasing traffic you have to stomach to get there.

In the past ten years, the trip to Tahoe has gone from an easy 4-hour trip, to 5 hours or worse, and you should hear my older friends crow on this topic. These days I holiday closer, and I leave the car at home. Fortunately, it turns out there are places as good or better nearby. The idyllic place I mentioned above is next to the Marin Headlands Hostel, an old army barracks cum hostel literally 10 miles from my apartment, which is in some of the most in-demand urban real estate this side of the Mississippi.

Yes, I’m a transit and bike-ped advocate, but I ended up at this hostel because of my distaste for sitting in traffic, something I very much hope is universal in our society. As a planner I’ve listened to countless arguments for transit-oriented development – TOD – most of which either have to do with 1) getting people from their houses to their jobs via transit, and in so doing reducing morning peak traffic or 2) enticing real estate developers to redevelop urban neighborhoods rather than plow over undeveloped land with suburban tract housing (for more background on TOD, see this, this, and this).

I like TOD as much as the next guy, but I think TOD is a bit too business-like in its approach, a bit too “let’s make an economic argument to give city hall cover for doing the right thing” for me. As a suburban kid from the South, to me transit still holds a romantic appeal, a way to get into the countryside while completely avoiding the aforementioned traffic. I’m the rare person who rides transit on the weekends as much as the weekdays, and I often go in the “wrong” direction.

About a year ago I set myself a goal to take a weekend vacation with my partner in each of the 9 counties of the San Francisco Bay Area, using only transit and biking. This article describes how that worked out for us. At some point we started calling these expeditions Transit Oriented Vacations, or TOV.

Alameda County - The first trip was cake. Put your bike on BART, ride to Pleasanton, and bike to the motel before spectating at a “Tri for Fun” triathlon (my partner was participating) in Stevens Creek County Park. No issues here – there were even bike lanes all the way from the BART station to the cheap motel we stayed at.

Contra Costa County – Next up, we biked 20 miles to an Airbnb where we rented a room in a house with an old hippy couple (i.e. with a solar hot tub shaped like a barrel) in Point Richmond, which had a lovely view from their 120 year old home across the Bay to San Francisco proper. I realized two things about TOV at that point.