Transit Oriented Vacations (Part 2)

Transit Oriented Vacations (Part 2)

Getting out of town in the Bay Area via transit

First, I didn’t like biking “long” distances (full disclosure: my partner does not feel the same way about distance!). For me at least, TOV was going to be very different from the hardcore “bike backpacking” way of touring, where 50 to 100 miles is the norm. In fact on this trip, I actually rode there with a backpack on my back and no panniers. But in general I hoped TOV would be for the weekend warrior, and 20 miles by bike would be my cutoff.

Second, Point Richmond is actually surrounded by Richmond, which is one of the most disinvested communities in the Bay. On the way there we biked the Bay Trail and on the way back, we went rogue and chose to bike along an abandoned rail right-of-way in Richmond (converted via Rails to Trails). We ended up getting lost when it was randomly transected by BART, then emerged on a harrowing 4-lane arterial and generally felt out of place in about as many ways as you can. This made me realize it would be nice if TOV actually became a thing, and I could read someone’s notes on how best to make a trip a-la Lonely Planet-style travel writing.

San Mateo County – Next up was a bike trip to the Pacifica Beach Hotel in the town of Pacifica. This trip was an unmitigated success. BART-ing to Colma station and then riding to Pacifica, it was fairly easy to avoid traffic. Unfortunately the elevation profile looks like this:

Any experienced biker probably would have checked this before making the trip and been prepared. Not me! Perhaps needless to say, this is another potential downside of biking (compared to driving): it can be exhausting. But in the end it was invigorating and had I known it was coming, I would have gone anyway and enjoyed it for the exercise.

Santa Clara and Marin – I’m sure there are more adventurous trips in Santa Clara County, but ours was a trip to Mountain View to stay at a friend’s house (by CalTrain, and then by bike). CalTrain also has excellent bike service, and Mountain View has unparalleled bike trails. Google money seems to buy some of the finest bike infrastructure in the country, as Stevens Creek Trail goes under and over every trunk highway on the way to a beautiful marsh by the Bay. The Marin county trip is the one described in the intro – another bike-only trip that’s only 10 miles in each direction. You have to buy your food in advance (to eat at the hostel), manage not to get blown off the Golden Gate Bridge, survive the claustrophobia of a one lane half-mile tunnel, and then you’ll finally emerge to paradise on Earth.

Napa and Solano Counties – Easily my favorite trip was to ride the Vallejo hour-long ferry with a bike (a lovely trip by boat), emerge on the other side in a very different city from those described so far (a blue collar post-industrial town), bike into wine-country to the city of Napa, then back again to the arts community on the upper Bay – Benecia – and finally over the interstate bridge to the home of Joe DiMaggio – Martinez - for a quick Amtrak ride back to town. Note: this was a long and occasionally arduous (read traffic-y) multi-day journey.

Solano County – And that brings us to Solano County, home of the Russian River and with access to the largest Redwood Forests on this planet. To date we haven’t been, and I’m not totally sure how we would even get there. Enter the SMART train, the passenger rail that will connect a handful of Sonoma and Marin towns by 70 mph trains starting in late 2016. The project’s PR machine boasts that “relief is on the way!” for North Bay commuters stuck in traffic jams between Santa Rosa and San Rafael, a message of little import to an Oakland or San Francisco urbanite. But my partner and I plan on taking it the “wrong” way out to the Russian River, one of our favorite weekend destinations by car (via a route usually plagued with excruciating traffic).

Which brings me to the real point of this article. I wonder if there is latent demand for a new transit constituency. Am I the only the one? In the age of “no truly unique ideas,” I sincerely doubt that. In fact, there’s a long history of taking trains to the country for vacationing (e.g. this and this), including the fact that numerous early 20th Century streetcar lines ended at amusement parks to draw riders in the contra-flow direction (of which Coney Island is the most famous). Not to mention the recent spate of articles on the romance of train travel, including this, this, this, this, and this.

So if there is latent demand out there, it might be time to get a bit organized. It would have been helpful on almost all of the trips if someone had paved the way for me (or I for them) and given me a heads up to the bike perils of each trip. And I have since encountered several places that I wish had better support for TOV. For instance, the Amtrak to Sacramento allows bikes (recently did this TOV as well), but if you take the train further to Truckee (a quick hop from Lake Tahoe), you’re SOL. The story is similar from San Jose to Santa Cruz, and for many other prime Bay Area destinations.

I can’t help but dream of hopping that SMART train to Guerneville to stay in a Bavarian cottage in the leafy “gateway to the redwoods.” As far as transit advocates go, it’s not often that people “dream” of TOD (although I imagine pretty much everyone dreams of a traffic-free commute). It’s probably only recently that people have dreamed of traffic-free weekends in the country, but I hope we can begin to realize that it is still possible, if a bit of a work-in-progress.