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Heavy Traffic Expected As Riders Scramble for BART Alternatives

bay_bridge_traffic_1.jpgFlickr photo: schlick33

With BART's operators' union declaring an imminent strike that will shut down the entire system starting this Monday, Bay Area commuters are scrambling to find other options for getting to work, particularly from the East Bay, where BART and the Bay Bridge are the two primary transportation links across the water.

Despite gridlock expected on the roads as hundreds of thousands of BART riders move to other transit operators or their cars, Caltrans doesn't plan to alter its traffic management across the Bay Bridge.

"At this point we're going to operate within our standard traffic management. We're going to adjust metering lights as is necessary," said Caltrans District 4 spokesperson Lauren Wonder. She noted that Caltrans
engineers would be out monitoring traffic throughout the day starting
on Monday and for the duration of the strike in order to gauge the
traffic impacts as they arise. "We are looking at possibly changing hours on HOV lanes, but if you make it too
restrictive, you might alienate a portion of the community and make
those other mixed flow lanes even more crowded."

While she didn't rule out the possibility of converting a mixed-flow lane into a transit-only lane if deemed appropriate by Caltrans engineers, that option is not expected, said Wonder, in part because AC Transit and other transit operators are running at near-capacity conditions and don't have that many more buses to put into service.

"You have to look at the big picture and if a transit-only lane would result in more overall traffic," she said.

AC Transit spokesperson Clarence Johnson said his agency expects to beef up its service and put every available bus and driver to work, particularly along BART corridors and the Transbay route, to "help commuters cope with the paralyzing impact of the walkout." The agency has worked with Caltrans, the City of Oakland, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to temporarily convert the West Grand Avenue on-ramp to the Bay Bridge into HOV and bus-only, thus facilitating buses on their entry to the bridge past the horrendous back-up expected at the toll plazas.

MTC spokesperson John Goodwin echoed Wonder's concern that converting a whole lane across the Bay Bridge to transit-only might not have the desired effect of expediting travel given the dearth of buses to use it. Goodwin also said there was no way they would convert a vehicle lane to a bicycle lane, suggesting instead that cyclists use the various ferry services to get across the bay. All ferries can be found at, though Goodwin noted that East Bay Ferries and Baylink Ferries had already committed to adding service during the strike.

Goodwin and Wonder both encouraged riders to make use of formal and casual carpooling options, which can be found at 511's rideshare page, as well as Park and Ride and BART parking lots, which will be open and free in various locations and will be served by AC Transit.

When asked if a mandatory carpool option would be considered, as was done in New York City after the September 11th attacks, Wonder said no option was off the table, but she highly doubted any such action would be taken. "I don't think that a mandatory carpool has ever happened before, even with Loma Prieta."

In San Francisco, where traffic will be untenable if BART riders choose to drive in large numbers, there are no plans to create additional temporary transit-only lanes.

"We're going to be working closely with our PCOs and the traffic deployment to keep crucial transit corridors open," said MTA spokesperson Judson True. "For us, it's all hands on deck and we're going to do the best we can given the challenging situation."

BART Director Tom Radulovich said he had heard some talk of BART running shuttles through the Transbay Tube with managers at the helm, but that there were no concrete plans. He said he had also heard BART could consider paying for private bus companies to transport customers across the Bay Bridge. BART spokesperson Linton Johnson had not responded to our requests for clarification by the time of this writing.

Radulovich stressed that San Francisco's downtown will be a mess if agencies don't coordinate to manage the streets intelligently. "The worst outcome would be everyone drives and clogs downtown streets, then the limited transit that is running won't be able to move.  Unless there's proactive management of our streets and the Bay Bridge, that's exactly what's going to happen."

MTC's Goodwin said his agency has been working for months planning for a strike, which could have come when BART's contracts expired at the end of June. "I wish there was more that could be done, but in light of the budget squeeze, there's only so much. In the past, we might have been able to make up the difference for the transit operators with the State Transit Assistance Fund, but that was slashed in the last state budget negotiations."

"This is going to be an inconvenience for a lot of people, but it's not going to be a catastrophe," he added. "People in the Bay Area have proved over and over again, from the fire on the [MacArthur Maze] exchange in 2007 to the Loma Prieta earthquake, they are resilient. My advice is: plan ahead, pack your patience, you're going to get where you're going."

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