Traffic piles up near an entrance to the Bay Bridge on Bryant Street in downtown San Francisco during rush hour on May 13, 2019. Sruti Mamidanna/KQED
Traffic piles up near an entrance to the Bay Bridge on Bryant Street in downtown San Francisco during rush hour on May 13, 2019. (Sruti Mamidanna/KQED)

'Is It Ever Going to Get Better?' Answers to Your Bay Area Transportation Questions

'Is It Ever Going to Get Better?' Answers to Your Bay Area Transportation Questions

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Long commutes, traffic woes and calls for more mass transit solutions. As the Bay Area gets bigger, the transportation problems seem to be getting worse.

Dan Brekke, KQED's resident and self-proclaimed transportation nerd, participated in a Reddit AMA Thursday to answer all of your burning transportation questions, from what the worst commutes are, to the future of public transit in the Bay Area.

Below are some highlights from the AMA, which have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

What is the worst commute you know about?

Aren’t they all pretty bad? I mean, just about every bridge approach is stacked up well before dawn, and they often stay that way most of the day.

That said, my idea of the number one grimmest commute is the westbound trip from San Joaquin County (Stockton, Tracy, Patterson, etc.) across the Altamont Pass on I-580. It’s a long, long journey — a genuine supercommute in Census Bureau lingo — and if you listen to the morning traffic reports, it seems to slow to a crawl by 5 or 5:30 a.m. every day. The trip back east in the evening is epic, too, and many drivers figure they’re going to outsmart the crowd and take to some of the back roads — Tesla/Corral Hollow and Patterson Pass — to get back to the San Joaquin Valley. Problem is those roads are narrow and full of twists and turns, but people are driving them pretty hard anyway.

If you want a more objective answer to the question, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission ranks the top 10 and top 50 most congested locations in the Bay Area.

"Is it ever going to get better?" Dan Brekke tackled questions about Bay Area traffic during his Reddit AMA.
"Is it ever going to get better?" Dan Brekke tackled your burning questions about Bay Area traffic during his Reddit AMA. (Deborah Svoboda)

What are the biggest blockers to getting out of this traffic situation?

The first thing that comes to mind is the fact we have so many different transit agencies — more than two dozen — and so many different government entities to coordinate. It has never really gone well, and the agency that manages federal and state funding for our regional projects — the Metropolitan Transportation Commission — must balance the scores (or hundreds) of local interests that compete for transportation cash.

Funding is always an issue, too, although Bay Area voters have proved pretty willing to get on board with sales taxes, parcel taxes, higher bridge tolls and other levies to help solve the many challenges we’re facing.

Then there’s the time it takes to get stuff built and online: There’s a consensus that the multiple levels of environmental and other regulatory approvals that are typically needed to build a project take a lot of time and extend the time it takes to build projects and adds to their expense.

That’s not always the case, though — the current Caltrain electrification project is an example of a project that secured funding and began work relatively quickly.

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Is it ever going to get better?

It will. But don’t ask me when, exactly.

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of being stuck in freeway traffic for no perceptible reason. But the reason is riding right there in the car with us — especially if you’re a solo driver. This is an incredibly attractive place to live still, even with all the seemingly intractable problems (housing costs, housing availability, homelessness, environmental decline) we face, and the reason we’re stuck in traffic is there are simply too many people just like us who want to be here.

Not to sermonize too much, things will get better when we all look at what we can do to improve the situation and act on it.

KQED's resident transit expert, Dan Brekke, answered your Bay Area transit questions, and many of them including questions about the future of BART and potential expansions.
KQED's resident transit expert, Dan Brekke, answered your Bay Area transit questions, and many of them were questions about the future of BART and potential expansions. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

How optimistic does it look to get more BART coverage in our lifetime? Like more places in the East Bay or San Francisco, or through the Peninsula to San Jose?

That all depends on your life expectancy.

I doubt we’ll see BART going all the way down the Peninsula in the next decade or so.

One of the main reasons you're unlikely to see BART extended down the Peninsula to San Jose is that for the time being at least, the agency seems to be more interested in investing in its core system rather than taking on new extensions. The most recent evidence of that change in thinking is the board's decision to scrap a plan to build an expensive new extension to Livermore. Also, there's an issue of redundancy -- Caltrain is already in the corridor and in the process of beefing up its service.

Over the longer term, maybe the story will be different in the East Bay. As part of the planning for a second transbay crossing — likely a second rail tube — some planners have been sketching out new BART lines that would parallel and supplement the existing service.

Of course, you’re not going to wake up tomorrow morning, or probably any morning for years to come, before plans like that become reality.

What is the very best cheese?

Point Reyes Blue. Spread onto Acme's cranberry walnut bread.

Dan Brekke answered many, many more of your transit questions, and you can read all the answers here.