A few days ago, and again this morning, I mentioned going to the Office 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. Well, despite my best efforts to get there on time, Bay Area Traffic managed to completely torpedo that idea.

Before 11am today I had already spent just about 3.5 hours in the car. It's absolutely f'ing crazy. I mean just over-the-top nuts.

It should NOT take 2 hours and 10 minutes to make the 52.2 mile drive from my house in San Jose to downtown San Francisco.

Yet it did. And there were no accidents along the way. Just a lot of slow moving traffic, often stop and go, full of people who couldn't merge to save their lives, and the nagging sense that billions of dollars are going down the tubes every year because of how completely inadequate our transportation infrastructure is.

The metering lights that are supposed to regulate traffic flow onto highway 101 appear to be completely screwed up in the South Bay. They were definitely not helping much. At each major on-ramp I found myself slowing to almost a stop--if not stopping entirely.

Bay Area Traffic Can Bite Me

It took nearly an hour to get less than half way there this morning. It was at that time that I thought to reset the trip counters on my GPS so that I could capture my average speed. The picture you see above was from San Francisco just before I arrived. So you can see that the average speed for the second "half" of the trip was barely 35 miles per hour.

How frustrating.

By the time I reached Sam Mateo, it was clear that I was going to be very late. But I decided to keep driving just to see how late I'd be.

I know, I know. I should have taken Caltrain instead. Sure, that might have helped me today, but it does little to help the real problem. We need more lanes on the highways around here!

If even a tiny fraction of the people on the roads switched to Caltrain, it'd be over capacity. At least that's what I've heard from Caltrain officials on the radio in the last couple of years.

I'm utterly amazed that the folks who've been doing city and transit planning for the last 10-15 years or so haven't been hung in public by frustrated commuters.

To the folks at the Office 2.0 Conference: I'm sorry for missing the panel this morning. I was looking forward to it.

I wish I had a Toyota Prius. At least I'd have been able to use the carpool lane.

Posted by jzawodn at September 07, 2007 12:07 PM

Reader Comments
# Ray said:

Well, taking 101 was your problem. From San Jose, 280 is vastly smoother. Yes, there are backups at various points, especially north-bound in the morning and south-bound in the afternoon. But still, it pales to 101. I guess your Garmin doesn't recalculate for traffic, but the nav in my car does and it all but refuses to have me go on 101 unless absolutely necessary. So next time you're headed up, broaden your mind and try 280!

on September 7, 2007 12:14 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Yeah, I've used 280 numerous time. But I've also taken 101 and never had it take longer than about 1:30 or 1:40 at most. 2:10 was just unthinkable.

It's too bad there's no small airport near downtown. I'd have rather flown in .

on September 7, 2007 12:17 PM
# Niall Kennedy said:

Take 280! It's a nicer drive through woods and lakes and according to CHP has 25% number of cars every day as 101.

on September 7, 2007 12:20 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:



I've used 280 several times--usually going home FROM San Francisco--and I always enjoy the ride. I hadn't realized the disparity was that great.


on September 7, 2007 12:23 PM
# Lee Hinde said:

It's funny you dismiss the one thing that is a vastly more viable solution than adding freeway lanes, CalTrain. Not only would it have helped you, you would have helped your fellow travelers on 101 by not being there.

That said, I prefer 280 just for the view.

on September 7, 2007 12:41 PM
# Rafe said:


We missed you on the panel today! At least you didn't try to participate via phone or skype or something. Then there would have been a wreck on the 101.

And yeah, 280.


on September 7, 2007 12:44 PM
# Ray said:

25% sounds about right. I drive from the Mission District to Mountain View every morning and it's about 55 minutes door to door when I go 280. About the same in the evenings too. Just watch for the cops running laser/radar under the 92 interchange... they love that spot!

on September 7, 2007 12:44 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

I didn't dismiss Caltrain. I simply planned my driving based on having done this numerous times in advance, plus a bit of margin.

on September 7, 2007 12:46 PM
# Jay said:

I'm convinced that lousy bay area traffic is a leading indicator of a boom in tech stocks. Buy Buy Buy!

on September 7, 2007 01:01 PM
# ChadL said:

I believe the point Lee is trying to make is on the 'solution' you suggest, not the route you took.

Which I tend to agree with Lee; if the Caltrain is so close to capacity then it sounds like it could use another lane or two as well. :)

I'm a believer that it takes a cheaper and more convenient alternative to get people to change habits. And ironically enough, maybe it's terrible traffic that will actually 'fix' the gridlock. No?

on September 7, 2007 01:28 PM
# jim said:

you would need to have bought your prius a while ago. they're not giving out the stickers that let you drive in the hov lanes any longer (in california).

on September 7, 2007 01:30 PM
# Premshree said:

I remember having to work from the city recently. And my drive from San Jose was as crazy. But I remember my GPS redirecting me to 280; that wasn't any better, though.

on September 7, 2007 01:58 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Chad: Oh, I get it. That makes sense too.

on September 7, 2007 02:17 PM
# john said:

Um, move closer to work? Work from home?


on September 7, 2007 02:34 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Uh. I do live fairly close to work.

on September 7, 2007 02:47 PM
# Scott CLark said:

This is one of the reasons we moved out of the Bay Area.

on September 7, 2007 02:56 PM
# Ian Kennedy said:

More freeway lanes isn't the answer, that will only solve the problem until more cars join the rush and then we'll be right back where we started but with 10 jammed lanes instead of 6. That's what happened in LA.

The solution is to make public transit the preferred solution. Bring back the club car so people can sip cocktails while they glide past the traffic in style. The only way you can make this work is if you get enough people using public transit so that it's profitable.

I also hear that Esther Dyson and some others have invested in a blimp company - that would be fun. . .

on September 7, 2007 03:00 PM
# Natasha Robinson said:

I used to drive every day from San Francisco to San Jose (which is less - ha! that's relative - packed than going in the direction you went today) on both 280 and 101 until the day I was driving, (and cursing the people who drive the speed limit in the fast lane - seriously isn't that lane for doing 10-19 miles over the speed limit) felt the urge to hit the car in front of me and said to myself, "Now I see why so many people have Road Rage in California." That was the day I got rid of my car and started taking Caltran (which takes the same time as driving). 511.org is now my best friend and I agree with Ian, this won't be solved until we make public transit the preferred solution.

on September 7, 2007 03:25 PM
# Doug Cutting said:

Lanes of rail can carry far more people than lanes of traffic, and are thus a much more scalable approach to this problem than adding lanes. Note that adding lanes also consumes more real-estate, diminishing tax revenue and increasing sprawl (and hence commute times).


on September 7, 2007 04:19 PM
# Charles said:

Yeah, this sounds familiar. When I moved to LA in 1982, you could get all the way across town in 20 minutes. By the time I left in 1990, the population had increased by over 2 million, and the same 20 minute trip would take 1 to 2 hours of stop-and-go driving.

I don't know how it is now in LA with their new light rail system, but I doubt it is much better. If they expect rail commuting to take off, they'd almost have to resurrect the "car-train," where you drive your car onto a rail transporter, and drive it off at your destination.

I remember seeing a book, "The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Reagan," it was an anti-Reagan hit-piece from his gubernatorial campaign. I still remember one amazing quote, "Everyone in California supports mass transit. They figure everyone will take mass transit, leaving the freeways clear for them to drive."

on September 7, 2007 04:24 PM
# Evan Goer said:

Jay above speaketh the truth. Remember how things were in 2001, 2002? Smooth sailing on all the freeways. It was beautiful. If you had a job, that is.

on September 7, 2007 04:52 PM
# davidk said:

I imagine it'll be only a few years now till its simply impossible to move around the Bay Area in a reasonable amount of time without wanting to put yourself in a psychological institution. :)

on September 7, 2007 08:40 PM
# John said:

LA is so much worse though. 280, if you are doing the reverse commute, is so much nicer and smoother. I used to get to San Jose from Foster City by taking 92 to 280, which was longer but much faster and was the reverse commute.

And yeah, 280 is probably one of the prettiest Interstate's in the nation while 101 is just plain ugly (the very first impression I had when visiting California while being driven by my cousin from SFO down to San Jose back in 1992 at night!)

on September 7, 2007 09:36 PM
# Jim said:

Ever wonder why BART doesn't run down the peninsula? Voted down by the good people in San Mateo County I believe. When was that vote taken, so long ago no one recalls any more.

The only thing wrong with BART is the people that work there and I use the term work advisedly.

on September 8, 2007 04:59 AM
# tom c. said:

ian's got it right ... the answer is not more lanes of highway. building and maintaining roads is going to bankrupt this country. roads are the ultimate hamster wheel, in terms of infrastructure maintenance ... and building more of them encourages people to keep on keeping on. the real issue is our utter dependence on the automobile.

light rail, electrified light rail is the answer. but until people figure that out, there won't be any support for city planners who want to change the system (so let's not put this all on them). the problem is staring all of us in the mirror, imo

on September 8, 2007 06:29 AM
# Zoli Erdos said:

Now I don't feel entirely foolish to have missed the second day of Office 2.0 for traffic reasons...

Back in the Valley I knew rule#1 was to always take 280 - but since I moved to the East Bay, driving to SF in the mornings is close to impossible, so I'm taking BART.

The problem is, after getting to Office 2.0 at 7am Thursday, I thought I could be a bit lazy and only arrive for the 9am session on Friday. Naive me... by 8am the parking lot at the Pleasanton BART station was completely full, after ten minutes of circling I gave up, decided to try and drive to SF all the way. 40 minutes later I was just getting close to Oakland... finally I decided I'm better off working from home than spending hours in a traffic jam, so I just turned back.
#1 - forget driving to SF
#2 - leave at 6am, or afternoon
#3 - Bteween 8am and nooon you're trapped.


on September 8, 2007 10:09 AM
# Prem said:

You probably should move to bangalore. Not that it will change anything (it will still take you 2 hours and 10 minutes(or more) to make the 52.2 mile trip), but you will feel a lot better/happier that you have reached your destination in record time.... :)

on September 8, 2007 10:23 AM
# Mike Macgirvin said:

Occasionally I'll wax nostalgic about the good ol' US of A and the cultural phenomenon known as Silicon Valley. But it quickly fades when reminded of carpool lanes and commute traffic.

Last week I got stuck behind a tractor - for over a kilometer.

on September 8, 2007 03:19 PM
# chad said:

"Before 11am today I had already spent just about 3.5 hours in the car."

"I wish I had a Toyota Prius. At least I'd have been able to use the carpool lane."

From 9am-11am you could've driven in the carpool lane. ;)

on September 8, 2007 08:01 PM
# Joseph Hunkins said:

I marvel at how commuters down there keep their sanity. My pal used to drive in at 4am, then finish sleeping in front of his workplace to avoid the 2 hour rush hour commute.

How to implement several travel tech approaches that might help?

Using existing CA DOT data and on board GPS units to collect data which would be processed in real time for re-routing of traffic to less congested areas via feedback to the GPS units, radio, mobile maps, traffic devices.

Expanding/incentifying commuter uses of online tools like Yahoo Traffic, Google maps.

Using more online tools and approaches to schedule meetings and stagger work times in businesses that could have flexible scheduling and stay-at-home workdays.

etc, etc.

There are better ways and we need to find them.

on September 9, 2007 01:51 PM
# Mark Ture said:

At the risk of sounding like a crazy, I'd like to suggest Personal Rapid Transit instead of light rail or other forms of public transit.


In a nutshell, a PRT system uses railways, but with small 2-4 person automated pods. Very frequent stations are positioned offline so that the normal flow of traffic is not required to stop. Although not confirmed, I've read somewhere that the cost of fixed infrastructure (railways, bridges, etc) increases exponentially with the weight of the vehicles. Making even "light" rail much more expensive per mile than a system that uses personal pods.

With tracks set up in a grid, you could route the vehicles like network packets.

on September 9, 2007 06:17 PM
# Arvind said:

Taking BART to SF from Fremont might have worked, depending on where you live in San Jose. The walk from from the Montgomery station would have been about 1 block.

on September 10, 2007 12:25 PM
# Mario Chamorro said:

>> We need more lanes on the highways around here!

Absolutely NOT - more lanes just means more traffic. Like you said, you should have used CalTrain or some other public transportation. If you insist on driving, 280 has always been a better bet.

on September 10, 2007 12:32 PM
# ben said:

Mario is right, adding more lanes has been show to make more people think it's a good idea to drive, intensifying the traffic problem.

It's counterintuitive but has been proven through the US.

on September 10, 2007 03:26 PM
# Jason Golod said:

I didn't get the part about dismissing Caltrain. I take it whenever I can to meet up down in the Peninsula. Baby Bullet gets you from SJ to SF in 59 minutes...how exactly were you planning on making it to the city during the day even close to that? http://www.caltrain.org/timetable.html#weekday-northbound

on September 12, 2007 10:23 AM
# GeekTieGuy said:

No matter whether you want more roads (bad idea, as many have already commented) or more public transport like CalTrain, who is going to pay for it?

Could it mean - oh no! - higher TAXES?

Oops, guess it ain't gonna happen then. Ever. Cause people here in the U.S. of A. oppose any kind of taxation vehemently, right? Or maybe not in this case?

on September 13, 2007 02:33 PM
# said:

well, i guess the best solution would be when all those people would move closer to their work place. i heard real estate is quite cheap now...

on September 16, 2007 09:11 AM
# Ted said:

Jeremy - you should start riding a motorcycle. California is smart enough to let us split lanes - traffic jams do not apply to riders!

on September 27, 2007 11:44 AM
# Dipti said:

I couldn't agree with you more. Traffic has become a nightmare these days. Earlier it used to take me 40 mins from fremont to Millbrae (using the dumbarton bridge) and now with the construction on 101, it takes more than an hour !!! I would love to take the public transport, but to get to the bart station in fremont, get to Millbrae, and either take a bus or walk to work, makes it 1.5 hours. Thats not even an option till my drive time becomes 2 hours.

on October 4, 2007 08:29 AM
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