commute | 511 Contra Costa - Part 2

Visualizing Bay Area Commute Patterns

(A still of commute patterns in the East Bay. Screen grab via: Activemaps)

Data is an empowering and effective tool for better understanding our everyday lives, and when that information can be easily digested through visuals we are all the more grateful. With this in mind, a thank you is due to UC Berkeley planning Ph.D. student Fletcher Foti, who recently  compiled commute patterns in greater New York, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and created an interactive visualization called “Active Maps.” Active Maps shows a day of travel from recent travel surveys and can be sorted by income and zoomed to specific areas. Each circle represents a person, and the size of the circle represents the age of the person. When looking at the East Bay, it’s interesting to note regardless of income, transit and walking appear to be most prevalent  around Berkeley and Oakland whereas the surrounding parts of Alameda and Contra Costa County appear more car-dependent.
For additional coverage, visit The Atlantic City and San Francisco Streetsblog.
*(Note: the default map is for New York, though you can click on the drop-down bar to select the San Francisco Bay Area)

New Commuting Trend: Bike Trains


Bike commuting– much safer and pleasant when there’s company. Photo credit: Walk Eagle Rock

Los Angeles has been making headlines in recent years because of the region’s willingness to invest in alternatives to the automobile, particularly in bringing back an efficient and convenient train system. However, it now appears that another form of commuter train has been built… bike trains!

What are bike trains? The founders of LA Bike Trains, the organization spearheading the concept, put together this concise explanation:

We provide a rolling party along select routes run by Conductors – experienced urban cyclists – to harness the safety of riding in a group while kicking it up a notch by making the ride a fun social experience.  And it’s totally free!
All you need to do is submit your email, cell phone number and the route that you’re interested in. If you don’t see a route that works for you – suggest one and if you’re interested in leading a Bike Train as a Conductor – let us know.

In essence, the bike train concept brings you together with those people you see bicycling during your bike commute, the ones you see and think to yourself , “Wouldn’t it be cool if we ride together as a group? It would be safer and more fun to ride with other people!”
At the moment, Los Angeles has ten different bike train routes scattered across the region, all of which have their own “conductor” leading particular routes with specific departure times. LA Bike Trains even offers commuter surveys to gather input to figure out what routes throughout the county are in high demand.
The hopes of the LA Bike Trains founders are that by offering a more comfortable experience, bicycling can be made more accessible by those intimidated by the thought of cycling to work, and so far, the concept has received positive feedback.
For more information on LA Bike Trains, visit their websitecheck them out on twitter (and the hashtag #LABikeTrain) or see their facebook page.

Have You Been Enjoying A Better Ride? (2013)

Gillig Suburban Inaugural 11.7.13
New AC Transit bus, the “Gillig Suburban,” offers riders free wifi. Photo credit: AC Transit

In March AC Transit began phasing in a new line of buses built by Bay Area based company Gillig to replace some of the fleet’s older models. In August, AC Transit introduced the New Flyer 60’ articulated buses, which feature 52 seats (and additional room for standing) to handle demand along its most heavily traveled routes (click here to check out the specs of the bus).
Now, as of November 8th, AC Transit has unveiled yet another type of bus to improve service quality for riders, one geared to to accommodate long distance commuters, called the “Gillig Suburban.” These buses have the following features:

Gillig Suburban Inaugural 11.7.13
With seats like that, riding the Gillig Suburban bus could make for a very relaxing commute. Photo credit: AC Transit

  • Passenger-controlled overhead reading lamps
  • High-backed cushioned seats
  • Overhead luggage racks
  • Free wifi

All three new models of buses are part of AC Transit’s “A Better Ride” effort to make bus travel more pleasant and efficient. If you have ridden any of the new types of buses, AC Transit encourages you to provide feedback by sending an email to
To keep up with the latest news from AC Transit, check out the agency on facebook, twitter, youtube, or sign up to receive their e-newsletters 

How Do You Actually Get Commuter Benefits?

Bike to Work Day at the Mid Market Energizer Station
Bike to Work Day 2010 in San Francisco. Photo credit: Bay Area Fair Trade Coalition
In an earlier post here at 511 Contra Costa we noted that commuter benefits for vanpooling and public transportation had been restored through the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (HR 8) to be on par with the qualified parking benefit

For the 2013 calendar year:

  • up to $245 per employee withholding per month for vanpool and all public transportation
  • up to $245 per employee withholding per month for qualified parking, or
  • up to $490 per employee withholding per month for both public transportation and qualified parking

This is great news but how does one go about setting aside pre-tax income for a commute benefit? Here are some steps you can take to get started.
First, make sure you’re using a qualifying commute alternative. The benefit is available to commuters who commute to work in a vanpool, use public transit, or pay for qualified parking. (Carpooling does not currently qualify for pre-tax benefits.)
Next, ask your employer if commuter tax benefits are offered; typically Human Resources or Benefits department will know.  If your employer isn’t aware of the benefit, share the IRS Employer’s Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits  with them.
Step three is to set up a payroll withholding for the qualified commute benefit you use. Keep in mind, your employer must have this benefit set up as a pre-tax withholding option in the payroll system.
There is also a benefit for commuting by bicycle though the process is slightly different because unlike other pre-tax commuter benefits the bicycle benefit cannot be withheld from your pay.  See the full tax code here
Note: Withe the passage of California Senate Bill 1339, employers in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Are with 50 ore more employees will be required to offer some sort of commuter benefit – one of the options is to offer employees to withhold pre-tax income for vanpooling, transit or qualified parking.  Look for more information on the roll-out of this bill in summer of  2013.  The Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission are developing the Rule.

Bikes on BART in March (2013)

Bikes on Bart Pilot Aug. 3, 2012
Bikes on BART during August’s “Bike Friday”. Photo Credit: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition
Remember when BART experimented with allowing bicycles on trains during Friday rush hour in August, known as “Bike Friday?” Following the mostly positive, encouraging feedback the agency received  during that test run BART is ready to try it again. A second phase of “bikes on board” testing will occur during the week of Monday, March 18 through Friday, March 22, 2012.
To clarify, during this upcoming phase bicycles will be allowed in all stations and on all trains all day during the test week. The standing policy which limits bicycle access to BART during commute hours will not be enforced.
For additional details head over to BART and see the full announcement. Or for a refresher of what Bike Friday was like, check out the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s flickr set covering that test run.

BART Proposes Capacity Improvements (2013)

BART rebuild
Proposed improvements would allow riders to board and exit on both sides of the train! Image via BART
There’s been no shortage of BART news lately here at 511 Contra Costa– from improved signage, to new (and old) extensions under construction, to experiments with allowing bikes on during rush hour and of course BART’s 40th birthday.
The latest word comes to us via the SF Gate– that BART is proposing rebuilding two of system’s busiest stations to include new tunnels, elevators and extra platforms that will accommodate projected capacity demands in the future. The SF Gate writes:

The rebuilding of the Embarcadero and Montgomery Street stations would require tearing out the existing walls, installing new platforms, boring additional tunnels for staircases, and putting in extra elevators.

For added safety, the new platforms would have automated sliding glass doors that would open when the trains arrive.

The projects, in total, could take well over five years to complete.

New Bay Area Commuter Benefit Policy

Berkeley Bike Lane

With S.B. 1339 passed, are you more likely to pedal as part of your commute?
Photo credit:  Carrie Cizauskas

In September 2012, Governor Brown passed into law S.B. 1339 – legislation that allows the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to implement a region-wide Bay Area commuter policy benefiting employees who work at least 20 hours per week for an employer with 50 or more full-time employees in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. The purpose of the legislation is to encourage commuting by means other than single passenger automobile travel.
While some Bay Area cities already have commuter benefit policies to encourage the use of public transit or bicycling, the passage of S.B. 1339 will require select employers to offer one of the following commute benefits:

  • The option to pay for transit, vanpooling or bicycling expenses with pre-tax dollars, as allowed by IRS Code 132(f) – the Transportation Fringe Benefit
  • A transit or vanpool subsidy of at least $75 per month in 2013 and adjusted annually for inflation thereafter
  • Access to a free shuttle or vanpool operated by or for the employer
  • A customized alternative program by the employer that provides similar benefits in reducing single-occupant vehicles and is approved by MTC or BAAQMD

Read the S.B 1339 FAQs.
Keep your company connected to the latest S.B. 1339 information by signing up for our newsletter.

New Commuter Incentive Program

a perfectly squared vision of the embarcadero
Market Street, San Francisco. Photo credit: torbakhopper

Head’s up!
511CC has a new commuter incentive program page! Learn how you can partake in the Drive Less Commuter Incentive Program and get a cash reward for switching from commuting in a single-occupant motor vehicle to carpooling, transit, bicycling or walking.
Driving less really can help reduce environmental impacts and relieve traffic congestion for all, even if you only ditch the car once a week for your work commute. So if you need an incentive to join the growing number of people saying good-bye to gridlock and leaving the car at home when commuting, be sure to check out the commuter incentive program.
And who knows, it might permanently change your commuting habits once you realize the many things you can get done – like catching up on reading, get exercise, or check email – when not driving. You might even decide to ditch the car for shorter trips too!

Are You Ready to Bike to Work? (BTWD 2012)

Yes, it’s that time of year….

All Along The Bike Path
photo credit: Marc van Woudenberg

…Thursday, May 10th, is Bike to Work Day!
If you’ve been contemplating bicycling to work but felt unsure about the idea, rest assured you will not be cycling alone if you decide to participate in Bike to Work Day. You will likely encounter more cyclists along your commute on Bike to Work Day than any other day of the year! Bike to Work Day is the perfect day to pick up cycling – even if only for the occasion– and give it a try with thousands of other Bay Area residents.
Not only can you take comfort in safety in numbers, but you can take advantage of one of 200 “energizer stations” scattered throughout the Bay for the day. What is an energizer station? Simply put, a station providing free beverages, snacks, goodies and encouragement to bicyclists on this special day.
To see if there’s an energizer station anyone along your commute, check out the Bay Area Energizer Station map– from Pittsburg, to San Pablo, to El Cerrito, and San Ramon, Contra Costa County is well represented!
Of course, before you hop on your bike for the big day, it’ll be useful to review some basic road rules and safety procedures:

  • Bicycles have the same responsibilities and rights as motorists, so obey traffic signals and stop signs. Ride with traffic flow; use the rightmost lane headed in the direction you are going. Most cities do not allow cycling on sidewalks although some exceptions do apply and some exceptions are made for youth.
  • Be Predictable. Make your intentions clear to motorists and trail users. Ride in a straight line and don’t swerve between parked cars. Signal turns, and check behind you before turning or changing lanes. This is true for cycling on trails as well. The EBRPD asks that you ring or call out when approaching pedestrians.
  • Be visible. Ride where drivers can see you. Use a front white light, red rear light and reflectors for night cycling or when visibility is poor. Make eye contact with drivers so you know they see you.
  • Plan ahead. Anticipate what drivers, pedestrians, and other bicyclists will do next. Watch for turning vehicles and ride outside the door zone of parked cars. Look out for debris, potholes, and utility covers. Cross railroad tracks at right angles.
Santa Monica Door Lane / Bike Lane
Be sure to ride far away enough from parked cars to avoid having to maneuver around drivers swinging their car doors open. photo credit: Gary Kavanagh

  • Equipment Check. Tires should be very firm, check that brakes are working, chain runs smoothly, and quick release wheel levers are closed. Carry repair and emergency supplies appropriate for your ride.

And if you’re cycling on the Iron Horse or Canal Trail, review the Iron Horse and Canal Trail Tips from the East Bay Regional Parks District:

  • Speed. Bicycles shall not be ridden at an unsafe speed, or greater than the posted speed limit. Be aware of how you are perceived by other trail users.
  • Bells are required on bicycles on Park District trails.
  • Bicycles always yield to pedestrians. Before passing, SLOW DOWN, ring bell and establish verbal contact. Give plenty of space when passing and be sure to look ahead while passing to avoid on-coming collisions.
  •  On blind turns, SLOW DOWN, call out, ring bell and ride single file.
(Note: Here’s a map of the Iron Horse Trail)
Once you know the rules, Bike to Work Day is ultimately about fun: be sure to get out there, enjoy the beautiful surroundings, and embrace the experience of taking two wheels. And if you’re lucky, every day can be bike to work day – after all, it’s getting easier with solid-green bike lanes spreading across the Bay! Need added inspiration

Happy Cycling!

photo credit: Marc van Woudenberg

How Do You Spend Your Commute?

What is a commute? We often think of it as a frustrating time going to and from work. But a commute can be so much more than time spent in traffic or waiting for a bus or train,  it can be an opportunity to…

Reading Zadie Smith's on Beauty
Photo credit: Steve Rhodes

…catch up on some reading, perhaps the day’s newspaper or a book…
16th Annual Bike to Work Day
Photo credit: East Bay Bicycle Coalition

…get a little exercise…
2010-02-12 13.56.14.jpg
Photo credit: KayVee.INC
… or try out those new apps on your phone.
These are just a few ways to spend a commute, what do you like to do on your commute? Let us know by May 31st, in this poll or in the comments, we will be selecting one entry at random to win a $20 BART ticket!

1913 Transit Time Isochron Map for the Peninsula and East Bay

Ever wonder what commutes were like from the Peninsula and East Bay to San Francisco in years gone by? The folks at Burrito Justice pointed our attention to this neat 1913 transit time isochron map for the Peninsula and East Bay to 3rd and Mission for ferries and trains (steam and electric). To see additional transit-related documents from earlier years, take a glance at Eric Fischer’s Flickr page.
Here is the text included at the side of the map:
While practically half of San Francisco lies within the 30-minute time zone, none of the trans-bay commuters now reach land within that time. All of the trans-bay districts are reached within an hour, the same as San Francisco. But for the former, from one-fourth to one-half of the time is consumed in the water trip. Shaded contour areas and time points within circles indicate how far commuters may ride within 10-minute intervals from the center of the business district-Third and Market Streets (allowing seven minutes to the Ferry terminal, and 10 minutes to the railroad terminal at Third and Townsend Streets). The inner shaded zones correspond to the running time by electric and cable lines. Double circles and the Peninsular zone particularly refer to steam lines. Running speed is indicated directly by the relative distance between these time points. For steam trains, the time shown is on limited local trains passing by only the less important stations. Some limited expresses make 26% better time, and way locals 15% slower time than here indicated. With the same character of rapid transit equipment, it appears that from 20 to 30 minutes more running time will always be necessary, by reason of the water trip, for trans-bay commuters to reach their homes than for San Franciscans, but that no such handicap exists as a limitation for Peninsular development.