Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Transit First San Francisco: Part I

Now that we have a car, I have a choice when I leave the apartment for any reason -- do I walk, drive, or take the bus? I'm glad to live in a place where I have different transportation options but it means I must walk that fine line between conserving resources and wasting time, between efficiency and outright laziness.

Our need to conserve resources vs. our need to pick up our kid on time is an issue many Americans are grappling with, and often the pocketbook has the last word. Whenever gas prices spike, people watch their driving habits more closely and sometimes that amounts to a permanent change in habits.

My little Fit doesn't use much gas, so my daily decisions whether to walk, ride or drive is based on two criteria: amount of time and level of aggravation. If I can do something quickly and calmly on foot or by bus, I'll probably do so.

Or will I? Am I just being lazy? To help answer that question, I'm conducting an experiment.

A few weeks ago I ran a series of errands on a Friday afternoon. I left the apartment at 12:55 p.m. to do the following things: go to the drug store, drop off dry cleaning, mail bills, get quarters for laundry, visit a bookstore, use the ATM and get my eyebrows waxed (ouch). So I climbed into my new car and sped away.

Well, not really. I couldn't, because there was a big old pickup truck blocking my driveway. I had to cross the street and shout to the guys piling wood into a rusted-out dumpster: "Is that your truck?" No, it wasn't, but they knew who it was, and a man in his sixties with a shock of white hair came dashing out to move it. Actually, he didn't move it right away, he came up to me instead.

MAN: I can move the truck really quickly. You just tell me when you want to get out, and I'll come right over.

ME: Well, I'd rather you didn't block my driveway. I come in and out a lot. (Actually I'm at work most of the time, but I wasn't telling him that.)

MAN: It's no trouble -- I don't mind moving it. So I'll park it here, all right? It's just while we're doing the work. (He points to the scaffolding on the house across the street.)

ME: How long will the work take?

MAN: Two months.

At that point I started chuckling, then saw he was really serious. "No," I said, glaring. "Please don't block my driveway."

The man went off in a huff. Apparently this is what it's like to own a car in San Francisco. Hmmm.

So it's 1:05 before I even back out of the garage, but I'm soon on my way and the Walgreens in Cole Valley has a parking lot. I pick up batteries and saline solution and add a Milky Way Dark to reward myself for not screaming at the Truck Man. I had to drive the car in reverse out of the Walgreens lot and back out into the street, but that was okay.

1:16: I pull into a meter spot right outside my dry cleaners in our former Inner Sunset neighborhood. Even though we've moved, we remain faithful customers. The meter already has 7 minutes on it! Yay! I add enough change to bring it up to 40 minutes. The dry cleaners are devastated that I didn't bring my son — they often make balloon animals for him.

Then I did a little walking: walked half a block to the post office to mail bills, walked another two blocks to a laundromat to get $10 worth of quarters from the change machine. Then I use the quarters to do laundry in my apartment building. The laundromat at 9th and Irving are surprisingly nice about this; they ask only for an extra quarter. Nobody is there; the staff booth is shuttered and locked, so I slide two quarters under the locked office door.

Across the street is my favorite used bookstore, Overland, where I buy another book from the lady who wrote "The Three-Martini Playdate." My kind of person. When I get back, the meter still has 10 minutes left, so I eat my Milky Way in the car and start my book. I pull out of the spot at 1:57.

I need cash and I'm too cheap to use another bank's ATM, so I drive to a Patelco branch in the neighborhood. I've never been to this branch and my scrawled directions are woefully inadequate, so I pull into a empty spot (plenty of parking in this area) and call my husband at work. While he's explaining the location, I see the branch across the street. Oops.

By 2:34 p.m., I've found a meter spot in West Portal, only four blocks from the salon. A man sees me feeding the meter and asks me about the Fit. He just bought his wife a Scion. We jammed happily about small compact cars with wussy engines and then I walked to the salon.

I was pretty early for my 3 p.m. appointment, but they took me anyway. I'm back at the meter spot by 2:57. It's a little bit of a drive from West Portal to our apartment, but I finally pull into my truck-free driveway at 3:25.

All in all, I think it went pretty well. At 12:55 today I will leave the apartment to run the same errands, but I'll walk and ride instead of drive. Let's see how I do.

No comments: