Daily commute takes its toll

Why are people leaving California?  High taxes, unaffordable housing, bad roads and bad schools?  Yip add to that the gridlock of driving in cities like Los Angeles and the parking lots built by the State called “freeways”.

“The 30-year-old teacher commutes from Pleasanton to San Mateo Park Elementary School every day, usually spending between 90 minutes to two hours in traffic. And that’s just in the morning.

The Bay Area native who recently relocated from San Carlos to the East Bay while fleeing the high cost of living locally is not alone in her plight, as workers across the Peninsula face hard choices fueled by perpetually gridlocked thoroughfares.

For her part, Marquer said she is prepared to abandon the job she considers the best she’s ever held to opt out of the hours wasted behind the wheel going nowhere fast.

Three to four hours on the road, to get to and from work, it is a killer.  Yet folks in the Bay Area and Southern California are used to it.  I live in Simi Valley, Ventura County.  It takes me a little over three hours to get to Fresno, 215 miles from my home.  It takes three hours to get to San Diego, 168 miles from my home.  I prefer conference calls.

los-angeles-freeways

Daily commute takes its toll

Drivers seek solace, solutions to worsening Peninsula traffic congestion

By Austin Walsh,  Daily Journal, 11/16/17

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Melanie Marquer’s drive to work is so onerous she plans to quit her job.

The 30-year-old teacher commutes from Pleasanton to San Mateo Park Elementary School every day, usually spending between 90 minutes to two hours in traffic. And that’s just in the morning.

The Bay Area native who recently relocated from San Carlos to the East Bay while fleeing the high cost of living locally is not alone in her plight, as workers across the Peninsula face hard choices fueled by perpetually gridlocked thoroughfares.

For her part, Marquer said she is prepared to abandon the job she considers the best she’s ever held to opt out of the hours wasted behind the wheel going nowhere fast.

“If it weren’t for the commute, I’d stay where I am,” said Marquer, who expects next year to seek another teaching position in a school district closer to home.

As it stands, the Los Altos native said she can spend around three hours in the car per day driving the roughly 70 miles round trip, but that time can spike exponentially when congestion is especially nasty.

To ease her burden, Marquer said she spends two nights per week with her mother in Mountain View. The arrangement can half her commute time while also helping her save money burned on gas and bridge tolls, but it comes at the expense of enjoying home life.

Marquer, who also moonlights as a part-time dog walker and nanny after school to supplement her salary, admitted she is beginning to feel the weight of it all pile up.

“I don’t feel burned out yet, but I’m definitely pretty tired,” she said.

Jane Conway, Marquer’s teaching colleague at the San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District, said she too can feel the drain of her roughly two-hour round-trip drive each day from Mountain View.

“Being a teacher is a challenging, yet rewarding and exciting job, but the commute sucks some the vital energy that I need to be the best teacher I can be, and — when I’m home — the best wife and mother,” she said in an email.

Marquer offered a much more concise assessment of her commute.

“It sucks,” she said.

What’s worse, she noted, is the lack of available alternatives since a career driven by a rigid bell schedule precludes her from enjoying the flexibility required to carpool with others across the Bay.

Unconventional options do exist though for those advantaged with a less grinding commute, and perhaps more steely resolve, such San Carlos resident Tom Miller.

Miller travels against the flow of traffic each day to his job at a hearing aid company in San Leandro in Alameda County on his motorcycle, as he has for roughly the past two decades.

A motorcycle advocate, Miller said the bumper-to-bumper mess commonly found heading his opposite direction could be alleviated through more people using his preferred mode of alternative transportation.

“Motorcycle commuting is a medium that not enough people use. It’s easy,” he said. “Motorcycles are cheap. Insurance is cheap. Gas mileage is pretty good. You get half price on the bridge toll and can ride in the commuter lane. Too many people don’t pay attention to it.”

He acknowledged the benefit comes with risk, though not so immediate that it can’t be mitigated.

“There’s certainly dangers. You are aware of everything though. As long as you aren’t doing stupid things, the odds of being OK are pretty high,” he said.

Miller so strongly believes in the merits of his bike that he suggested government incentives should be offered to get people out of the car and into the saddle of a motorcycle.

A committed observer of local politics since moving to San Carlos in 1979, Miller said such an initiative would be more successful than the various other attempts to promote public transportation.

Despite years of political will to improve ridership, Miller still noted insufficient train networks, inconsistent bus service and inefficient connections between the two systems.

“Stuff like that really ought to improve, but the politicians haven’t got behind it,” said Miller, who harbors little optimism the region’s traffic crawl can be cleared through continually promoting public transportation.

Mike Klobuchar shares a similar perspective, and commute, to Miller. The San Mateo resident reverse commutes to San Ramon each day in a car trip which can take up to two hours when traffic is jammed.

Since moving to the Peninsula in first-grade, Klobuchar said he’s seen congestion worsen for decades despite officials’ best-laid plans, giving way to skepticism the problems can be rectified.

Top of mind to him are also concerns regarding perceived inadequacies of regional train and bus systems which do not entice enough commuters to abandon their single-occupancy vehicles.

“If all these agencies worked together and pooled money you could create a solution that works. With all the smart people in Silicon Valley, the political infighting is the only thing that stops us from making this a really good system,” he said.

Rather than looking to traditional public transportation modes as a potential problem solver, Klobuchar suggested technological innovations such as driverless vehicles or ride sharing apps may be more likely congestion easing heroes.

“The commute is changing people’s relationship with cars,” he said.

Also a wrestling coach at Serra High School in San Mateo, Klobuchar said he has witnessed the gridlock and difficulty getting quickly across town quell the enthusiasm of teens for getting their drivers license.

With no panacea apparent on the horizon, Klobuchar raised questions over whether his daughters will even need to learn to operate a car by the time they turn legal driving age. More broadly though, he wondered whether the logjammed highways would have an even greater impact.

“Are we going to get to the point where people won’t want to live here?” he said.

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.