Tuesday, March 28, 2006

How to get around in Silicon Valley

  1. Back to the future style - with a skate board or via rollerblades. You'll look very 'green' and counter culture. But really, to and from the bus stop is all you can do.
  2. Bicycle messenger style - You'll look like a dare devil in San Francisco or like a geek-superman (as opposed to the geek-fatso). The final wagon of Caltrain is reserved for you. Carry a small laptop in your Timbuktu messenger bag and you'll fit right in. If you are more the romantic type, check out the Bay trails for long rides along the bay. Bicycle lanes are rare, but several bicycle bridges will help you get across highway 101 or the caltrain train tracks.
  3. The Tortoise - Although the green tortoise is known among the more adventurous traveler visiting California, the lesser known brother is the local bus system (i.e. VTA). A bus ride from San Jose to Palo Alto will take you a few hours, as the bus stops literally every 500 meters. Come on Bay Area, it won't hurt to walk a block or two. Use the tortoise if you want to hang out with the transients and homeless on the 22 or 66. Line 66 will take you past the homeless shelter. It will never be boring and you'll hear some exciting stories and political view points.
  4. On not your grandpa's train - the Caltrain will get you from San Jose to San Francisco in under an hour via the baby bullet train. Caltrain offers also special service for the games of the San Francisco Giant or the San Jose Sharks. The ACE train (the Altamont commuter express) even has wireless access to get online and read your email. For the collector of trainpasses, try also VTA's lightrail (aka the Tortoise on rails) or BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport). I watched documentaries about BART when I was still in Belgium about how wonderful it was. But BART must be the only rail system which has its own hourly traffic report on delays and failures in the system.
  5. Hail to the shuttle army - Caltrain, BART, Lightrail, bus, are just a subset of all the public transportation offerings in silicon valley. And then, planner forgot to hook them up properly. So, when you arrive in San Jose Diridon caltrain station, for years you needed to walk a few miles to get to the lightrail. Or when you arrive in San Francisco by train, start walking 10 block to get to a BART station. So, private or company sponsored shuttle services popped up all over the place. I currently use a few days a week the company shuttle from the Santa Clara campus to my office in Menlo Park. The picture below will soon become a relic, as starting next week, the Sun shuttle service will change from Xerox (yes, the copier company also runs shuttles) to New Century (no affliation with the film company, as far as know). Note you can even put your cycicle on the rack in the front of the shuttle.

    Our shuttle service is bare minimum. Other shuttles are luxury coaches with nice seats, wonderful shocks and even wireless internet access.

Over the years, I have used (and continue to use) a combination of various ways to get around. In winter, I use primarely the company shuttle and occasionally catch a carpool ride with a friend. In summer, California weather is perfect for hopping on my bicycle + {caltrain,shuttle}. Many companies have showers in the office, which my colleagues are thankful for.

Knowing all the different shuttles schedules or merely its availability was difficult. Lining up the schedules of two services wasn't that easy. Luckily, 511.org solved the problem. It is a great place to find everything you want to know about getting around in silicon valley. From carpool, to bicycle paths, to the list of the shuttle schedules.

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