BABS opens, the Bay Bridge closes: A guide

Traffic Big news in transportation, and both give you an excellent excuse to leave the car behind if you normally commute into San Francisco. For one thing, the Bay Bridge, the region’s busiest road, is closed for the long weekend, exposing drivers and bus riders to some pretty horrendous detours. Do you take the Golden Gate Bridge or the Dumbarton? Ferry or BART? Amtrak to Caltrain, or BART to GGT?

As might be expected, has some tips for your trip, with details on how to get around by transit (better!) or by car (only if necessary!). For Marin readers, there shouldn’t be much of a problem. However, given the long delays getting out of San Francisco during the BART strike, keep an eye out for traffic this evening. If it’s extremely heavy, you may do well to take BART to El Cerrito del Norte or Richmond and transfer to the 40/42 to San Rafael, rather than simply take your normal commuter route. Check out the 101 Bus Map for details on where to go from there.

Today will also be a great day to try out Bay Area Bike Share (BABS), which opens for business at noon. Apart from the launch parties, which will no doubt be kickin’ if your boss lets you out of the office at 10:00, the system is well-suited to the disruption.

If you were skeptical, you can give the bikes a try with a short-term pass, for sale at the kiosk. 24-hour passes are just $9, and a 72-hour pass is available for $22. Note that you’re still under the 30-minute limit even with the 24-hour pass. Tourists get confused by that all the time in DC. At the end of your trip, dock your bike. When you need a new one, insert the credit card you used to buy the pass and you’ll get a new code to unlock the next bike.

As someone who has ridden these bikes for years in DC, I can attest that they are very, very easy, so don’t be scared by their decidedly chunky look.

So who is this for? Well, Peninsula commuters, if your workplace is a bit further away than you’d like from the Caltrain station, take a look to see if it’s near a BABS station; it may be worth trying. And as for you, potential ferry commuters, look at whether your workplace is near a BABS station, too. If so, give the BABS station near your office a try.

This also goes reverse commuters. If you are one of the rare few who live in downtown San Francisco and work at the other side of the ferry terminal, it might be worthwhile to give the system a go, rather than bring your own bike or endure the Muni slog.

Of course, the experience may not be perfect. New York’s CitiBike, also operated by Alta, is plagued by technical problems that kept people from successfully docking their bike (wait for the chime!) or getting their bike.

If you do decide to give BABS a try, I highly recommend Spotcycle, a free app that shows where available bikes and open docks are. I've been using it for almost as long as I've been a member of DC's Capital Bikeshare and it is invaluable.

Good luck out there.