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December 10, 2001

Traffic drives commuters to try something different

Bicycling, buses prompt some to leave their cars behind

By Louise Donahue

Trapped in bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic, staring blankly at the car ahead, some commuters may think to themselves, "there must be a better way."

Many bicyclists take advantage of the TAPS bike trailer, which stops at Marcelo's restaurant parking lot at Bay and Mission Streets during the morning rush. Photo: Louise Donahue
This story is the first of two parts. Next week: carpool combinations.
As a matter of fact, there is, say those who pedal to work, ride the bus, or share a vanpool or carpool. And while there are some challenges, "alternative commuters" interviewed at UCSC are enthusiastic about their choice and encourage others to give it a try.

Bicyclist Jon Kersey had his commuting epiphany about 15 years ago, when he was caught in traffic on a city street in Santa Cruz, going nowhere fast in his car. "The exact moment is etched in my mind. Bicyclists were riding past, having a good time."

Kersey, Social Sciences Media Lab manager, said he went right out and bought a new bike. He now usually bikes four or five days a week, popping into the shower in his building before starting work.

He suggests potential bicyclists realize that getting into good shape for riding won't happen overnight. "People need to give it a little time, and think of it both as a way of exercise and also a time to just relax and think as you ride. Even if you just do it one day a week, it helps."

Bicyclists who dread the long haul up Bay Street can take advantage of the TAPS bike trailer, which meets cyclists on weekday mornings in the parking lot of Marcelo's restaurant on Bay and Mission Streets.

The bike trailers can ferry 14 bikes up the hill at a time, unloading their cargo at the Physical Plant Metro stop, Cowell Circle, and the Baskin Engineering loading dock. The program has earned the gratitude not only of weary bicyclists, but also the Santa Cruz Regional Transportation Commission, which gave the program an excellence award.

Mercedes Santos, who gets to work either by bike or bus, calls the shuttle "fantastic." Santos, an Equal Employment Office/Affirmative Action senior analyst, rides her bike from her home on Glen Canyon Road two to three times a week, takes the bus most of the rest of the time, and occasionally drives, using a scratch-off day permit.

"I love bicycling. It's better for the environment, it's better for my health, it's better economically," she said. Winter is her biggest challenge, because of the combination of high winds, rain, and dark streets. She adapts to the clothing challenges involved by keeping extra clothes and shoes--and a clothes steamer--in her office. "If you can put on jeans and a t-shirt, great--but I can't really do that."

The bike trailer runs every 30 minutes, Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. through December 21. Beginning with winter quarter, the hours will be 7 a.m. to 10:15 a.m., with rides every 15 minutes.

Those who opt to take the bus daily also enjoy their ride to work.

"It's just a nice way to start the day. You can read, you can knit, you can do whatever," said Joanie Peterson, a student adviser in community studies at College Eight. Peterson said she likes the chance to reflect on the day as she rides the bus to and from her home near Bay and Mission Streets.

"It can be a lot nicer to 'leave the driving to us,' as they say," said Michael Bryant, a labor relations assistant in the Labor Relations Office who takes the bus from Bonny Doon. "I've made friends with several regular riders," he said.

Bryant praised the Metro system both for being responsive to customers and for its drivers. "The drivers have been incredibly friendly and interesting people to talk to."

For some who live on campus, taking the bus--and walking--are ideal. Juan Poblete, assistant professor of literature, lives in faculty housing at the base of campus and said he has never driven on campus during his four years at UCSC. "I feel that I am contributing to unclogging the campus," he said.

While taking the bus is a simple matter for those living on campus, the logistics can get complicated for a long commute.

Jackie Brown, an assistant professor in anthropology, travels from Oakland to Santa Cruz using mass transit. "I have never driven. I don't have a license and don't want one," the self-described "city girl" said. "The most annoying thing about commuting via mass transit is being asked details about the commute," she said. "I am regarded as an alien from another planet. People always want to know what life is like in the world of mass transit--as if that world were Mars."

"I actually enjoy the commute--particularly on the way to Santa Cruz. I travel via Amtrak from Jack London Square in Oakland, to San Jose. From there I transfer to the Amtrak bus that goes from San Jose to Santa Cruz. I find it extremely peaceful. The vistas between Oakland and Santa Cruz are spectacular. Also, I get tons of reading done."

The connections for the return trip are not quite as good, requiring her to stop in San Francisco and catch a bus to Oakland, she said, but the view of San Francisco upon her return at night "unfailingly gives me a rush."

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