Coastal Commuter

Getting personal with public works

You can usually assume that end-dates on roadwork signs are meant ironically.

Call it the time-lapse effect. I go in and out of San Francisco and Los Angeles in roughly two-to-three-month cycles, and due to that lifestyle I see things change in strange and unexpected ways in both places. Returning to the Bay Area after a dozen weeks away, I’ll see that another overwhelming skyscraper has popped up to tower over the Transamerica Pyramid or one more block of insta-built condos has eliminated legacy businesses and is getting ready for more newly wealthy tech-invaders to move in. It seems like it’s happening at an outrageously rapid pace — or, if it’s a Department of Public Works undertaking (whether S.F. or L.A.), it can seem interminable, as in slow-motion.

The latest San Francisco weirdness — other than an increasingly ridiculous proliferation of gyms/workout studios/health clubs in my immediate neighborhood (six and counting) — is the ongoing reconfiguration (or seeming destruction) of Polk Street, ever-so-slowly creeping forward with construction crews and vehicles clogging the thoroughfare every weekday. And it’s happening at the same time that the DPW is doing even more of that on Van Ness for the massive light-rail project that won’t be completed until who-knows-when. (Kinda like the Central Subway line — an excavation in progress that seems to have just gotten started, regardless of the years it’s been tearing up Stockton Street from Market to Union Square.)


It’s not bad enough that the city is proceeding with the removal of parking on one side of Polk from McAllister to Union, handicapping customer access for block after block of small businesses in order to expand bike lanes, and forcing visiting drivers to take up parking in adjacent residential areas. The situation has been exacerbated by something called “bulb-outs,” which are being added to most every sidewalk corner on the McAllister-to-Union strip on both sides of the street.

What’s a bulb-out? It’s a curb extension (also known as a neckdown, bump-out, build-out, nib, elephant ear, curb bulge, curb bulb, or blister) that is ostensibly a traffic-calming measure to extend the sidewalk and reduce crossing distance, letting pedestrians and vehicle drivers see each other better for safety’s sake. (That presumes the people on either side of the equation aren’t the sort of clueless or preoccupied folks who get into accidents, no matter the pavement or surface conditions.) Whatever you want to call then, these concrete additions will effectively eradicate more parking spaces — four per intersection — on the very side of Polk that was meant to be left alone in the bike-lane plan.


If the ideal of Transpotopia existed with a faultless 24-hour system of public transportation throughout the Bay Area, this might not be such a big issue. But that’s neither the case nor even a realistic hope. And again, this bulb-out and bike-lane situation is happening right next to where I and many others live, as is the Van Ness construction nightmare, which is also doing away with scores of spots to park. I do have a car since I am (trumpet fanfare) the Coastal Commuter, and I do have a residential parking permit for Russian Hill. But fewer parking spaces — mo’ problems. Leaping at the musical-chairs analogy, I do get a little weary of motoring up and down the streets near where I live, waiting for someone to pull out and let me pull in.

Los Angeles is a whole ‘nother thing, as the freeways that get us to and from work and play appear to be in constant repair mode. It makes sense that such arteries, perpetually in use, are in need of regular maintenance. And, to be fair, the weekend-long Carmageddon — the total blockage of the crucial 405 freeway for a 10-mile stretch from the 101 in Sherman Oaks to the 10 at Santa Monica — has only happened twice, although it virtually shut down traffic on the west side of L.A. for 50-plus hours each time. Still, the scheduling of highway and ramp fixes seems to be whimsical at best, sometimes going on during the day, often happening at night between 10 p.m. and dawn. And they never seem to complete the job.


I can’t count all of the times I’ve headed home at night after business or a social ramble in Hollywood or Silver Lake or downtown L.A. and had to drive miles out of my way because a series of exit ramps — as many as three in a row — were blocked for construction crews. The same interchange between the 2 and the 210, near to my digs in the hills north of Eagle Rock, has been plagued with ramp closures and detours for well over a year. Whether it’s a failure of execution or scheduling, it is and will probably continue to be maddening for the foreseeable future. Here, the effect isn’t time-lapse, it’s time loop.

So I can’t find a parking space near my San Francisco apartment, and I can’t find a way off the freeway to get to my Los Angeles bungalow. It almost makes a guy long for small-town life with its easy pace and wide open spaces.

Just kidding. I will continue to tough it out. These cities of renown are worth it, despite it being increasingly unlikely that the bureaucrats and grunts in the DPW, north or south, will ever get more efficient in their endeavors.

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Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on "Michael Snyder's Culture Blast," via, Roku, and YouTube, and on KPFK/Pacifica Radio’s “David Feldman Show.” You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster