When I moved to Silicon Valley in the mid-1980s, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) was busy launching their first light rail lines from the mostly residential South San Jose through downtown to the technology office parks in North San Jose. Then in the late 1990s, not long after I quit my job in North San Jose, they extended the line to the Caltrain station in Mountain View, a 20 minute walk from my home.
VTA Light Rail was specifically designed to reach the major South Bay employers and indeed it does. I’ve worked at five different employer sites within 1/2 mile of a station. That’s almost half of my total work sites. But I’ve never ridden it regularly. VTA Light Rail is not particularly fast and the walk isn’t particularly short or fun.
My current job is once again within 1/2 mile from a station, so it’s natural for me to try VTA light rail again. Since I now carry a laptop every day, the one mile walk to the station feels even longer. Bikes are allowed on board, but the racks are designed for lighter bikes, not city bikes with panniers and front baskets. My solution: a push scooter with a messenger bag. It shortens my time by 1/3 and makes me feel like a kid again.
The Advantages: At $2 a trip without a pass, VTA is definitely a bargain. The trains are clean and quiet with free Wifi that works well enough for me to work on the train. Using the push scooter exercises different muscles than I use on the bike and I get a solid 20 minutes of exercise and 50 minutes of work time.
The Disadvantages: The overall trip time is longer than riding my bicycle the whole way to work. That’s slow. There are decent sidewalks on the route, but the San Jose segment is not a pedestrian-rich area, so drivers are less careful. After almost getting right-hooked when walking across a driveway on N 1st Street, I switched to taking the sidewalk against traffic so I can see the cars coming. It’s harder to go out to lunch and the after-work shopping is limited to what I can carry in a messenger bag. And I can’t wear most of my heels.
The Upshot: Riding VTA Light Rail is great for getting a solid 45 minutes of work in route to the office, and riding a scooter is a fun way to work out your gluteal muscles.
Next up in the Anything Goes Commute Challenge is Caltrain with my bike. How will it will compare?