My multimodal commute: Santa Cruz to Palo Alto

My commute is multimodal. That means I take multiple modes of transportation during my commute. I bike, take a bus, hop on a train, then bike the final leg to work.

My total one way distance is about 40 miles. Normally I advocate living close to work to reduce dependence on motorized transportation, but my wife attends graduate school in the town we live in. One of us gets to live close in, so the other of us gets to commute far away.

40 miles might not normally seem too horribly bad, but my commute takes me on the twisty road over the Santa Cruz Mountains. I’ve only biked over these mountains on the weekends, which entails multiple up and down and up trips across valleys. I live at an elevation of 500 feet and the road summits at nearly 2000 feet before dropping me back to a few feet above sea level in Silicon Valley.

If I drive, after I get “over the hill,” my choices are to get onto highway 85 to Mountain View (which is always packed), or shoot straight down I-880 to 101 (which is always packed), or I can take a couple of county expressways (which are always packed) to get to work. During commute hours, the 20 mile drive from my job to Los Gatos typically takes about an hour. Caltrain covers the distance from my work to downtown San Jose (where I catch the bus) in less than 20 minutes.

My monthly bus pass is about $100; the train pass is another $100 per month. That might seem horribly expensive, but even without the CommuterCheck transit subsidy I get from my employer that’s still cheaper than pumping gas every three days. And for my commute across Silicon Valley, it turns out that driving solo takes about the same amount of time as taking public transportation. I lose a little flexibility, but I save money, I save time, I can use my time on the train and bus productively, and I make new friends.

While public transportation facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area are pretty good, the bicycle works wonderfully to extend the capabilities of public transit. I don’t have to be within reasonable walking distance of a bus stop or train station — the bike extends my range.

Who else has a multimodal commute that includes a bicycle? Do you take the bike with you on the bus or train? Or do you lock it up at the station?

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0 thoughts on “My multimodal commute: Santa Cruz to Palo Alto”

  1. William says:

    What’s your total commute time, end to end?

  2. Fritz says:

    90 minutes. I leave the house around 7 a.m. and I’m in the office around 8:30. That includes about 20 minutes on the bike. Typical schedule is:

    7:02 leave the house
    7:07 catch bus
    7:09 – 7:40 read email, read blogs, read newspaper, sleep
    7:45 arrive train station in San Jose
    7:50 Catch the Northbound train
    8:16 Arrive Palo Alto train station
    ~8:35 Arrive @ work

    Evening commute is slightly longer:

    5:30 leave office
    5:49 catch southbound Caltrain in Palo Alto
    6:11 Arrive San Jose Caltrain
    6:20 hop on bus to Santa Cruz
    6:30 – 7 Chat with other passengers, read email, read novel
    ~7:10 Arrive Scotts Valley
    ~7:15 Home

  3. gazer says:

    Same area as Fritz, but closer:

    Bike to Caltrain Station, ~1/2 mile
    Caltrain to Palo Alto, ~15 miles / 25 minutes
    (bike on Caltrain)
    Bike to work, ~1.5 miles
    (bike folded, next to desk)

    Door-to-door time around 40 minutes as long as Caltrain is on time.

    Bike home ~15 miles / 1 hour

    Stanford picks up the Caltrain tab!

  4. William says:

    Gazer, where are you coming from?

    Just curious. I live near DeAnza College and work right by the SJ airport. 35-70 minutes all on bike, depending on headwind, lights, and whether I make a coffee stop or not 🙂

  5. jeff says:

    Multimodal in Ohio: bike-bus-bike. Though my excuses aren’t as robust as yours, since my commute is a flat 20 miles door-to-door. Maybe once things cool off a bit…

  6. Fritz says:

    Gazer, do you hop on the train at Santa Clara or Diridon Station? If it’s taking 25 minutes, you must be catching one of the local trains.

    Sometimes I’ll use Menlo Park, California Avenue, or even the Mountain View station and ride to/from work. I’ll also ride the entire distance from San Jose to Menlo Park on occasion — 22 miles or 24 miles, depending on the route I take. My favorite is Park->Monroe->Homestead->Foothills->Page Mill->Bryant->Willow Road.

  7. JiMCi says:

    In Montreal’s West Island, I have the pleasure of riding 15 miles each way on Lakeshore Drive, a low traffic / low speed scenic road. That, is from mid-March to the end of October. But when the temperature drops below the freezing point, I walk a thousand feet to the station, hop on the train for 20 minutes then ride the last mile and a half on an old ride that spends all nights and week-ends locked up at the station.

  8. says:

    Links Of The Day: 12 July 2007…

    From The Bike-o-Sphere

    How many bikes does one person need?
    Cycling Cinema Multiplex: The Sublime and The Ridiculous
    It’s All in the Details: Lessons from the “Real World”
    My multimodal commute: Santa Cruz to Palo Alto
    Jean Robic: Th…

  9. gazer says:

    Fritz and William,

    I’m coming from the North… San Mateo station.

  10. Noah says:

    Before I moved, I was multi-modal. Door-To-Door was about 22 miles for me. I initially started taking my car to the bus stop to save wear and tear and parking fees. When the car got clutch gremlins, I bought a bike, because the bus stop is only 3 miles from home. While 3 miles doesn’t seem far, it takes quite a while to walk that far. My bike was at least 4 times faster than walking.

    Eventually, my wife switched jobs and was working when I’d get out from my job, so I would go see her on her lunch break. Like all bike commuters, I evolved and changed my routes and schedules around to fit the need. Right before I moved, my commute was as follows:

    0600: Leave apartment, ride bike to the bus stop 3 miles away
    0610-0612: Arrive at bus stop, board bus
    0615: Bus departs
    0640: Bus arrives downtown. Get off bus, ride to coffee shop, then to work (about a mile total)

    1530: Ride to bus stop (about .3 mile)
    1537: Bus picks me up. Ride to wife’s office
    1630: Arrive at wife’s office, ride bike to deli, grocery store, or restaurant, get food
    Whenever I’m done: Ride directly home (6 miles) or make a detour for coffee (additional 2 miles) or run errands on the way home (various distances)

    I moved and I’m now almost exactly 14 miles from my office. Most days, I ride the whole way both directions. If the weather is really bad, I take the really slow bus that basically picks me up or drops me off at my front door. If it’s raining a little, I take my bike to an express bus stop 2 miles from home. It’s a great way to do the hybrid commute and stay away from the car during the work week.

    I prefer using my bike for any task that’s under 10 miles round trip outside my commute as well, but I’m not opposed to using other modes of alternative transportation. In the last 2 months, I’ve used my bike, walking, carpooled with co-workers, and used the bus for trips of various distances. For example, I just got back from lunch and a 2 mile walk. My blog has always focused not only on bicycles, but other forms of alternative transportation as well. Keep your eyes peeled, I’m working on creating an online discussion site for the entire alternative transportation crowd, not only cyclists.

  11. Mike Coons says:

    Go KC! I also am multimodal – bike-bus in the morning, and bike-bus-bike in the evening. I live west of Downtown KCMO, so I ride 3.5 miles downtown to the bus that takes me out of the city to the industrial park near the Kansas City International Airport. The feeder bus drops me off at my office in the morning, then in the evening I ride 5 miles back to the bus station and then the ride once I get off the bus.

    It takes me 1:05 on the way, and usually 1:20 on the way home.

    I’ve ridden all the way home quite a few times, because the 21 miles are predominantly downhill, but riding to work would be uphill, so I haven’t attempted it yet.

    There aren’t may bike commuters this far out of the city, only one other guy that has the most basic of bikes with a broken pedal and loose handlebars…

  12. Shanyn says:

    Flagstaff, AZ: About 1/2 the time I bike/bus/bike in the morning and then ride home in the evening. My commute is 6 miles each way. Doing the bike and bus, I can wear my regular work clothes and not have to deal with cleanup or a change of clothes.

  13. Noah says:

    Hey mike. Just in case you didn’t know, I’m ax0n on BikeForums, organizing the monday commuter convoy. I know you’d posted in my thread (and no one else did)

  14. John says:

    Car/bike. I drive the first 30 miles to a business lot and drive the remaining 9-11 with three choices of routes. I have biked the whole ride home which is 32 miles. The difference is because of highway vs secondary roads.

    On the Sundays I work I have a choice of 5 or 6 distances to park and ride. My usual two choice are the 15 and 21 mile options, but have done others.

    And Fritz: I suppose with all the concrete and tar, using the orignal name of “Valley of Heart’s Delight” is unregognizable now.

  15. Robert says:

    I have been a multimodal (like that term!) commuter in the SF Bay area, East Bay contingent for about ten years. BART has lockers for rent for a nominal $30/year and I at present have two, one at Orinda and the other at El Cerrito del Norte. I ride each morning year round from Moraga to Orinda and take the train to ECdN where I pick up my fixed gear for another 2.5 miles to work including a lovely stretch along the Bay Trail right along the tidal marsh. It’s safe, not too fast (about 1h20m total of which about half is train and the rest bike including changing in a locker room at work), and definitely stimulating. Previously, I worked in downtown Oakland which was quite a bit quicker as the BART ride was only 12m and I was a five minute work from work.

  16. Tim Pierce says:

    I have a 75-minute car/bike commute here in the outer Boston area. Each morning I drive about 15 minutes to the Bedford end of the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway, where I can park all day for free. From there I bike 55-60 minutes to my office in Cambridge. Compared with alternatives like:

    1. drive all the way to Cambridge: 45-60 minutes, about $40/day in fuel, parking and wear and tear

    2. drive to the Alewife T station and take the train to work: 60 minutes each way, about $20/day for fuel, parking, wear and tear and T fares

    3. drive to the Concord commuter rail station and take the commuter rail to Boston: 90 minutes, about $15/day

    …. a 75-minute commute that costs about $5 a day and lets me ride my bike for two hours every single day looks like a fantastic deal!

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