Bay Area freeway meltdown: Where was al-Qaida?

Gov. Schwarzenegger orders free public transportation. He should do that every day -- or the terrorists will win.

Published April 30, 2007 4:00PM (EDT)

Some quotes from the San Francisco Chronicle's blanket coverage of the "MacArthur Maze meltdown" Sunday morning, in which a tanker truck carrying 8,600 gallons of gasoline crashed, blew up, and destroyed two key sections of East Bay freeways.

"This points out how much we rely on one system (freeways),"

-- John Grubb, vice president of the Bay Area Council

"[The commute will] be a nightmare, an absolute nightmare. It really underscores how vulnerable we are."

-- Oakland resident Ron Chandler

"We are sharply limited in our ability to add extra service ... It's not like we have a bunch of extra buses or drivers sitting around ... Transportation, period, is so fragile. If one network goes down, it's tough for other agencies to pick up that burden."

-- AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson

Amazingly, so far as I've been able to ascertain, no one has yet blamed the disaster on al-Qaida. But with last week's arrest of 170 militants in Saudi Arabia, some of whom were reportedly hell-bent on destroying the kingdom's huge Abqaiq oil refinery, the connection seems irresistible. Think about it: the explosion of one single tanker truck, on its way from an East Bay refinery to a gas station in Alameda, is predicted to unleash chaos in a major U.S. metropolitan area, exposing the vulnerability of backup systems and the fragility of transportation networks. So what horrors would ensue if the biggest oil refinery in the world went up in smoke?

Terrorists were obviously not involved in the MacArthur Maze catastrophe. But the damage done is yet another wakeup call (as if we needed any more) underlining the paralyzing nature of our reliance on cars for transportation.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered that all public transportation systems in the Bay Area be free of charge on Monday, hoping to encourage commuters to stay off the highway. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system announced it would be running longer trains more frequently.

It should not require molten steel girders on a busy freeway interchange to get the governor to push public transportation by any means necessary. We need more buses, more trains, more bike paths, a higher gas tax and higher bridge tolls, and free days, every day for public transportation. Then, maybe, we could call ourselves civilized. Not to mention safer.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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