25 years since Loma Prieta

I attended colleage in far away Texas when the Loma Prieta quake shook the Monterey Bay and San Francisco Bay areas on this day in 1989. Disaster preparedness officials and local media are using the opportunity of this quarter century anniversary to remind people of the day when shaking famously interrupted the World Series game at Candlestick Park, and infamously knocked down portions of the Oakland Bay Bridge and the Cypress Viaduct.


I cross the San Andreas Fault twice daily during my commute. The 1989 quake damaged a section of State Highway 17, which is the main north-south route between Santa Cruz and San Jose, and rendered this road unusable for a month. The Highway 17 bus service I ride today began because road repairs severely restricted this highway’s capacity.

I fully expect another major quake will disrupt road transportation to my home, so my disaster preparedness includes biking the entire 32 miles over the Santa Cruz Mountains to home from the office. My recreational rides up and over the mountains double as disaster preparedness drills. I fully expect to have to walk past damaged road segments, but carrying my bike is much easier than carrying a car or SUV around an obstacle.

I believe this plan is more than my fevered doomer porn fantasies. There’s more than just hopping on my bike and going, after all, with plans to gather provisions, contact friends on this side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and meetup with other bike commuters for a post-earthquake group ride to Santa Cruz. Some past experience is included: to wit my father’s experience after the Hanshin Earthquake of 1995, which he described for Elly Blue’s “Disaster” episode of her Taking The Lane bike ‘zine.

My dad's story in the "Disaster" issue of Taking the Lane

You can read the full story in Elly’s Disaster zine, which can be yours for as little as $5. My dad’s story is the coolest one in there, but the stories are all worth reading.

I included that photo of the bikes in Misawa, Japan, incidentally, because my retired parents now live in far northern Japan, where the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami devastated much of the Pacific coast of northeastern Japan. My parents sat tight for a day in their solar and wind powered home. After that, my dad (then age 70 years) volunteered with cleanup efforts at Misawa, where he bumped into an old high school classmate of mine, Colonel (now General) Mike Rothstein, commander of the 35th Fighter Wing based out of Misawa.


  1. I had ridden my bike to work that day, from Santa Clara up to the Sunnyvale/Mt. View border. That was my fastest commute home ever, as I just sailed by mile after mile of stopped traffic on Central Expressway. All the traffic lights were out, but with traffic not moving, there were no delays at all on a bike.

    Another engineer and I had been testing some new CRT monitors with our company’s graphics card that afternoon. We had them stacked precariously on top of other monitors (this was pre-LCD days – these were 19″ and larger CRTs). I remarked to the other guy that I hoped an earthquake did not happen while we had this set up! I decided to stay in the office with my body against the monitors to hold them in place. I determined I could not clear the area fast enough to avoid the flying glass if those CRTs fell and imploded, so it seemed safer to stay put.

    No damage at work, I think I had one broken glass at home on the counter when something fell out of the cupboard above onto it.

  2. Will you be expected to pick up stranded SUV drivers in such an event? If so, will the laws against extra passengers on a bike be enforced?

  3. Seriously, is there any law against some number of passengers on a bicycle? Would this apply to cargo bikes too then? Or is this just a user agreement as part of various bikeshare systems not to carry passengers?

  4. Most (all?) states have a law limiting the number of passengers to the number of seats on a bicycle, sometimes with exceptions for things like seatless trials bikes. In California, this law is CVC 21204.

    Like most equipment requirements, this law is almost always ignored by the constabulary except for pretext stops. People with cargo bikes occasionally report problems with this law when police cite the operator, usually in the name of “child safety.”

    To answer Steve A’s question, I’ll probably help out where I can, but passengers are unlikely.

  5. Didn’t pick up any passengers. Was tempted to pull in behind one of the stopped SUVs, ring my bike bell and then pull out to pass and give them the finger for obstructing traffic 🙂 But I decided not to do that and just ride by.

  6. Thanks, Richard. You’re right, the new CVC website really is a bit of a pain.

    Link to the relevant section after removing a lot of the cruft in the URL: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/pubs/vctop/vc/d11/c1/a4/21204/

    I was concerned because a local south bay parent with a box bike/bakfiets was stopped by a police officer who was sure it was illegal (I’m assuming the carrying of kids in it, not the bike itself). I think that officer’s partner convinced him (her?) otherwise. Certainly no citation was issued, but it still confused that parent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.