John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
This ride's for you (if you like hulking seafaring machines and a Superfund site).
The San Francisco Bay Area is full of gorgeous bike rides, from the winding hills of the Marin Headlands to the seabird-haunted barrens at Berkeley Marina to the mysterious, marijuana-smoked forests of Golden Gate Park.
With screaming freeways jutting in every direction, pavement booby-trapped with glass and jagged metal, and shadowy areas that seem designed by muggers and rapists, the trip along marked cycle lanes to the Port of Oakland is not one of those rides.
However, it is indeed a unique Bay Area trail for its thrills, grit, and visual payoff at the end (if you're into hulking maritime machines, and who isn't?). It's also one of the region's least-traveled paths, despite being mentioned as one of Oakland's five great rides. Recently I took a night spin to the port—the journey is best experienced after dark, when it most resembles a zombie-infected wasteland—and snapped some photos. See if you agree that it's a trek worth discovering.
The adventure begins in historic, heavily industrialized West Oakland, where crust punks have a tent encampment propped on the sidewalk and stray cats do their best to become speed bumps. And look, Dan Flavin was here!
Next up is an Aramark laundry facility, seen here through a fence:
There's a fenced-off parking zone underneath a bridge that's guarded by a yelping watchdog, and a very well-trained one at that seeing as how it can car-surf:
The trail takes a curve to avoid the barbed wire-guarded AMCO Chemical Superfund site, an old facility with chlorinated solvents that are thought to be cancerous in the soil and groundwater. An EPA survey concluded there were 200 contaminants at this site, with 98 being "of concern." Yet it's rated at 3.3 stars on Google. Says one reviewer: "I don't always visit Superfund sites. But when I do, I visit AMCO Chemical Superfund Site."
The trail descends into a concrete warren of highway infrastructure. Here's a worm tunnel underneath a bridge that seems primed for a RoboCop-style ambush:
There's nice graffiti inside, though:
And it's onward to a path running next to the BART that's strewn with tire-poking metal:
This section also presents opportunities to get close to the commuter train, meaning a distance of mere feet:
Finally the path levels out into the Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, where herons hunt fish in peaceful tidal flats:
This end point is the best of the trail, where you can watch titanic cranes load cargo containers onto ships bound for Asia. With operators sucking up boxes every other minute to place on ships, it's like watching Tetris masters at work: