Hopefully they won't, but be prepared in case they do.

With the possibility that BART workers could go on strike Friday, that was the advice of transportation officials bracing for potential gridlock throughout the Bay Area.

Though a 60-day cooling-off period ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown ends at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, ongoing negotiations keep hope alive that BART will avoid a strike stranding 200,000-plus daily riders, jamming freeways and bridges and leaving standing room only on buses and ferries.

Avoiding a BART shutdown appeared less certain late Wednesday after contract talks ended on a sour note. Unions released a statement saying that the two sides were closing in on a deal before management "pulled out the rug." According to ABC7 News, BART characterized union claims that it withdrew the latest offer as "miscommunication." Talks are scheduled to resume at noon Thursday.

The unions, who customarily give riders at least 72 hours' warning of a walkout, again declined Wednesday to issue a strike notice and said they are instead focused on reaching a deal.

Still, it would be within the unions' power to shut down the system Friday morning if a deal is not reached before then -- an option they have not ruled out.

Transportation officials are urging commuters to brace for the worst. Work from home, change your usual drive times or take Friday off.

If there is a strike, check alert.511.org for commuting options. If your only choice is to hit the road, heed this advice:

"Get there early," said John Goodwin of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.


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In case of a strike, carpool hours on many freeways and bridges would be extended from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., affecting drivers as far south as Interstate 880 in San Jose. Big rigs would be allowed to use I-580 from San Leandro to Oakland, and more buses and ferries would be deployed.

In case of a strike, BART will provide free shuttle buses between the East Bay and San Francisco. It figures it could handle about 6,000 bus passengers a day in each direction. AC Transit says it can carry an additional 11,000 riders on its buses into San Francisco.

"Take the bus," said AC spokesman Clarence Johnson. "We will be offering enhanced transbay service, using our 60-foot (largest) buses and as many additional runs as possible."

Columbus Day is Monday, and that could lead some people to take a four-day weekend and avoid the hassles sure to come if BART service is suspended.

BART workers last went on strike July 1-5, when 52 percent of the 56,000 commuters who ordinarily ride BART between the East Bay and San Francisco in the morning either worked at home or canceled discretionary trips across the bay. And 12,000 carpooled with co-workers, friends or joined casual carpools, catching a ride with a stranger to take advantage of carpool lanes and lower bridge tolls.

A Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train speeds along State Highway 24, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 in Orinda, Calif. BART, which typically carries about 400,000
A Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train speeds along State Highway 24, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 in Orinda, Calif. BART, which typically carries about 400,000 riders daily, is facing a midnight Thursday deadline for working out a new labor agreement with its unions. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group) ( D. ROSS CAMERON )

But ridership now is 30 percent higher than it was in July because fewer people are on vacation, so a strike this time of year would have a bigger impact.

In July, commuter Joan Garcia tried a casual carpool from Oakland to San Francisco and may do so again -- but not Friday, when she hopes traffic will be lighter.

"If a strike runs into next week, then maybe I will," she said. "But I'm optimistic that they'll settle their differences this time and not drag it into next week."

If you carpool across one of the bridges, remember that you need FasTrak at the toll plazas or run the risk of a hefty ticket. And there must be three people in a car to make a carpool on I-80 and the bridges.

One of the biggest hassles in July was soaring parking rates in San Francisco. About 4,000 additional vehicles can be accommodated in the following city-owned garages in the downtown area: 5th Street and Mission, Sutter and Stockton, Union Square, Moscone Center, Performing Arts, Civic Center, Golden Gateway, and Ellis and O'Farrell. In addition, about 2,000 parking spaces are available at AT&T Park.

For real-time parking information at these facilities, go to www.511.org and click on 511 Parking.

If there is a walkout, don't be surprised if the morning commute goes without many hitches. But by the evening return home, watch out.

"Traffic levels on these kinds of weekends, with a Monday holiday observed by some employers and not others, are often hard to predict," Goodwin said. "A perfectly plausible scenario is that one could see a Friday-light morning commute coupled with a getaway-Friday crush in the afternoon."

Staff writer Mike Rosenberg contributed to this report. Contact Gary Richards at 408-920-5335.

CARPOOL HOURS: 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In the event of a BART strike, carpool hours would be extended to 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. at these locations:

I-80: Between Carquinez and Bay Bridge.
I-680: From north of I-580 to Benicia Bridge.
I-880: From San Jose to Bay Bridge.
Toll plazas: At Bay Bridge, Carquinez, Benicia, San Mateo and Dumbarton bridges.
Highway 84: Between Fremont and Dumbarton Bridge.
Highway 92: Between Hayward and San Mateo Bridge.

STRIKE SURVIVAL GUIDE

BART: Will run charter buses from the East Bay to San Francisco starting at 5 a.m. No morning service after 8 a.m. BART lots and garages will be available free of charge as carpool staging areas. The white-curb passenger loading zones can be used as casual carpool pickup and drop-off locations.
FERRY SERVICE: Additional ferry service from Vallejo, Oakland, Alameda/Main Street and Alameda/Harbor Bay.
TRUCKS OK ON I-580: Ban on big rigs from San Leandro to Oakland will be lifted from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Go to alert.511.org.