There's been a lot of discussion this week on the SVBC and SFBike lists about Caltrain's Bicycle Master Plan. The first public is tonight in San Carlos; I plan to attend the Monday evening in Mountain View if I can get out of work early enough.
Some points to discuss and consider:
Because transit connections to get commuters the last mile from the train station to work or home are often non-existent or poorly connected in the Bay Area, bicycles enable commuters to bridge that gap from home to the station and from the station to work. I can get to work without a bike, but doing this adds 30 minutes to my already long commute (from the walking and waiting for connections) and reduces my flexibility dramatically -- I must leave work earlier and I get home later.
Caltrain is getting very crowded with bicyclists and non-cyclists. Even trains that previously were nearly empty in the past are at capacity these days, especially on the bike cars.
Caltrain claims they can't increase bike capacity without reducing capacity for other passengers. Walking passengers are never bumped, though, even at the most crowded. If bike capacity is increased at the expense of seat space, there is still room for non-cycling passengers, even if many of them need to stand in the aisles (like cyclists are needing to do now).
Caltrain estimates that boarding bikes adds about 250 hours of delay per year, because cyclists take longer to board than other passengers. The dramatic drop in on time performance in 2008 is probably due mostly to increased use of Caltrain by bicyclists.
Caltrain plans to electrify by 2014, so they're reluctant to simply add cars that will be unusable by Caltrain in a few years. Adding cars to diesel train consists also slows service and impacts schedules.
According to Caltrain, about 9% of train commuters ride their bikes to Caltrain, with 1 to 2% locking them at the station and the remainder bringing them on board. 37% drive to the station or are dropped off; 19% use other transit; 29% walk and 8% use a free shuttle.
There are 1,900 bike parking spaces along the entire Caltrain system, which is not nearly enough these days. At San Jose Diridon Station, for example, there are 24 bike lockers and zero bike racks. Compare that to 600 car parking spots at that station. If we use the current ratio of 1 bike rider for every 3 motorists, there should be 200 bike parking spots at San Jose Diridon. Adding secure bike parking is very inexpensive compared to adding car parking, yet car parking is available at below market rates and even free at some stations.
Many (most?) cyclists are unwilling to leave their bikes locked up overnight, and many are unable or unwilling to spend the money for a second bike, which is what would be required for many commuters to get to work.
Caltrain says they want to increase the number of cyclists biking to the train station, but because bike capacity on board is maxed out they want to encourage bike parking. Some of the other ideas they plan to present include bike sharing and a folding bike subsidy.
Caltrain bike pain elsewhere:
Green Caltrain: "The Bicycle Master Plan, unfortunately, will be a big disappointment for some bicyclists who want to see more bike capacity on trains. The plan focuses primarily on bike parking issues. For various reasons, Caltrain is putting the controversial issue of bicycles on trains off the table."
295Bus on the new Entry/Exit door labels on Caltrain Bombardier bike cars.
Sub20OLH had been ranting a lot about Caltrain this last week:
A new day: "Caltrain needs some more funding - now. I definitely want them to get a little smarter - but the system is breaking down."
Bumped: "I was late because I was bumped at Mountain View from the 5:03 train. I had to wait for the 5:37, and made it on but 10 others were bumped. That train then bumped 10 at Menlo, and 10 at Redwood City..."
Caltrain falling apart: "Why are they late? Dwell time is through the roof. Caltrain is surely blaming the cyclists. The conductors are surly. What is going on?"
The Itinerant Cyclist goes bumpity bumpity: "Train 227 gets to Mountain View about 10 minutes late, I am early enough to catch it, but the house is over full so I take the gentle push to stay behind rather than fight for one of the spots standing in the vestibule. Train 231, my normal train, is due in just a few minutes anyway. Then 231 shows up with Bombardier equipment and only 1 bike car, so max of 16 bikes total on the train and there are 15 on the platform waiting to board. So it was waiting another 20 minutes for the next train, which had room for only 13 bikes and there were about 18 on the platform. But I fought this one out and got on that train."
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Back in the day when I rode Caltrain, getting bumped was my #1 reason for decreased riding -- even with my free Go pass.
I've always considered bike parking to be failed idea -- it only works if your endpoint has good public transit. Witness Japan, which has hundreds of bikes parked in the plazas outside the station (safety in numbers, as those bikes are locked with wimpy integrated wheel locks).
The folding bike subsidy sounds more attractive -- I seriously considered this option but ended up enjoying the ride more.
I think a bike share plus increased bike parking would reduce the need for overnight parking and reduce bikes on the trains. People could ride their own bikes from/to their homes and then use the shared bikes to/from work.
In the past two years I had been bumped once before late May of this year, and the number of instances of passengers being bumped that I observed in that time period could be counted on one hand. Since mid-May I have been bumped 3 times, almost bumped a couple more, seen dozens of instances where cyclists were denied boarding on trains on which I was travelling. Not a good sign.
And all of this was predictable. Problems started occurring when they introduced the Baby Bullets, have been bad on all trains in the summers ever since, and always seem to get worse when gas prices go up. Summer, record gas prices, and what happens? CalTrain is caught with its pants down, exacerbated by not catching 14 cars with cracks that need to be taken out of service.
Parking is a very, very, very tiny piece of the solution. It must be SECURE with a capital S, weatherproof, and then will only work for a minority of cyclists. Not good for anyone whose work and/or home is more than a mile or so from the station. And CalTrain has an awful history with bike lockers, witness the fiasco at the Sunnyvale station post-parking garage renovation.
Folders are a tiny piece of the solution; trains might be able to take a few folders. And folders will not work for many, and are an additional item to buy/maintain. And for those with a conscience, a folder is a $600-1500 cost item; lower priced ones made by factories of questionable repute in China are available, but then one has to lower one's ethical compass somewhat to make the purchase.
It appears we will have glacial progress towards incrementally poor solutions, leading more folks to abandon their attempts at getting out of cars and onto alternative transport. Darn shame.
Speaking of lockers... I have been riding Caltrain for 10 years. I know nobody who has a bike locker and have only seen someone open a bike locker once. That makes me leery of bike lockers being a solution - there is no "means test" to quantify that building a locker and renting it to someone will accomplish the stated goal, if the reality is they are rarely used if ever, monopolized by non or infrequent Caltrain users (cyclists or not).
The price point makes the issue. I had occasion to work in Boxborough Mass about 3 times a year. I fly in to Boston, and can take the T/Commuter Rail to South Acton, 3 miles from the office. I found out there were unspoken for bike lockers at South Acton. I seriously considered buying a clunker and renting a locker, for $200 I could get a usable bike and pay for annual rental, and was going to try to convince my company to pay for it given this was less than 3 days rental car. At the price point it was worth using the locker as storage, to be opened twice a year.
Caltrain has a waiting list - yet those owning lockers don't seem to be utilizing them, at least not for the intended means. I could be wrong, but I'm definitely curious.