Caltrain bicycles on board: ideas and proposals

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009
By Yokota Fritz

Tomorrow (Thursday, February 5, 2009) at 10 AM, the Caltrain Joint Powers Board meets to hear and consider various proposals that Caltrain staff will present on increasing bicycle capacity on board the trains. One of the proposals that Caltrain Operations Director Chuck Harvey and special assistant Mark Simon may give is increasing capacity on the 'new' Bombardier bike cars ('bomb cars') to 32 bikes by removing all seats from the lower level.

Mountain View Caltrain evening commute

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Bikes On Board committee has come out strongly opposed to what they call "Stand or Steal." Because there are no seats on the bike level, cyclists will either need to stand for their entire trip, or sit out of view of their bikes, risking theft. SFBC member surveys show that bike theft is a major concern for their membership.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition counters with their own proposal: All bomb car sets will always have at least two bike cars, and increase bomb car bike capacity by removing seats and adding bike racks to the mezzanine levels. Eventually, the SFBC would like the lower level of all bomb cars converted to bike space.

There are some varying dynamics between morning southbound and northbound Caltrain passengers. In the mornings, relatively few passengers boarding at 4th and King in San Francisco have bikes, leaving hundreds of empty passenger seats, while cyclists are routinely bumped even in the winter. At the San Jose side of things, however, the passenger cars are jam packed, with more crowding on in Sunnyvale and Mountain View before they begin to detrain in Palo Alto and on the Peninsula. The bike cars also are full, but bumping typically doesn't begin until Sunnyvale on northbound trains.

Crowded bike car

What will the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition propose during tomorrow's meeting? As things currently stand, the SVBC will also reject "Stand or Steal" and insist on more bike cars on all trains to (1) deal with capacity issues and (2) make capacity more consistent. Currently, you don't know if you can expect 16 spaces or 64 spaces for bikes on a train. The SVBC will also encourage Caltrain to get creative to come up with some kind of real time notification system for those along the line.

Another idea that's been floated is increasing capacity on bomb cars to 24 bikes in the lower level; this means fewer seats, but at least a few will be available and a thief won't know if the bike owner is nearby or now.

Something I would personally like to see: Priority boarding for cyclists on the bike cars. Presently, non-cyclist passengers have boarding priority, and there's tremendous crowding at the bike car (always the north car) because that's the train car closest to shuttle bus stops. Cyclists are forced to wait for all other passengers to board because they don't have the option of boarding in another car, which increases dwell time, or the time the train sits at the station. If cyclists have boarding priority, the other passengers have the option of boarding at different cars. Furthermore, cyclists are more likely to find a seat on the bike car once they board.

Who's attending this meeting? I'll be at the Caltrain JPB meeting tomorrow with probably hundreds of other cyclists. Come early if you ride the train: I imagine the trains to San Mateo will be absolutely jam packed for this meeting.

Caltrain is getting crowded

If you show up at the JPB meeting, here are my endorsements:
Disclosure: I'm on the "Caltrain Working Group" for the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. I mostly show up at meetings as people much smarter than me talk about the issues of bikes on board Caltrain.



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"In the mornings, relatively few passengers boarding at 4th and King in San Francisco have bikes, leaving hundreds of empty passenger seats, while cyclists are routinely bumped even in the winter."

I think there is a syntax error there. Do you mean relatively few passengers *don't* have bikes? That's not really true. While San Joser and Sunnyvale have copious parking, 4th/King is a major MUNI connection spot with "some" parking, and 22nd St has "a lot" of parking. The reason we see less SRO crowds is because the SB AM commute has a far more "tech-heavy" crowd that can show up at 10 AM for work, so the entire SB AM commute spreads across more trains.

Additionally, since the NB AM commute is so "Drive to the station" centric, I am guessing that earlier trains become more attractive because the parking lots are filling up, people shoot for the same earlier bullets because later trains cause parking hassles.

this of course is just a WAG.
SFBC contends there are 'hundreds' of empty seats on the trains (as evidenced by photos that you forwarded to me and are now posted to SFBC/BoB page). You'd never see passenger cars that empty in San Jose in the mornings. I think you're right this is because more people bike to SF station than to SJ station because of copious parking in the South Bay.
Those photos are taken on trains leaving SF at 8:44, 8:59, and 9:07 respectively. What do the trains leaving San Jose at those times look like?

The 8:14 and 7:14 AM trains - the two bullets stopping at PA, are much more loaded down with passengers. But like I said, we don't really "fill" the trains.

The parking in the South Bay is only part of it. All those NB AM commuters arrive in SF where there is a Jitney, cabs, MUNI, etc... whereas the SB commuters get dumped off in "the sticks" and need a bike if your company doesn't have a shuttle. My company has a shuttle - and it runs from Lawrence so I can't take a bullet.
Hmm, I don't know what trains that late look like -- my absolute latest departure from SJ is the 8:22 AM train (I like to get home in the evenings in time to see my kids).
I think I'd actually prefer them to do nothing over the stand-or-steal option, honestly. Given that I've been biking for around 2 years and I've already had to replace my bike once because of theft....
Not that I prefer the Stand or Steal deal, but if it comes to 16 bikes per bomber or 32 stand, I will take a stand. I want to know I get on and not have to stress over whether or not I am going to get bumped. And one advantage, non bikers will not be wantiong to get on board bikes trains knowing there are no seats. Thus making it faster to board/unboard.
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