Caltrain Will Boost Bicycle Capacity But It’s Still Not Enough

2592286437_a46d8f421c.jpgAlthough capacity is increasing, bicyclists will continue to get left behind at Caltrain stations.

Caltrain’s Board of Directors has approved a plan to improve bicycle capacity that is a step beyond staff’s recommendations but will it be enough to keep bicycle commuters from getting bumped? No. Still, advocates were pleased with yesterday’s decision to increase capacity by 8 bicycles on each bike car, even though it falls short of the plan they proposed for 80 bikes on each train.

"It’s a small increase, but it’s a very positive step in the right direction," said Shirley Johnson, the head of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s BIKES ONboard project.

Under the plan the older gallery bike cars will increase their capacity from 32 to 40 bicycles while the newer Bombardier cars, which now hold 16, will carry 24. The board shot down a staff proposal, which advocates dubbed "Stand or Steal," that would have removed all center seats from the newer bike cars.  Many cyclists testified it would lead to bike theft because they would have to stand out of view of their bikes on the top floor. 

"The board was very astute and they recognized that cyclists were just not buying what Caltrain was saying about removing all the seats at the bottom of the Bombardier cars," said Johnson.

Director Ken Yeager, the Santa Clara County supervisor, proposed removing 8 seats to accommodate 8 more bikes which will leave 11 center and side seats on the Bombardiers. It passed unanimously and bicyclists should start noticing the extra racks by April.

"The
people that bike to the station are freeing up parking in our
overcrowded parking lots and taking cars off the road.  We should
be doing everything we can to accommodate them and their bikes," Yeager wrote later in an email.

Although advocates feel the board is finally starting to understand the concerns of bicyclists, the new plan is still inconsistent, with a random assignment of train sets. You’ll never know if the next train will carry 80 bicycles or as few as 24.

162483945_9b303e237f.jpg

Mark Simon, the special assistant to the Caltrain CEO, said in an email to advocates that the board directed staff to "explore a more reliable deployment of two bike
cars on peak trains with the goal of improving the consistency and
reliability of the bike capacity on specific, high-use
trains."

He called the changes, which will cost about $200,000, "interim and incremental" and remains concerned that removing seats to increase bike capacity "can have impacts on the overall performance of the rail system, particularly on-time performance." Advocates have pointed out, however, that many passenger seats are empty when the bike cars are full. 

Johnson said she hopes Caltrain will collaborate with the advocates and work on increasing capacity even more. Now that advocates have learned some of the physical constraints of Caltrain’s rolling stock, they hope to find ways to work around those problems.

For example, Johnson said there are two Bombardier cab cars that have never been converted to bike cars "and it would be very straightforward to do." So instead of those trains running with 24 bike spaces they could run with 48.

Flickr photos: allentomdude and richardmasoner.

  • brian

    I’ve heard a lot of folks who’re upset that cyclists are allowed more space than regular passengers, yet pay the same fare. The argument is of course, that the space that bikes take up, could be seats for more passengers. I think that idea has a few flaws. For starters, a lot of people only ride Caltrain b/c they can bring their bikes, and their trips would not be as convenient if they couldn’t combine those modes. In terms of the extra cost of the bicycles’ space, I imagine that cost is nothing compared to the amount of $ it’ll take to build the downtown extension tunnel. I note this b/c cyclists seem to be less reliant on a downtown caltrain stop versus pedestrians who have to connect with slower MUNI vehicles.

    Now though, I’m wondering whether an effective bike sharing program implemented at the most important Caltrain terminal stations could also alleviate the crowding issues.

  • The folks suffering that trauma are generally people who never take Caltrain. If the “regular passengers” were strapped to the side of the train, I’d understand, but the reality is that the trains are not SRO. Occasionally some primary traditional commute direction trains get pretty full, or for a Giants game, but that’s it. The complaints come from non-riders who spend a lot of time contemplating how aggrieved they are by Critical Mass, and when they read an article about Caltrain and bikes they displace that anger on the Caltrain bike commuters.

    Any trains that might be full will become much less full very soon as we dive into recession. This happened in 2001. And in 2001, the bike cars stayed full, because there is latent demand that will continue to be tapped, a laid off cyclist is replaced by a new cyclist who didn’t lose his job, and if that cyclist is not subject to bumps, he stays.

    Laid off walk-on passengers are not replaced by those that are not laid off. People driving on the freeway who aren’t inclined to ride their bikes to Caltrain, will now be subjected to half price gasoline and empty freeways. Not exactly the incentive they need to switch to taking the N-Judah to Caltrain.

    As for a bike sharing program – that has been floated but in practice is a non-starter. Bike sharing programs require sharing – but in this case people would ride their bike from the station to their office, where the bike would sit all day, until they returned it at night when nobody would need it.

  • brian, many of those people don’t realize that the parking space they are using is a heavily subsidized service caltrain provides.

  • Ken Yeager is brand new to the Caltrain Joint Powers Board representing Santa Clara County. Yeager is very supportive of bicycling and he’s a bike commuter himself. The other new JPB member, Ash Kalra from the city of San Jose, is known for his progressive politics.

    Thanks for using my Flickr photo.

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