Advocates: Caltrain Needs to Address Challenges for Cyclists at SF Station

Bicyclists have to contend with a mess of taxis, delivery trucks and other vehicles obstructing the bike lane on Townsend Street near the entrance to the Caltrain station, to the right. This is why some ride on the sidewalk. Photos by Bryan Goebel.

San Francisco police returned to the Caltrain station at 4th, King and Townsend streets this morning to warn bike commuters not to ride on the sidewalk one day after a sting that resulted in a number of citations for people on bikes. Bike advocates complained, however, that Caltrain has known for years the station presents a challenge to bicyclists, and said the agency’s inaction has allowed conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians to continue.

Instead of seriously addressing flaws in the street and station design, the situation has led to the selective enforcement of bicyclists. Police told Streetsblog they have received complaints from pedestrians about bike commuters, and yesterday issued a number of citations to bicyclists for riding on the sidewalk. SFPD Lt. Troy Dangerfield said today it was part of a “month-long campaign on bicycle and pedestrian enforcement.” However, the officers did not target drivers obstructing the bike lane.

Shirley Johnson, a member of Caltrain’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and a longtime leader of the Bikes ONBoard program, said she’s been riding on the sidewalk for years.

“I just thought that’s how you’re supposed to get to the station. There’s a curb cut right there, on the sidewalk,” she told Streetsblog. “No one has ever said anything and people are getting ticketed. That seems very unfair.”

“I’m very careful. I ride really slow on the sidewalk,” she continued. “But I can only imagine if someone’s late for the train they’re probably coming along at a pretty good clip. I always got there early enough that I never had to do that but I can see that it’s a safety concern.”

A great many bicyclists walk their bikes into the station. The bike parking building is to the left.

Hundreds of daily bike commuters use this facility to park their bikes, and on many days it's over capacity. It's also the home of Warm Planet Bikes

The bike lanes installed on Townsend Street on the north side of the Caltrain station were ushered in with quite the fanfare, just days after the permanent injunction against bike facilities was lifted in August, 2010. But this morning, like any other typical weekday (according to bike commuters I spoke to), the bike lane was at various times blocked by taxis, a Bud Light delivery truck, a shuttle bus and private automobiles. Some taxi drivers like to make sudden u-turns out of the taxi station, endangering bicyclists riding in the bike lane.

Caltrain’s 2008 Bicycle Access and Parking Plan acknowledges the challenges for bicyclists here:

There is no clearly‐delineated routing for cyclists to transition from riding to walking their bike to reach the station entrance and platforms. Cyclists are frequently observed riding on the section of sidewalk between the taxi stand (where there is a curb cut and a signed bollard) and the station entrance. This exacerbates passenger flow issues, as there are also many pedestrians in this area.

The plan recommended working with the SFMTA to consider relocating the taxi stand but nothing has been done since it was adopted, according to Caltrain spokesperson Christine Dunn, who added that “none of the recommended projects in the plan are funded.”

Johnson said Caltrain needs to address the problem immediately. “They need to have a safe, clearly marked pathway for cyclists to get to the station that does not interfere with pedestrian traffic.”

This taxi driver begins making a dangerous u-turn.

Law enforcement vehicles are often parked on the sidewalk, even during rush times. Caltrain was ordered to install the black bollards as a security measure.