Better Bike Parking Options Can Alleviate Crowding On-Board Caltrain

Caltrain bike cars frequently fill up on rush hour trains, bumping passengers wishing to board with bikes to the next train.

Facing a continuing surge of nearly 5,000 additional weekday passengers each year, Caltrain is looking into better bike parking to alleviate overcrowding on the trains while improving access to its stations. The agency was awarded a $150,000 state grant in early April to write a bicycle parking management plan that aims to prioritize the next phase of bike improvements at stations.

Current bike parking facilities include standard bike racks at 29 stations, bike lockers that can only be rented out by a single person at 26 stations, shared bike lockers at 10 stations, and indoor bike parking areas at three stations, including attended bike parking at San Francisco’s Fourth and King Station. The addition of more bike parking has lagged behind demand, with the number of passengers with bikes more than doubling from 2010 to 2015. Caltrain now logs over 6,000 bike boardings on an average weekday, accounting for between 11 and 13 percent of the agency’s total weekday ridership, which has grown by 60 percent in the same five-year period.

In a survey Caltrain conducted last year [PDF], 49 percent of passengers who bring a bike on-board said they would consider using “secure bike parking in a self-serve locker,” 39 percent would consider “convenient bike sharing kiosks,” and 47 percent would consider “a shuttle or other means of transit.”

Last December, Caltrain’s Bike Plan Implementation Strategy [PDF] reported “mixed progress” on bike parking improvements since 2008, citing inadequate funds and the ad-hoc nature of the many small city-led projects that are completed only as grant money and staff time become available. The new plan recommends investing $2 million in 500 new electronic bike lockers at Caltrain’s nine busiest stations, and $1 million on various access improvements, including new ramps and stairs at a few stations.

Shared electronic bike lockers are rented for five cents per hour using a transit card. Photo: Richard Masoner

Standard bike racks are installed at all stations, but many commuters are wary of locking their bikes outside all day long and risking theft. Key-operated bike lockers that can only be reserved for one person for months at a time cost $33 for six months. Except at Redwood City and San Jose, not every bike locker gets used at stations with all-day service. In 2013 the agency found that bike locker utilization system-wide is roughly 50 percent.

“Imagine if you had to permanently reserve a specific space to park a car at a Caltrain station, and only you could ever park in that one space,” said Friends of Caltrain Director Adina Levin. “Secure bike parking has to be more convenient than this or commuters just won’t use it.”

Shared electronic bike lockers, most of which are rented by commuters for five cents per hour using BikeLink, a pre-paid transit card similar to Clipper, don’t restrict customers to using a specific locker. They also take up less space than key-operated lockers because each locker can be used by many customers. To date, electronic bike lockers have been installed at only five stations between San Francisco and San Jose (Millbrae, San Mateo, Hayward Park, Hillsdale, and Sunnyvale, none of which are among the agency’s top five busiest stations for bike commuters).

Caltrain will decide how much space to allocated to seats, bikes, luggage, and bathrooms on its new electric trains before this summer, when it will award the contract to build them to one of six pre-qualified firms. The trains are expected to be running by 2021.

Local bike advocacy groups representing San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties urged Caltrain in December [PDF] to provide enough space for 20 percent of passengers to bring a bike on board the electric trains. The groups also requested that Caltrain study the relative costs of various first-and-last-mile connections available, including better bike parking, bike-share, and bus and shuttle service, and to set goals for increasing non-automotive access to Caltrain’s stations.

  • murphstahoe

    22nd Street could use some lockers badly, but I suppose the best possibilities lie in lockers on the peninsula, given that bike share exists in SF.

  • DrunkEngineer

    If they hadn’t squandered so much on CBOSS and parking garages, Caltrain would have plenty of funds for bike parking. Bike parking obviously isn’t a priority.

  • PeterAkkies

    I ride Caltrain every weekday. Sometimes I bring my bike on board the train and at other times I park my bike at the free, secure bike parking at 4th and King. I’m from The Netherlands, where free, secure bike parking is in plentiful supply at many train stations. It works well there and it works well at 4th and King too (though it would be nice for the parking to stay open later into the evening). Why doesn’t Caltrain expand the free parking space and add free, secure parking at other busy stations? That seems much more efficient than figuring out ways to cram more bikes on board trains. Or at the very least, it seems like a good additional measure.

  • thielges

    “47 percent would consider a shuttle or other means of transit.”

    I hope we don’t Balkanize the transportation network further with specialized shuttles. Just throw in local bus transfers with Caltrain journeys. No need to buy more vehicles, create new agencies, design new logos. Just move some bits and bytes around on Clipper.

  • “The new plan recommends investing $2 million in 500 new electronic bike lockers”

    They’re 4k a piece? They must be some pretty awesome lockers.

  • I’ve had to take my bike on the train with me multiple times only because the bike parking at 4th and Townsend closes too early. What use is bike parking if it closes before Caltrain stops running?

  • Jame

    I believe these are the BikeLink lockers. They are excellent, many BART stations have them. Super cheap at 5 cents and hour, and you get a refund for unused time.

    You wheel right in and can leave your stuff attached to your bike, They are also really durable.

  • murphstahoe

    Unless this implies a huge expansion of VTA, that’s going nowhere. I can take the VTA 60 from Santa Clara to work. The 60 runs every half hour, and Santa Clara gets less attractive service than Lawrence which is closer to my office, or Mountain View which has bullets.

    I used to take a shared Caltrain shuttle to work from Lawrence. We were the last stop. Enough of our employees were taking Caltrain that the company now runs direct company shuttles from both Lawrence and Mountain View.

    We also run a direct shuttle from Santa Clara that meets ACE – which frankly beats the 60 for Caltrain.

  • murphstahoe

    Day use lockers are a huge upgrade to reserved lockers. $33 for 6 months? I’m renting one to store my extra files!

  • Nicasio Nakamine

    The BikeLink corral at the Embarcadero station works well for me and is WAY more secure than just bike racks open to the public at large. This sort of monitored but still shared space seems cheaper to implement than individual lockers.

  • Great photo, Andrew – it says it all!

  • I think it closes at 8:30 pm. I see your point, but considering that the former operator had to quit, I feel we’re lucky to have the current operator, Alameda Bikes. The last thing I would want them to do is be forced to remain open when it would impose a great cost. Seems like a better solution for those who commute late would be the e-locker system that is recommended in this article.

  • You sold me. I would use one if they were available at Burlingame…

  • There was free, attendant parking at Palo Alto. It was replaced with a locked facility – subscribers get a key. I don’t think it was mentioned in this article though.

  • Andy Chow

    Caltrain has some shared use bike shed that are self operated or city operated, such as those in Menlo Park, and Mountain View. The one in Palo Alto is operated by BikeStation with separate membership (it doesn’t operate at any other location in Northern California). They all should be under BikeLink, which already provides elockers for BART, some Caltrain stations, and VTA, along with self storage facilities in Berkeley and at Embarcadero.

    The regional model with bike share is working, and that regional model should be applied to bike parking facilities as well. May be the ownership and funding of these facilities may still be hodgepodge, but if a single membership can access all of those facilities, then they’re one system.

  • When I used Caltrain regularly I had a monthly pass, which got me onto San Mateo County transportation, but not Muni and VTA.

  • tommy t

    Sure, but they should also promote normal lockers, and install more at the few stations that need more. Cheaper to build and maintain, and cheaper and faster to use for daily riders.

  • tommy t

    Agreed. I can’t believe 22nd St still has ZERO bike lockers. It makes no sense.

  • tommy t

    A monthly pass of two or more zones grants you free rides on all VTA. It’s been this way for at least 10 years.

  • tommy t

    The VTA certainly has many bad priorities, but they are actually trying to finally make improvements to north-south bus service in Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, and Mt View. Residents should push hard for greater gains in the next few years.

    As more shuttle drivers get better pay and benefits, it should become even more logical for Caltrain to favor public buses over private shuttles.

    And the VTA needs to do its part by connecting with trains and allowing transfers between buses, like any decent transit agency.

  • murphstahoe

    Residents should push hard for greater gains in the next few years.

    Residents don’t need connections from Caltrain, they need it from their homes. Conflicting goals.

  • Jame

    Actually BikeLink is better for daily riders. They are first come/first serve and require payment with a Clipper like card. The old lockers unfortunately were rented for months at a time, and are dedicated to one person!

  • Cynic13

    Posting a contact phone number on the existing bike lockers and verifying monthly that they are used would be huge steps forward.

  • murphstahoe

    Another thing of note. In SF, where the bike share system is actually somewhat useful in terms of density and stations in a variety of areas – there is a problem in that riders have started to arrive at the Caltrain station and find that there are no docks left open.

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