Pick a Bike Rack for Caltrain’s Electric Trains

Caltrain Wants your Help Designing the New Fleet's Bike Cars

The 'hybrid option" could include one row of these angled bike racks that allow cyclists to remove and load bikes without leaning bikes on top of one another. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick unless otherwise indicated
The 'hybrid option" could include one row of these angled bike racks that allow cyclists to remove and load bikes without leaning bikes on top of one another. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick unless otherwise indicated

Caltrain is displaying three different bike racks today until 7 p.m and tomorrow from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 4th and King. They’re asking riders to check them out and vote on what kind of bike rack storage they want on the railroad’s new electric trains, coming some time in 2019. The options are to either keep bike cars more or less as they are now, where cyclists stack their bikes up along a rail, or adding some bike racks – either with angled parking or suspended from hooks.

Elizabeth Amezcua, who was there for Caltrain, said most interest so far seemed to be in a hybrid solution, where some of the bikes would continue to be stacked against a railing and some would go into the more advanced bike holding systems as seen in the photos above and below:

Many Caltrain customers were concerned that people wouldn't have the strength to lift bikes into this vertical hanger, even though it was the most space efficient
Many Caltrain customers were concerned that people wouldn’t have the strength to lift bikes into this vertical hanger, even though it would be space efficient

She added that the traditional against-the-railing storage was generally more popular with people traveling long distances. “Like from San Jose to San Francisco,” she explained.

She also said there would be two bike cars on each six-car consist, with bike space in the lower level and seating on the top level and at the ends. The result will be between 68 and 72 bikes per train, or (claims Caltrain) about an 8 to 12 percent increase over bike space for current trains, according to the website. To put that in historical perspective, a few years ago, some Caltrain consists carried only 16 bikes. UPDATE: Since current Caltrain consists can carry up to 80 bikes, it’s not clear how they are claiming an increase in bike capacity. Streetsblog is looking into this and will update accordingly.

Aleta Dupree, a Caltrain customer who was passing through, said she was most impressed with option three, the arrangement in the lead photo. “Bike storage is very important because bikes are an important part of a ‘transit first’ policy,” she said.

Amezcua sitting between the bike displays during a slow period at King Street Station.
Amezcua sitting between the bike displays during a slow period at King Street Station.

Steve Ulrich, a Caltrain conductor, said he has concerns about the vertical storage solution. He finds that people already have trouble lifting their bikes up the stairs on the existing trains and vertical hangers could cause delays. “We’re not supposed to help people but we do…and it delays trains,” he explained.

Caltrain conductor Steve Ulrich wants a solution that's easy for passengers to load into and out of
Caltrain conductor Steve Ulrich wants a solution that’s easy for passengers to load into and out of

Amezcua said there were about 30 people who stopped by to try out the racks and vote during morning rush, but that she expected more during the evening rush, when people aren’t all scrambling to get to work.

Caltrain’s displays will be up tomorrow/Thursday as well, from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 pm., with future opportunities to see them and try them out as follows:

  • August 14 – Try out the bike rack samples and vote! 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
    Redwood City Station
  • August 15 – Try out the bike rack samples and vote! 4:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
    Palo Alto Station
  • August 18 – Try out the bike rack samples and vote! 4:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
    Menlo Park Block Party, Santa Cruz Avenue

You can comment and vote at the displays, or, of course, make your thoughts known online on the CalModTrains website.

And be sure to let us know which bike rack design you prefer. Comment below.

  • saimin

    Can someone help me understand how 68 bicycles per train is an increase over the 80 bicycles per train that Caltrain currently supports?

  • Roger R.

    Wow…thanks Saimin. I gotta apologize for that one. It never occurred to me to check their math, but you’re absolutely right. I would guess they’re counting it as a percentage of overall capacity increase (meaning they’ll be running more trains, so more bikes overall) but yeah, as they’re claiming it doesn’t make much sense. I’ll look into it.

  • shotwellian

    Like the comment below, I find it frustrating that Caltrain is claiming that the new service is an increase in bike capacity. 68 or 72 bikes per train is a *decrease* from today’s 72 or 80 bikes per train. The increase they (and Streetsblog) are reporting is an increase in “total bike capacity per hour at rush hour”. In other words, they’re planning to run more trains with slightly fewer bikes per train and therefore have more bike capacity total. But there are a few problems with this:

    First, long-time riders know that the number of trains Caltrain runs waxes and wanes depending on budget crises.

    Second, the relevant number is really bikes per *passenger* in a given time, because Caltrain’s increased service is expected to respond to, and stimulate, more ridership overall. If they’re running more trains with fewer bike spots per train, the number of bike spots per passenger is going to decrease, and assuming that the percentage of passengers trying to bring bikes on holds steady, this is a recipe for lots of folks left on the platform.

  • Roger R.

    You’re absolutely right and I apologize for not catching that. I put a little place holder in the post and I’ve already got an inquiry out to Caltrain. I didn’t actually realize the current count was 80 and it never occurred to me they’d try to spin the #s like that.

  • shotwellian

    No problem – thanks for following up with them! I’ll look forward to reading what they say…we might be early enough in the process that changes are still possible.

  • Affen_Theater

    @disqus_xAyKh6iUKV:disqus the last time Caltrain had as little as 16 bike spaces per train was in 2009 on the Bombardier cars used on “Baby Bullet” express trains. Here’s a report from the February 11, 2009, Menlo Park Almanac: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/BATN/conversations/messages/40486

    Also a bicycle space e-mail update from Caltrain’s Mark Simon addressed to “Dear Caltrain Bicycle Customer”: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/BATN/conversations/messages/41563

    As for how Caltrain is now sleazily claiming a bike capacity increase for the new EMU (electric multiple unit) trains while actually cutting the number of bike spaces per train … yes, they’re basing it on running more trains per hour vs. today.

    Bike advocates got suckered into thinking the higher 8:1 seats-to-bike spaces ratio was a big win … what they didn’t account for that Caltrain would reduce seats per train in favor of more standing space! It’s obviously the wrong metric, since Caltrain could eliminate even more bike spaces (down to ZERO!) while still honoring the 8:1 ratio by removing more (or even all) seats!

  • Affen_Theater

    Reducing the number of bikes per train will obviously be a disaster for off-peak and late-night bike capacity when there are far fewer (or no more following) trains. “Ooops! We’re all full for bikes … next train is tomorrow!”

  • Affen_Theater

    Since on-board bicycle space demand correlates with *riders* (NOT SEATS!) per train, the obvious metric to use is bike spaces per rider. Seats do not bring bikes on board … riders do. Duh!

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Vertical hangar systems are kind of a mess on Capitol Corridor, and VTA light rail. If you make the hook tall enough to accommodate a bike a normal man might ride, like a 29-inch-wheeled large frame, many people will be unable to reach it. If you make it reachable for more people, then the larger bikes will drag their rear wheels on the ground and flop around when the train accelerates. Since bike commuting is currently dominated by young health males, you can imagine the outcome.

    The angled one seems like it would better handle a mix of shorter or longer bikes.

  • baklazhan

    Are the racks ever full late at night? I’ve done that trip a number of times and there are generally only a handful.

  • I would not describe “providing more bike racks per hour” as “sleazy” …

  • The frustration of bicyclists is understandable, but we really should be more focused on secure bicycle parking, bike share, and improved transit links. Ultimately, the number of bicycles on the train should be reduced and providing “more bicycles per hour” if “fewer per train” or “fewer per passenger” seems like a reasonable start for the electric service. The capacity is increased, just not as much as /you/ want.

    Caltrain has demonstrated their willingness to reconfigure for changing conditions in the past (adding a second bicycle car, for example) and if there is an unmet demand for bicycle access on the trains I would expect them to adapt as they have before.

  • shotwellian

    Yea, I agree that off-peak times are not a problem. Bike capacity problems are, in my 10 yrs riding Caltrain with my bike, basically only an issue at rush hours.

  • saimin

    There is no bike share at most Caltrain stations and public transit is sparse and infrequent on the peninsula. Caltrain must have a reason for failing to build safe bicycle parking at its stations, but I don’t know what that is. People bring bicycles on the train because their choices are bicycle or Uber.

  • Affen_Theater

    Reducing the ratio of bike capacity to train capacity and portraying it as increased bike capacity (* per hour, based on increased train frequency) is sleazy. Using a bike space to seats ratio (instead of to riders ratio) is also sleazy. The more seats they remove for standees, the less bike space they have to provide … subway-style bench seating along the sides of the train would decimate onboard bike space while maintaining the 8:1 seats to bike spaces ratio.

  • Matthew Self

    It’s ridiculous that this was spun as an increase. But the capacity issue comes down to the number of bikes per car times the number of bike cars per train. The new train cars are 2-door cars similar to the existing Bomardier cars, which hold 36 bikes/car. The new cars will never hold the 40 bikes that the old 1-door Gallery cars hold. So the only point of leverage is the number of bike cars per train. The number of bike cars per train is a policy issue, whereas the number of bikes per car is limited by the physical space.

    I checked out the rack designs at the SVBC summit and it does look like they’ve put a lot of thought into several options for handling the bikes on the trains. The “stacking” option is 8 stacks of 4 bikes + 4 hanging bikes (total of 36). The stacks would be the same as today.

    The “hybrid” option would replace 4 of the stacks with a row of angled bikes. The advantage is that it is faster to put your bike in (no need to check destinations) and faster to get your bike out (no need to unstack). But you lose 4 bike spaces as a result.

    Despite the loss of 4 slots, I prefer the “hybrid” option since I think it will be much faster to load and unload bikes. I don’t go to the same stop every day, so I don’t have a tag on my bike and it often gets buried.

  • KWillets

    Back when I took Caltrain I looked into different storage solutions to replace the mess that they had in the 00’s. Hanging hooks have the highest density, with a pitch as low as 6″ IIRC (it turns out police departments are the most interested in density, to store stolen bikes). The bikes have to alternate head-to-tail.

    A spring-loaded hook and pulley system seems like the best idea.

  • Patrick Devine

    I managed to snag a secure bike locker at California Avenue after trying for many months, despite Caltrain having claimed that there were lockers available. The program is in desperate need of an overhaul, and many more lockers, including ones which can accommodate oversized bicycles (such as cargo bikes) need to be added. It’s not going to obviate the necessity of carrying your bike on the train, but it would definitely help offset the need for so many spaces.

  • Roger R.

    So here’s what Caltrain had to say about the bike-count discrepancy:

    “We just updated the website so that it’s clear that the capacity increase is per peak hour, per direction … The percentages were figured out by looking at what we run today during the peak hour in one direction, which is five trains (mixed gallery and bombardier). And then comparing that to what we would run during the peak hour in one direction when we’re a mixed fleet, which is six trains (EMUs and bombardiers). The gallery cars will be retired at that time.”

  • crazyvag

    Caltrain will have two opportunities to add more capacity with the new EMU trains.
    1) When they expand to 8-car trains, a third bike car is possible
    2) When level boarding is built at all stations, lower doors – where bike racks are – can be removed since they’ll no longer be necessary. The space can be reclaimed for seats and bike racks. 4 doors = 16 bikes/0 seats, but 8 bikes/8 seats is more likely.

  • Clem Tillier

    …and bikes displace seats at a 1:1 ratio. Duh!

    When there was plenty of spare capacity, bikes used to be a way to attract more people to Caltrain. Now that the system is SRO every deleted on-board bike space is no longer likely to result in one less rider. It may even result in one more rider, thanks to freeing up non-revenue space. We can speculate about the exact demand elasticity, but the trend is surely not in bikes-on-board’s favor as Caltrain gets more crowded.

    Where they ended up with EMU bike capacity is generous considering these circumstances. So, ‘sleazy’ isn’t what I’d call it.

  • Affen_Theater

    Ok, ok! So maybe “misleading” is more fair and fitting than “sleazy”. If they’ve reduced the number of bike spaces per train (and per rider) — which they have — then why not just own it? Instead of portraying it as a percentage increase with an asterisked footnote, why not just say x% less bike spaces per car with an asterisked or parenthetic (but we’re planning to run more trains per hour!)?

  • saimin

    This math only works if you are traveling between major stations where all the trains stop. If your start or end is at a minor station that only gets service once or twice an hour, you may see a very real decrease in capacity.

  • djconnel

    If you have a bike you can probably reach a major station: this is especially obvious if your origin/destination is nontrivial distance from a station to start with. There’s typically 3 stations within reasonable distance. For example, from much of Palo Alto one can trivially reach California, Palo Alto, or Menlo Park. The few extra minutes to reach an alternate station is made up by the option to take an express train.

  • djconnel

    I agree bike share is a huge benefit. San Francisco access has improved enormously with the recent expansion of GoBike. One still needs on-train bike access, of course.

  • The biggest advantage of electrification is faster acceleration. This means not only that they’ll be able to run trains more frequently, but that trains can also make more stops in the same time period. They should be able to improve service frequency at all or most stations. But as djconnel points out: that bike lets you get to the best station for your schedule.

    Sure would be nice if Google could do bike+transit, though. 🙂

  • Bike Share: BAAQMD and VTA screwed this up at conception and with Ford as the title sponsor there’s not really any significant improvement in bike share of the Bay Area, formerly known as Bay Area Bike Share, now losing its commons branding and instead set up as a PPP with the Detroit giant’s new “Mobility” entity whose director has made clear is not interested in the bikes as much as using them to collect data to improve its Chariot fake demand responsive transit mini-shuttle acquisition.

    Now we have San Mateo and Palo Alto opting out and using Social Bicycles, which by the way means that anyone who joins those systems has easier access to the bike share system currently in its pilot/mini-launch phase in Sacramento and West Sacramento, expanding to Davis and the UC Davis campus (supposedly) in the fall, and currently without a necessary title sponsor but which I suspect will be Kaiser Permanente, bikewashing its opposition to single payer or more progressive health care, just as Ford bikewashes its huge and continuing portfolio based on people buying cars to drive alone.

    And Ford GoBike ignores poorer areas of Oakland, requires a min. 18 age level and max 260 weight level, so – you know – if you’re overweight and 16 you can drive… a Ford!

    Motivate is a bunch of arrogant people from NYC who try to prove outreach through attempts to do it rather than by its efficacy.

    Ford GoBikes are last-generation as they require parking at stations, and don’t even carry a single standard shopping bag. They are getting push back in the Mission District of SF by people who don’t like the corporate branding invasion simultaneous to the general invasion which has gentrified people out who now drive in and see the bikes as competition for car parking spaces. (They need bikes that carry kids and groceries; I have suggested an affordable leasing program that puts the necessary car-replacement bikes in secure parking in front of homes on the street, and with electric assist in hilly neighborhoods – Social Bicycles is piloting an e-bike version of their bike in Bayview-Hunters Point which is apparently okay according to Ford GoBike’s contract.)

    Ford GoBikes do not respond to the topographical and spatial issues of the Bay Area. A dynamic environment needs a dynamic solution, but it’s not present.
    The BEST general model for CalTrain and BART and Capitol Corridor is based on OV Fiets in the Netherlands but with some elements of Social Bicycles, i.e. not only a last mile solution.

    The ultimate goal needs to be to eliminate bikes from commuter trains during peak hours by replacing all their functionality with appropriate bike sharing and parking. This should be part of a seamless strategy for ALL feeders of CalTrain and other commuter/regional services including local buses, carshare and ride hailing.

    There needs to be a MTC-SACOG Last Mile Czar to make it happen!

  • HappyHighwayman

    The current system is awful. They arbitrarily enforce the max # of bicycle rules, I’ve never seen them call out people with massive baskets that prevent the bikes from stacking easily, and it’s not measured out in a way that prevents bicycles from blocking other bicycles.

    Also why can’t people learn that if they don’t have a bicycle don’t skit in the bicycle car?

  • djconnel

    OTOH I’ve had friends have tandems or e-bikes denied on empty weekend trains. Maybe there’s too many rules and we should be happy people are using bikes for diverse transportation needs.

  • djconnel

    Bike share isn’t gentrifying anyone. It’s yet another red herring from SF NIMBYs. Cost of housing is a huge issue but promoting urban blight isn’t the solution.

  • HappyHighwayman

    Well tandem bikes are prohibited by the rules, as are bikes longer than 80″. “Only single-rider bicycles are permitted on trains. Maximum bicycle length is 80 inches, and bikes must not protrude into the aisle. No fuel-powered, tandem or three-wheel bikes are permitted. Training wheels, detachable or collapsible trailers or large, bulky attachments which expand bike width, such as saddlebags, baskets, backpacks or briefcases, are not allowed.

    Bicycles must be kept clean and free of excessive dirt and grease. Bikes must have no protrusions which could cause injury or damage. “

  • S L

    If we had enough bike storage at the major stations that would allow longer term secure parking, some people could buy an extra bike and have one locker (or some sort of storage) at their “home” station and one locker (etc) at their “work” station.

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