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Caltrain to Present Plan to Increase Bicycle Capacity

12:27 PM PST on February 4, 2009


Caltrain claims it "values bicycle commuters." In its goals and objectives the agency says "Caltrain must be a competitive alternative to traveling by automobile." That goal will be tested tomorrow when the agency presents its final plan to increase bicycle capacity on Caltrain to the Board of Directors. Advocates are frustrated it isn't being made public before it's presented and voted on.

"The final proposal isn't going to go to anybody until it goes to our board," said Mark Simon, special assistant to the Caltrain CEO. He said staff was still working on the plan as late as last night but confirmed "it will significantly increase bike capacity on Caltrain."

The number of bicycle commuters on Caltrain has soared recently and there's not enough bicycle capacity on trains so lots of bicyclists are getting bumped. Some have to wait as long as an hour for the next train -- making them late for work -- and those who defy the rules are dealt with forcibly.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has come up with an extensive plan to improve bicycle capacity without impacting passengers. Part of Caltrain's apparent resistance to adding more space for bikes is the argument that more bicycles will get in the way of passengers. But take a look at the photos below.

no space for bikes_1.jpgAdvocates did a photo test that found while bicycle capacity was at its max, causing bicyclists to get bumped, many passenger-only cars were empty, not a rider to be seen.

Caltrain's bicycle capacity is random depending on which train you get; if you're lucky you'll get two bike cars. Bike cars on older trains have a capacity for 32 bicycles while the cars on newer trains carry only 16. And because Caltrain is replacing its older trains, capacity has actually been decreasing just when the need is increasing. The SFBC would like to see all trains make room for a maximum of 80 bikes on two adjacent bike cars. The current set up sometimes finds one bike car at least three cars away from the other. 

As a result of the diminished capacity and because so many cyclists are getting bumped some are now refusing to ride Caltrain.

"They can't afford to be late anymore. They can't afford to miss meetings anymore. They can't afford to miss clients anymore," said Shirley Johnson, a bicycle-commuting engineer who lives in San Francisco and takes Caltrain to San Mateo every day. She is leading the SFBC's BIKES ONboard project.

"There are a lot of people who don't own cars. And we can do so because of Caltrain. Caltrain made it possible," said Johnson. "So we're very grateful to Caltrain and we want to make it possible for more people."


Johnson is outraged by the Caltrain staff's apparent refusal to work with the SFBC or send over its proposal, especially considering it's listed as an action item on Thursday's agenda. The public will not have any time to review or comment on the plan before it's adopted.

"It's not a secret plan and we haven't been secret about it. We've been very forthcoming," said Simon. "We've been discussing with them in considerable detail what we can and can't do."

Simon said he met numerous times with the SFBC and the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.

The agency's staff did apparently spend time counting bicycle commuters on Caltrain, but Johnson doesn't think they took into account bumped bicyclists and latent demand, nor the riders who have stopped riding because of overcrowded bike cars.

"I saw the guy with the clipboard on a day that I got bumped and he didn't count me," she said.

Johnson is also concerned that staff has formulated a plan that inadvertently encourages bike theft. In an email to advocates this morning, Johnson warned of a scenario in which all center seats would be removed from the Bombardier bike cars.

Cyclists would either have to stand their entire trip to guard their bikes or sit out of site of their bikes, something we call “Stand or Steal.” Caltrain frames the issue as “Would you rather stand on the train, or stand on the platform?” But those are not the only choices. Caltrain can do better than that for its most loyal customers, without sacrificing security or passenger comfort. Ideally we would like one seat for one bike the way it is today, so all five Bombardier cars would need to be bike cars to achieve 80 bikes per train. Caltrain staff was resistant to that idea, so we proposed a compromise of one seat for two bikes, two bike cars, and bikes on the mezzanines ( Carrying your bike to the mezzanine is about the same as carrying your bike onto a gallery car – not ideal, but workable.

Johnson plans to show up with a group of bicycle commuters at tomorrow's board meeting to testify. They'll be wearing bright pink stickers that say "More Bikes, No Bumps."

WHAT:    Caltrain Board of Directors Meeting

WHEN:   Thursday, February 5th, at 10am

WHERE: 1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos

Email Mark Simon:

Flickr photos: joshua of california, executive education and SFBC.

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