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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.

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.


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

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.

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