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 ## 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.
  • mikesonn

    Those black bollards are the stupidest things ever – just another thing we can “blame on the terrorists”, huh?

  • Anonymous

    What is up with the cops and whatnot parking on the platform? This area is very crowded, and it makes no sense to have them parking there. Can’t the city just give them designated spots on the street, or can they really not handle walking the extra 50 feet. Ridiculous. It’s not wonder the city never gives tickets to cars blocking the bike lanes and sidewalks ….

    But this area badly needs a redesign. The taxi stand should be moved to 4th and cops should be ticketing cab drivers making their crazy U-turns (and of course, without signaling) even more than they are ticketing cyclists for being on the sidewalk.

    But really, that whole station is starting to reach capacity and really needs to be redesigned (which I’m hoping will happen when (if?) Caltrain moves it’s final stop to the new Transbay Terminal). But when they do this, this time they need to take into account the cyclists rather than just thinking of them as an after-thought.

  • Anonymous

    They also need to fix the King Street bike route from the Embarcadero and baseball stadium to Caltrain. The bike lanes on King Street end a block before the train station and the chaotic car traffic on this block encourages bicyclists to ride on the sidewalk. Why doesn’t the King Street bike lane go all the way to the train station?

  • Anonymous

    The whole area really is a mess that prioritizes cars over public transit, bicyclists, and pedestrians. And it’s exacerbated by the fact that King St is effectively a freeway exit ramp. I think that needs to change and car traffic needs to be seriously discouraged by remove lanes so that bigger sidewalks and bike lanes can be added.

  •  Caltrain has an employee parking lot 100 yards or so down Townsend 🙁

  • Because they want you to ride on Townsend instead….

  • mikesonn

    That is a serious issue. There is sidewalk seating and a Safeway on the north side of King (west-bound bike traffic) for that block between 3rd/4th. So now we have cyclists either dealing with peds or dealing with 40-50-60 mph traffic as they treat King like a 280 on-ramp. Going east is a bit better if you wait for the light on 4th and take a left, that means there isn’t nearly as much traffic behind you so you can take the lane up to 3rd.

    As for what to do in the interim, I’d advise you to turn onto Townsend instead and take that to Caltrain – bike lane all the way.

  •  Everyone agrees this is all horrible. Now, take a look at the Central Subway. It will add a stop at 4th and Brannan Street, which MUNI users will now use to go to Caltrain. Pedestrians will have to cross heavy traffic arterial Brannan, then walk to Townsend and cross the mess at Townsend. Or they can stay on the CS to King, probably missing their Caltrain in the process as the T gets blocked by 280 traffic and a couple of N-Judahs. So people will get off at Brannan and if they are running late probably jaywalk.

    A redesign should *eliminate* the station at King, and *move* the station to Townsend, directly in front of the Caltrain station. Add a red arrow to the signal for Townsend at 4th. Safe easy connection for riders. One fewer stop on the Central Subway in a place where there is less ridership, which improves runtime for riders coming from either direction.

  • Well this is a nice idea, but you know it will never happen.  If there were any sense around here, the N would stop *at* the Caltrain station, and all lanes of King would be south of that.  And the N/T would stop *at* the Giant ballpark, with all lanes of King north of that.  But that’s not how we plan things in the Bay Area.  It is God’s will that transit riders must get off trains in the middle of medians, and cross traffic to their destination.

  • Well, Jeffrey – the N has 82 big days at ATT Park. There are 283 other days in the year when most N Judah commuters are headed to someplace on the other side of the street from the ballpark.

  • mikesonn

    The real problem with the N/T on EMB is that SFMTA hasn’t used signal-prioritization, 4th and King is by far the worse of all the intersections. It’s a car’s world, Muni is just floundering in it.

  • Anonymous

    If you think the 4th/King terminal is bad, just wait until Caltrain is extended to the new Transbay Terminal. Bike access will be atrocious, with even more bollards, taxis, and buses — and probably no bike path either. And that’s just to get to the front entrance. Then there is the journey down to the platform, deep underground, through faregates and security theater.

    By comparison, here is how the Dutch do it. Separated bike path straight to the platform.

  • @twitter-14678929:disqus I would be willing wager that on a rider-weighted count, most people alighting the N/T between 2nd & 3rd are headed for AT&T park.  Even if that’s not true, moving the station to one side of the road or another would help some people and not hurt the rest.  The people bound for that side of the road are better off, and the people headed for the other side have to cross.  As it is today, everbody has to cross.
    @mikesonn:disqus The amazing this is that jerk Nat Ford told me directly that the setup at 4th & King is a properly working transit priority signal.

  • Anonymous

    Oh the irony – via @F6x

    Yet, today, no ticketing. #oow11 @ San Francisco Caltrain

  • mikesonn

    @google-b4610b92810b55bfee0be46cc2c11586:disqus If that is true, then maybe it’s best we leave things as they are. 4th/King has to be THE WORSE intersection for transit in the entire city.

  • mikesonn

    I was hoping someone, somewhere would have an answer to their route from Caltrain to Oracle. Upstream on 4th or with highway-speed traffic on 3rd?

  • Pwilliam

    Anybody know how much money those black bollards cost?  They looked to me (the part buried in the cement) like they were welded to survive the end of the world, while the tops would snap off if any impact occurred….  I bet they cost $100,000 each, and were made in China.  In any other part of the world, they would have cost $100 each, and would have been just steel poles set in concrete.  What an amazing waste of money!

  • kwicherbichen

    I get weary reading about how bad bicyclists have it on Caltrain. No other transit system in the country, or possibly the world, bends over backwards for a small minority of riders than Caltrain does. How are cyclists treated on Bart? No bikes on rush-hour trains. Why don’t you guys complain about that. I like the comment from a bicycle advocate that they didn’t know not to ride on the sidewalk. I learned that when I was about 7rs old.


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