Advocates Make Final Push for Bikes on New Caltrain Fleet

They want the promised number of bike spaces on Caltrain's new electric fleet, in view of seating areas

Advocates are making a last push for more bike space on Caltrain. Photo: Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition
Advocates are making a last push for more bike space on Caltrain. Photo: Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition

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Advocates up and down the Peninsula are making a last push before tomorrow/Thursday morning’s Caltrain Board Meeting to make the new electric fleet as bike-friendly as possible.

From an email blast from the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition’s Emma Shlaes:

This Thursday, June 6, Caltrain will make its final decision on bike car design for the future electrified train system. SVBC has been working with Caltrain for years on the design of the new train cars to be as bike friendly as possible. Unfortunately, the staff recommendation for two bike cars on seven car trains raises serious concerns around bike security onboard.

Our overwhelming concern with the staff recommendation is that it only provides seven seats per 36 bike spaces on each bike car. We’ve heard from our members that there are real fears of bike theft onboard and that seven seats in bike cars are not enough for people to feel secure.

This decision will affect Caltrain passengers for decades to come, so let’s make sure Caltrain continues to be a bike-friendly system into the future. Find out how to email the Caltrain Board and/or attend the meeting Thursday on our blog.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is making a similar appeal:

The current proposal for their future electrified train cars provides inadequate security for people bringing their bikes on board, and we need to let the Caltrain Board know before they make their big decision on Thursday.

….We need you to write to the Caltrain Board to remind them of their commitment to their riders by demanding the following:

  • Reject the staff recommendation of two bike cars
  • Urge the approval of three or more bike cars to provide adequate seating in view of bike spaces
  • Direct staff to develop robust implementation strategies for increasing security of bikes onboard, building secure bike parking at stations and rapidly growing bike-share

And last but definitely not least, Shirley Johnson, who helped found BIKES ONBoard specifically to advocate for more bike space on the region’s transit systems, had this to say:

Caltrain staff’s “new” proposed bike-car layout is the same as their original proposal – two bike cars with 36 bike spaces in each bike car and no fixed seats within view of bikes. It encourages bike theft, has fewer bike spaces than today’s trains, and does not meet the board-mandated 8:1 ratio of seats-to-bike-spaces. The only minor change from the original layout is the addition of four folding seats in each bike car. Bike theft will likely increase with this “new” layout compared with today. Today’s bike cars have at least one seat within view of two bike spaces – and bikes still get stolen from the train. Caltrain should not take a step backwards!

Be sure to email Caltrain [board@caltrain.com, bac@caltrain.com]. Or attend the board meeting and speak out, tomorrow/Thursday, June 6, 10 a.m., SamTrans Administrative Offices, 1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos.

  • keenplanner

    Wouldn’t it be novel if transit companies actually tried to serve the needs of the riders?

  • thielges

    Increasing the number of seats with a view of bikes has the side effect of increasing the time it takes to board bikes which in turn might increase dwell time at stations.

    The only way to increase seats in view of bikes is to replace bike racks with seats. To keep the same amount of bike racks this means spreading the bike racks into smaller clusters across more carriages.

    Since bikes stacked on racks should sorted by destination station, the more racks that are clustered together in a car make it easier to find a rack already containing bikes compatible with your destination. You then just tie your bike on top of that rack. Smaller rack clusters increase the chance that bikes need to be shuffled into destination order, an awkward and time consuming operation that also blocks other people moving through the carriage.

    You can see the effects of the shuffle today by comparing how the Bombardier versus the gallery cars operate. It is not apples to apples though because Bombardier cars have twice as many doors and fewer steps which offset the “shuffle penalty” at stations.

  • crazyvag

    I’m not sure where Shirley got her info, but looking at the Caltrain recommendation, her comment is incorrect. The original proposal had 3 seats (not 0) for each bike car and the new proposal is for total of 7 seats for each bike car. Her comment “no fixed seats within view of bikes” is false.

  • Cliff Bargar

    They’re all flip seats, which are not “fixed.”

  • Cliff Bargar

    I’m pretty sure that the current staff proposal will likely lead to longer dwell times than distributing the bikes in more cars. It can be a hassle but people seem to do a pretty good job of getting their bikes out early enough when they need to. By limiting to just two bike cars there are fewer entrances/exits to the train available to people with bikes, so the same number of people will board more slowly for to the bottleneck. Further, having so few seats will likely lead to a number of people standing in the car, making boarding more chaotic and congested.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    The major problem with having more than 2 bike cars on a 7 car train is that it will be increasingly difficult for boarding cyclists to locate available bike spaces as the trains get full, especially at high level boarding platforms. How do cyclists even find out if there’s bicycle space on a train car? With high level platforms, there might not be any way of seeing that the bike car is full until after you’ve boarded and walked down the stairs inside the train. This will lead to boarding chaos and delays anytime there are a signicant number of cyclists jockeying for a limited number of spaces.

    As Caltrain grows in capacity, they should implement a reservation system for bicycles that makes it easy for cyclists to find and book a space for their bicycle on a train. If there’s no room on for a bicycle on a train, the passengers should have a way of knowing that before they buy their ticket and lug their bike on-board.

  • relentlesscactus

    This is all wrong. The solution is not to carry your bike on the train, but to have a bike on each end. There should be a small fee for carrying bikes to discourage hauling the dead weight everyday back and forth, and open up the cars for human beings.

  • Guy Ross

    Totally agree here. Those who choose to throw bike travel into a frequent train commute are already those who know their way around a bike and benefit themselves and others by having one at both ends.

  • crazyvag

    They are still seats. Bombardiers have seats along the wall that on some models flip up, but they are permanently down on Caltrain models.

  • crazyvag

    Caltrain is at fault here. They have been talking about e-lockers as far back as 2009. In the meantime Capital Corridor deployed them at nearly all stations, but Caltrain is still “just talking” about them.

    If they were really serious, they would also survey the bike riders for cross streets of their destinations and worked with Bike Share companies to ensure there are bikes/racks there.

    On a good note, i think most bicyclists are aware of bike share, so many that can, have probably switched to rental bikes if they only needed one in the SF end. Now we just need other cities to follow.

  • Cliff Bargar

    The three flip seats in the original proposal are also ada seating so they are not permanently down.

  • Cliff Bargar

    High platforms are still pretty speculative and I suspect you’d be able to see down into the cars (probably actually better than you can today). I agree that given the hassle of shuffling bikes it’s probably better not to spread bikes across the whole train but I think that having three bike cars instead of two is not substantially worse when it comes to figuring out where there are available spaces, especially as conductors can help out. Three bike cars provides a substantial benefit when it comes to security (and therefore I think to operations, as well).

    As far as reservations I think it’s an interesting idea, I’d rather see real time information first and maybe reservable temporary parking at stations. I think reservations for on board space could substantially limit passengers’ flexibility and would be very difficult to enforce

  • thielges

    “bike at each end” works fine if you only do the exact same point A-B commute every day. However many people travel for reasons other than commuting: grocery shopping, doctor visits, sports, and other various errands and appointments.

    In order for public transit to catch on with greater ridership it needs to approach the convenience of driving. Bikes on board enables much greater flexibility and makes transit substantially more convenient for those willing to bike

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Imagine what it will be like to ride Caltrain with 4x as many passengers; 4x the crowds trying to squeeze on and off the same platforms. In such a future, a bicycle reservation system is the only viable way to maximize efficiency; otherwise we’ll end up in a situation where cyclists get bumped all the time while there is still plenty of available bike spaces, simply because the cyclists will have no way to find or even know if there are any available spaces on board.

    Reservations would have to be self enforcing, just like trains with assigned seating. It would be simple enough to assign bike spots on a train. While it’s not necessary today, we should certainly plan on it for tomorrow because without it, it will not be possible utilize all the onboard bike spaces.

    The bike capacity on the new Caltrains will be effectively reduced by at least 1/4 with large crowds simply from cyclists being unable to find the few available bike spaces during the short boarding times the train. If big crowds don’t materialize, then there’s no problem. But mixing big crowds and lots of bikes and trying to make shorter dwell times with larger trains will create serious boarding problems.

    If a cyclist has to change cars to search for another bike car that has available bike space, they will very likely miss the train. A packed train should never be delayed for a few cyclists because it will cause ripple delays throughout entire system delaying thousands. Remember, the blended train schedules have very little wiggle room.

    Having a bicycle reservation system would make riding Caltrain with a bicycle much more dependable. With a good app, a reservation booking can be seamless. I think most cyclists would prefer a dependable reservation on Caltrain to the complete uncertainty of not knowing if there’s any room on a train they’re about to board.

  • Cliff Bargar

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t plan for tomorrow but Caltrain’s 4x projections is close to best case for 2040. I’m talking about maintaining the effectiveness of bikes on board in 2022. (And that’s 4x as many passengers with 2-3x as many trains and likely more cars, so not quite the same as 4x the crowds.)

    Beyond 2022, though, I totally agree that we need to help Caltrain figure out how to make bikes on board continue to work as ridership increases. If you haven’t already I would encourage you to submit this feedback through http://caltrain2040.org or businessplan@caltrain.org (you can copy bac@caltrain.org, too).

  • crazyvag

    True, but fankly, I don’t see how putting ADA access seat in a bike car doesn’t violate some ADA rule.

  • Cliff Bargar

    The primary ADA car is the one with the bathroom (there’s just one per train). I think the non-bike cars are also higher priority for wheelchairs so the odds of somebody else needing those seats are low, at least.

  • relentlesscactus

    I am not against bikes on board. The vast majority of bikes at peak (what rail cars must be built for — peak load), are commuters who are going to the same place every day. There should still be significant space on board for bikes, just not an ‘every increasing’ percentage to accommodate every peak-time commuter that wants the same bicycle on each end of their trip. That is a very pricey capacity call for non-revenue space that could be used for peak-load paying passengers.

  • thielges

    I’m guessing that the solution will be to charge a fare for bikes as other rail operators do. Then economics will work things out. People who can work within the confines of a strict A-B commute will switch to “bike at each end”. Those who need more flexibility will pay for it.

  • relentlesscactus

    exactly! the fee should be very small, but over a year add up to the cost for a new bike, so those doing occasional trips aren’t gouged, but commuters will feel it over time and go to bikes at each end. The economics should make sense and steer behavior.

  • crazyvag

    I’ll stand by my opinion that complaining about rip up seats in a bike car because they could be used by an ADA wheelchair passenger is a weak one.

    But let’s agree to disagree. Maybe ADA seats shouldn’t count as seats.

  • Cliff Bargar

    The complaint is primarily that the number of seats is hugely inadequate, regardless of whether they flip or not

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