More thoughts on Caltrain and bicycles

June 18, 2008 at 7:23 am Leave a comment

I attended the Bicycle Master Plan meeting Monday night in Mountain View. After the presentation, the staff held a discussion on bicycle parking/access/information and another on bicycle on trains. I am glad that Caltrain isn’t avoiding that topic, even though it was not covered on the plan.

On the complex issue of bicycles on board, I think that it is unlikely that Caltrain will expand capacity anytime soon. Caltrain is already short of rail cars due to the defects found on some of the cars, and some trains are either at standing room only or they’re about to.

In the long run, I think it is reasonable for Caltrain to commit itself on providing a consistent capacity on all peak hour trains. Today, onboard capacity ranges from 16 to 64 bikes. With new electric train sets, Caltrain has the ability to plan and provide a consistent capacity. Meanwhile, Caltrain should also revisit bike rack arrangement and placement. Even as it is considered to be space efficient, stacking bikes tend to generate a crowd of people trying to figure out how the stack the bikes.

Although everyone at the meeting agreed providing information about bike capacity is a good thing, implementation is the biggest barrier. Even with appropriate technical infrastructure, Conductors do not have time to count the bikes and submit an electronic report between each stop. Fortunately, a grassroots movement can help fill the gap.

Also at the meeting, a Caltrain staffer mentioned about the possibility of paid reserved slots on the train. Some people at the meeting said they are willing to pay, but felt they need the flexibility of riding a different train due to work overtime. I wondered why staff came up with that idea at all. I don’t think it can work because the reservation process will be too complicated and that there’s a chance that paid customers won’t get what they paid for.

Another reason for Caltrain not to take more seats out for bikes is the long dwell times for boarding bikes. In the long run, Caltrain needs to transition to level boarding or near level boarding to speed up boarding for everyone.

A problem that I’ve observed at many popular stations is that people tend to crowd by the north car, and that a lot of non-bike riders also board and exit the north car. This is particularly true for northbound trains. My advice to all non-bike train riders is to stay out of the platform area by the north car! Let the bike riders board and exit the train as quick as they can and reduce dwell time for everyone! You can walk a car or two down for wide empty doorways, but the bicyclists often have no choice but to use the north car.

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This site is created for Caltrain riders, fans and advocates. It not affiliated with Caltrain.
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