Trains, pains and bicyclesBy Daniel DeBolt
As Caltrain reaches unprecedented ridership levels, some of its most loyal and opinionated riders -- bicyclists -- raised a chorus of concerns Monday night at City Hall, painting a picture of a bicyclist's life on Caltrain.
With ridership increasing monthly, the rail service now has 10 trains that are standing room only, agency officials say. Meanwhile, bike racks in the designated bike cars are filling up fast, and bicyclists are getting left behind at stops.
"It's really frustrating to not know if you are getting on the train or not," said Michelle Bouchard, Caltrain's deputy director of ground transportation, in sympathy with the bicyclists.
The meeting was one of three on the Peninsula this week organized by Caltrain to gather comments for a formal Caltrain bike plan. The first draft of the plan will be released in August.
Rather than add more capacity for bikes on the trains, Caltrain's focus was on demand management: finding ways for bicyclists to leave their bikes behind. This angered many cyclists, whose focus was quite the opposite.
"Telling people to buy a bike locker is not appropriate," said Bob Mack, a San Jose resident who added that "The most loyal train users on Caltrain are those who bring bikes on board. Caltrain needs to be looking at increasing service levels for all riders."
One Caltrain suggestion got unanimous support: Bicyclists would be warned with "real time information" about whether there was room for another bike on the train. That way, they could get their bike into a locker and still catch the train.
Trying to maneuver onto the train with a bike, in a large crowd and through narrow doors, isn't easy, the bicyclists said. One man likened the Mountain View station to a "mosh pit" -- hundreds of people now gather at the station during the evening rush hour. One woman said she injured her ankle once at a San Francisco stop as a mad crowd raced off the train to catch a bus.
"If bikes are the last to board, of course we're going to slow you down," said one bicyclist to the Caltrain staff. "I don't think the answer is always making bikes board last." Another bicyclist said she remembered when conductors would ask passengers to leave the bike car if they didn't have a bike.
Caltrain staff had several recommendations for the Mountain View station, such as adding bike racks and another stoplight at View Street to improve accessibility. But resident Valerie Fenwick expressed another concern: The nearby crosswalk at Central Expressway during rush hour.
"There are a lot of people who have spent 10 to 15 minutes there and we've all missed trains" waiting for the walk signal, Fenwick said.
Bicyclists also debated the best way to fit more bikes on the trains. With the current racks, they have to stack bikes on one another, creating difficulties when a bike has to be dug out for an early stop, which is often the case. Caltrain encourages the uses of tags to identify where a bike is getting off so they can be organized appropriately, but some said more needed to be done, such as organizing the racks by service zone.
Others suggested ripping out seats in the bike car to make room for more racks.
Other ideas included a subsidy program for folding bikes, which don't need to be placed on the train's limited bike racks. Or a bike sharing program could offer bikes for rent at each station.
Caltrain is accepting written comments until July 3. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Caltrain Bicycle Master Plan, P.O. Box 3006, San Carlos, CA 94070.
Copyright ©2008 Mountain View Voice. Published 06/19/2008.