Thursday, October 2, 2008

Caltrain bikes on board: Compare and contrast

Benjamin Damm submitted this photo to the Caltrain board today showing the load on the bike car and a regular passenger car on a couple of morning trains out of San Francisco.

This photo posted by Murph to Holier Than You. Cyclists planned to attend today's Caltrain Joint Powers Board meeting en masse to call attention to what they feel is Caltrain's misdirected focus on improving bicycle access and parking, rather than the successful bikes on board program.

See also today's WIRED Autotopia post on Caltrain's bikes on board program, which links to Cyclelicious.

Personally, I'm close giving up on bringing my bike on the train. The evening bus schedule for the final leg of my commute changed just slightly so that I must now leave work a half hour earlier than before just so I can be home at the same time, which really really reeks. I'll probably do like my friend Dan does, who leaves a bike locked at both ends of his commute. I just don't care for the idea of leaving a bike locked overnight every night in Palo Alto. I'm now looking forward to the rainy season, which should put a significant dent in the number of cycling commuters on the train.

Crowded Caltrain bike car

Murph just sent this UPDATE: Caltrain to explore more bikes on board.

For more transit news -- including Caltrain electrification and BART to Santa Clara County -- see recent posts at VTA Watch.


  1. "Nearing capacity"? For serious?

  2. Has Caltrain ever discussed the cost of building in more bike carrying capacity? Have they ever talked about how much it would cost to either purchase a new bike car or retrofit a passenger car for bike carrying? Or how many total riders the typical bike car carries vs. the typical passenger car?

    I'd be interested in seeing that sort of financial analysis because it would tell activists if they need to convince Caltrain to overlook short-term expenditure for long-term goals or if they just need Caltrain to accept an immediately win-win proposition.

  3. Chester, much of the anger by cyclists toward Caltrain is that they have done nothing to study what can be to increase bike capacity. The technical advisory group that wrote the draft for the Caltrain bike access and parking plan gave several of their own suggestions on improving bikes on board capacity, but Caltrain staff specifically removed those ideas before presenting the document to the Caltrain Board.

    The Caltrain Board decided in their meeting today to investigate improving the bikes on board program, so that's a win.

  4. Jennifer - yes, many of our transit systems in the Bay Area are now at capacity, and the new state budget that was finally approved this lsat week does nothing to improve the situation.

  5. Those cars don't look very full of people, though. Or do they fill up later?

  6. That was kind of hte point of that montage, to show how much more bicyclists use Caltrain versus non-cyclists. He's showing traffic from San Francisco, however. From the South Bay (where I ride from) there's a crush of non-cycling passengers, probably because we have parking lots.

  7. they are all great views. I specially enjoyed the analysis by Holier than you.
    I dont use caltrain as a source of commuting but it looks like it could become a nightmare if actions and effectiveness are not done soon. crazy.
    funny I had just posted a link, also about caltrain, in today's article by the SFchron a bit more focused on fashion tho... ;)

  8. Thanks, Yokota. I had always wondered about it -- the least that could be done is to do a cost analysis. My vague personal suspicion is that there will be significant short-term costs but those will pay off in the long run by greatly expanding the potential passenger pool.

  9. Hello,

    My name is Solly, I am a 6th grade student in Los Angeles.

    I am on a team competing in FIRST LEGO League, which promotes science and technology for kids. This year’s theme is Climate Connections, and our team chose to study the connections between rising temperatures and car emissions in Los Angeles. Did you know that these two things both affect each other?

    Our team needed to think of a creative solution for our topic. We found that a lot of car emissions come from people who drive a long distance to work every day, such as from Palmdale or Riverside to the downtown area. These areas have commuter trains called MetroLink, and our idea is to add a rail car for bikes only. This would encourage more people to leave the car at home, and get to work with bike and train.

    We were surprised to learn that MetroLink has room for only 2 bikes per train car. The other LA train system is a subway called Metro that travels shorter distances. Metro is adding bike lockers at some stations, but this means you have to buy two bikes if you really want to stop driving the car to work.

    In LA and other cities, train companies do not want to remove more seats to make room for bikes, because it would reduce their income. Passenger train cars are expensive and take a long time to get. So our idea is to take older rail cars that were used for something else, and make some changes to allow bike racks and ramps to get on and off. After parking your bike in this rail car you just go sit down in a regular passenger car. Adding these simple rail cars to the commuter train would not reduce income, and might even sell more tickets from all the people that could now take their bike to work.

    We made several designs of rail cars that could hold between 34 and 80 bikes. We estimate that each bikes-only rail car could reduce 408 to 960 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, if these commuters stopped driving 60 miles each way. This is based on 0.8 pounds of CO2 per mile driven.

    We also researched to see if other parts of the world have tried this idea. Some cities in the US are adding more room for bikes by taking out seats, but this is going slow. Some cities in Europe have taken out most or all of the seats, with people standing next to the bikes, but this was on subways and different than our topic of long distance commuters.

    If you have read all this, thank you very much, because another one of our assignments was to share our project with people who might be interested. Internet blogs are a good way for our team to try and share our work with a lot of people. Hopefully you like our idea, and please wish us luck in our competition.


  10. Thanks Solly; your contest sounds very intriguing and I like your ideas. Do you know if your designs will be available anywhere on the Internet for others to view?