Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Self regulating behavior

Grrr, I'm trying to write a note to Mark Simon but I'm so angry I can't see straight right now...

Northbound Caltrain 233, almost full Gallery bike car. As we approach California Ave the conductor sees 5 bikes in two of the racks. The official limit is 4 bikes because the central aisle must remain clear for safety reasons. She tells Conductor Donna to hold the train and not let any more bikes on at Cal Ave until "we get it worked out." Note we're one stop short of Palo Alto, where half the cyclists will detrain ANYWAY, and the central aisle was clear.

It takes a little while because -- it turns out -- some Cal Ave bound riders (WITH NO TAGS!) just threw some bikes nilly willy while they unburied their own bikes, which is probably why there were these 5-deep stacks in the first place. Several cyclists go to the lower level to "get it worked out" for the conductors' satisfaction when the Cal Ave riders begin to board and the train leaves, at which point Palo Alto bound riders go downstairs jamming up the entire lower level, with the conductors yelling at us to "get it worked out" WHEN WE HAD IT WORKED OUT JUST FINE UNTIL THEY HOSED IT ALL UP FOR US.

I appreciate the safety considerations the conductors must work with, but in this instance their rigid enforcement of the rules resulted in an UNSAFE CONDITION for the train riders, a delayed train, and one cyclist left at the California Avenue platform. Conductor Donna loudly blamed the cyclists for this fiasco, when it fact it was herself and her co-conductor.


Please don't miss my inaugural Tuesday Transit Quiz, especially if you think you know Caltrain.

Also don't miss Murph's rant on Magic Fairy Dust.

If you read the news, you all have all seen the headlines this week about record transit ridership. Here's the local angle for Santa Cruz County.

I've been attending transportation meetings again lately after about a three year hiatus, and the denial about where our nation is at and where we're headed blows my mind. There's some willful denial on my part too so I guess it's easy to understand. I attended the Santa Cruz Regional Transportation Commission meeting last week, where the commissioners talked about how to spend their share of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRRA) money. There's some frustration that 70% of the Federal ARRA highway funds are STILL LOCKED UP AT THE STATE LEVEL because of the legislative logjam that continues after the ridiculous budget fight last month in Sacramento. Regional transportation planners have 120 days to award contracts, the clock started ticking on March 2, and OUR STATE LEGISLATORS STILL DON'T HAVE THEIR ACT TOGETHER to decide how to spend this Federal stimulus cash.

I need to shut up now before I hurt myself. So, umm, the Transit Quiz if you don't mind.

Thank you.


  1. Yeah, when I lived in SF and commuted to SJ, I used to take my bike on Caltrain, so I totally feel your pain. The Caltrain conductors and policies seem to really discourage bicyclists on the train. I just don't get it.

    When I was making that commute I seriously considered a brompton or some other folding bike just to avoid these hassles.

    In the end I started walking from the station after a few times of getting kicked from the train because they didn't have enough bike space. The contrast between Caltrain and Trimet (in Portland, where I now live) is pretty stark in their level of bike friendliness.

  2. In my experience, Caltrain seems to hire conductors specifically on their ability to blindly follow rules down to the letter and on their inability to have any common sense.

  3. On SB 332 this AM I saw the conductor out in the lobby having a coffee as the train clearly overfilled (1 bombadier car). He knew it was overbooked - he doesn't care. We responded by making a perfect bike jigsaw puzzle and getting 5 bikes onto each rack very cleanly, then loading a few extras over the back of the rack. No muss no fuss.

  4. It is an issue in all areas of public transport- how to deal with this new wave of passengers logically and consistently.
    I never take CalTrain but I ride BART all the time. Bikes are banned from all cars between Embarcadero and Civic Center during the AM commute, period. It makes sense as the cars and the stations are jammed.

    In the afternoon, though, things fall apart. Starting a 4 PM, bikes are again restricted between Embarcadero snd Civic Center. By the rules, even if the platform and cars are empty and there are seats available, bikes are supposed to exit the cars.

    Now, I get on my train at the beginning of the line (in the afternoon) and I am usually alone or one of 2 passengers until MacArthur station, and even there maybe 10 people get on. When I get to Embarcadero there will be one of two scenarios- 1) The platform will be packed and I can't get out of the car without running several people who are shoving into the car over, or 2) there are very few people getting on and no one needs my space.

    In either case, I used to get off no matter what. No longer. I have been yelled at by BART police and passengers for getting off at Embarcadero (as I am supposed to)when it is wall to wall people who can not give me the space I need to get out of their way. I have got off an uncrowded train onto an almost empty platform while watching people with double wide, unfolded strollers or multiple suitcases, or in one case, two rolling pallets of boxes!!!!, get on with impunity.

    Everyone needs to view transportation as a collaborative process. Just as I will not get on a crowded car with my bike, neither should others just because they are on foot- one is not superior to the other. Large objects that take up space, be they bikes or strollers or suitcases or (dare I say it) wheelchairs should all be viewed the same way, as part of a total in which all parties should look out for one another.

  5. I had a couple of conductors on southbound morning trains that I just loved. There was one morning that we had over 25 bikes loaded onto a Bombardier - five per rack, a few slung over the back of the racks, a few folding bikes sitting around. People could still pass cleanly through the aisles, so the conductor continued to let them on. It wasn't a safety hazard by any means, and there were enough cyclists that stayed on the lower level with their bikes that we could rearrange as necessary when new bikes came on. I just love the conductors that are into cyclists.

  6. New: That's exactly what I like -- the flexibility that some of the conductors are capable of where the situation warrants.

    Last summer the conductors started cracking down on absolute limits after a cyclist reportedly complained about how inconsistent things were. Grrr....