Last week Caltrain called a meeting at City Hall in order to seek comment from local bicycle riders, who say they're being left behind due to overcrowded trains. At the meeting, Caltrain officials admitted they simply can't meet the demand for bike space on trains during commute hours — especially on the Baby Bullets that stop in Mountain View and Palo Alto on their way to San Francisco or San Jose.
Caltrain's main thrust was to find ways to reduce demand for bike space — for example, cyclists could store their bikes at the point of departure, and find other ways to reach their destination at the end of the line — rather than increase capacity for more bikes. But the cyclists who spoke at the meeting were headed in the opposite direction, saying they want to squeeze in more bikes per train.
Despite these contradictions, one idea offered by Caltrain — to let cyclists know in advance if there is space for more bikes on a particular train — proved popular with cyclists at the meeting. Several other ideas surfaced as well, including one to subsidize folding bikes which can be stored anywhere on the train, and another to establish bike sharing programs at popular destinations.
Caltrain has said it will produce a first draft of a formal bike plan sometime in August. And from what we've seen so far, cyclists are not going to be happy when the plan is released. It is a difficult problem for the transit agency, which wants to serve all types of riders, but cannot add more space for bikes.
But perhaps bicycle commuters have been expecting too much. In the early days, Caltrain could easily accommodate the cyclists among its relatively low number of passengers. But today, with gas prices heading for $5 a gallon, Caltrain is being forced to chose between hauling more people or hauling more bikes. Given that choice, the agency should pick people over bikes.
Caltrain is a huge asset to the Peninsula. Unfortunately, there are few other comparable mass transit options here. Until we build more, which we clearly should do, passengers will probably have to leave their bikes behind — or be left standing at the platform.