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Slow train for bicyclists

Original post made on Jun 27, 2008

Is there any doubt as to the effectiveness of high gas prices when it comes to luring commuters to public transportation? Just look at Caltrain, which has seen an unprecedented surge in ridership over the past year. In fact, in some ways the agency is a victim of its own success.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, June 27, 2008, 12:00 AM

Comments (6)

Posted by Joe, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 27, 2008 at 5:51 am

No end to special "neediness" of bicyclers over everybody else. Grow-up.


Posted by Palo Alto Resident, a resident of another community
on Jun 27, 2008 at 12:41 pm

What Caltrain, VTA, BART and the rest fail to realise is that the service they are providing is not user friendly.

How can they envisage a huge increase in ridership with the pathetic service they offer?

With gas prices forecasted at $7 a gallon within the next two years, these agencies need to get their acts together fast.

We need offpeak discounts. We need family passes. We need the opportunity to be able to travel on two buses for one journey at one price as well as the opportunity to travel by say bus and Caltrain on one ticket. We need to be able to go to the bus stop and find out immediately where and when the next bus will arrive and where it will take us. We need to be able to get off a bus and know straight away where to catch the bus for the return journey. We need to be able to use public transport to SFO and San Jose airports. We need to be able to do all this in great numbers and need to do it soon.

Having lived in other countries where using public transport was the norm, moving here I have had to become car dependent. I am used to good service and the service here is a joke. I have used BART and couldn't find out how to pay for parking or where I was when I surfaced in the center of San Francisco (no maps or signs). I have sent my kids off on public transport only to get phone calls a couple of hours later saying that they have no idea where to get the bus back home. Using VTA website to find bus routes for school services they tell me that today there is a bus rte 88 and we go there and find that school day service does not mean summerschool day service, so tough if you want to get to Gunn for summer school.

I would use transit more often, but it is not user friendly.


Posted by PA Resident, a resident of another community
on Jun 27, 2008 at 12:46 pm

And by the way,

If the public transport actually took us to where we wanted to go there would be less need for bicycles on buses and trains. And, if there was sensible drop off spots at stations without having to drive round the block or wait in the middle of parking lots (or have farmers' markets using parking lots on Sundays when day trippers could use them) it would help.


Posted by Commuter, a resident of another community
on Jun 27, 2008 at 1:19 pm


Joe, don't forget that "bicyclers" (whoa! is that a word?) are almost all motorists, while the reverse can hardly be said for motorists (aka "cagers"). I only point this out because it's important to remember that bicyclists generally know all about being a motorist, but motorists generally know little or nothing about what it's like to be a bicyclist (no, riding your bike around the neighborhood as a kid doesn't count -- nothing like real transportation/commute-oriented bicycling).

Caltrain builds and maintains expensive parking for motorists. Each provided parking space, typically costing $20-40k each to build, accommodates at best one extra park-and-ride customer per day. The on-board bicycle racks, costing a few hundred dollars, accommodate dozens of extra bicycle-riding customers per day (one on-board space -- like a seat -- gets used by many per train run). Further, these on-board bike racks have never caused a non-bicycle-carrying passenger to be left behind. There is always plenty of room for those folks -- even if they have to stand. Further, the auto parking is full, and so each customer lured from driving to riding to the station essentially creates a "new" parking space (worth $20-40K) for someone else who might really need it to use.

Another fun fact, the bike racks aboard the train are so space- efficient that they only displace one seat per bike space provided. This means that each seated bicyclist is taking up the space of most two seats. If they choose to stand, it's a wash. This is no worse than some of the too-wide-to-bicycle riders who effectively take up two seats -- but they never get told, "oh, sorry, you can't board because we have no more room for your type of rider" -- which is what bicycling Caltrain riders risk hearing every day they ride -- often more than once as trains with space, just not the right KIND of space come and go.

So, to review, cheap bike spaces on the trains attract dozens of new riders (and their juicy fare revenue) each. They also allow those that park their cars to switch to bicycling, thereby freeing up more scarce and expensive parking at numerous stations (one bike space attracts and is used by dozens of bicyclists per day). Hey, and those bike spaces also promote reduced cars on the road and less gas burned, foreign oil needed, less CO2 to help slow warming, etc., etc.

As for "grow up" ... that might be something you might want to look into. I see plenty of seniors, like my father, who are in large part probably still alive because they left their cars in their driveways for most of their lives and kept healthy, wealthy and happy by bicycling most everywhere. He's in his 70's and thinks nothing of riding the Swiss Alps or the Sierras or a quick day ride over Mt. Hamilton or over to Santa Cruz and back.


Posted by Shankari, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 27, 2008 at 8:46 pm

Would this work if cyclists could pay a slightly higher fee than others to make up for the additional space that they take up? Also, I've never understood why there are only 4 bikes per rack. It seems like there's a lot of wasted corridor space. Is it possible to just carry more bikes per rack so that the whole corridor can be used?


Posted by SheCyclist, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 27, 2008 at 10:38 pm

I agree with Shankari and Commuter.

Shankari, I've often wondered why Caltrain doesn't innovate and find a way to store more bikes in the bike car. The current method is clearly archaic. Who am I to say? I was the one who suggested they implement the tag system for each bike to show its destination...more than a decade ago. Not such a bright idea, but simple enough and it works OK. Thing is, before then, chaos reigned while no one at JPB even came up with THAT idea. C'mon, tags! I don't want to be a pessimist, but past behavior points to zero problem-solving ability....

Modern cities have automated parking garages with computerized systems to store cars...surely an efficient bike storage method could be much simpler, much cheaper, and just as effective. I laughed out loud when I read Caltrain's solution: we must limit the number of bikes on trains! Now that we've trained cyclists to rely on us, we must train them NOT to rely on us! Come here, go away...

Caltrain is a SUBurban rail system. Almost no rider's final destination is right along the tracks. Each time I ride Caltrain I need my bike with me. I need it to get to the station and I need it on the other end too. Same with the bus. I'm typical, not special. Take a poll, JPB - hey there's another primitive idea for you...

Commuter, I believe bike commuters are actually providing a social benefit. We are motorists AND cyclists, yes, which means we pay for the roads, parking lots, etc, AND we get bumped from the train for trying to proactively spare these assets. Not only are we not taking away, but we're giving back by staying healthy and happy and away from doctors, etc. We tend to not loiter on the train tracks, drunk. We don't peel out of the parking lot after the train drops us off. Maybe we're not a glamorous lot, but we consume less oil to justify foreign wars - we've got that going for us. We buy fewer cars that end up at the wrecking yard a few years later. We run over fewer things/people and kill them.

I guess you can tell I'm proud and happy to bike commute. It's good for everyone, this simple practice, and I'm glad to be able to give back. Seems like it's not too much to ask Caltrain to have an idea or two to help me out. After all, my tax money goes to them...


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