To the relief of many multi-modal commuters, Caltrain officials went against staff’s recommendation and will further consider increasing capacity for bicyclists seeking space on the transit agency’s new electric fleet.
As the tri-county transit board plans for a more than $1.5 billion system overhaul called the Caltrain Modernization Project that includes electrifying the tracks, officials are working to balance the need to increase capacity for seated passengers with bicyclists who are often bumped due to a lack of space.
Last Thursday, the board opted to ask train manufacturers for information about the cost and impact of increasing the ratio of bikes to traditional passengers to 1-to-8, instead of staff’s recommended 1-to-9. While no formal decision has been made, either change would be an increase from the trains’ current 1-to-10 ratio. In the meantime, Caltrain has also committed some of its recently purchased used diesel cars to carry bikes as well. Those diesel cars are expected to come online in the coming years before the electrification project is finalized.
“The main reason we’re looking to increase bike capacity is because the number of bikers continues to rise and we definitely want to be able to accommodate more and more bike riders on the train,” said Caltrain board Chair Adrienne Tissier, also a member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. “We know that the new trains will also increase seating for passengers, the question now really becomes ‘what is that balance?’”
Tissier said the board moved to consider increasing bike capacity as a form of compromise, particularly as bicyclists sought a 1-to-6 ratio.
The board’s decision to consider adding bike capacity above staff’s recommendation thrilled activists who’ve sought more space for those looking to ditch their cars and use mass transit.
Shirley Johnson, a volunteer with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and leader of its Bikes Onboard project, said she appreciates the new direction.
“We’re very grateful to the board for recognizing how important it is to serve all customers, especially bicyclist customers because of all the economic, social and environmental benefits that biking brings to Caltrain and everyone,” Johnson said. “The board vote is a step in the right direction, but it’s not expected to meet demand in 2020.”
With 80 percent of bicyclists surveyed saying they would rarely use Caltrain if they couldn’t bring their bikes, it’s critical capacity be increased and the trains lengthened, said Johnson and representatives from the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.
“We hear from folks all the time about how Caltrain’s current car design causes people to be late for work or to pick up their kids because there isn’t enough space for them on the train they needed to catch,” Noah Budnick, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition said in a press release. “When transit options don’t meet the needs of a community, you see more people turn to private autos for their commutes. That’s a fact, and the board’s refusal to go along with the status quo is a real victory for improving regional transit.”
While the exact number of bicycle-toting passengers, who take up two seats, has yet to be determined for the new trains — anticipated to hit the tracks in 2020 — the board did commit $3 million toward improving bike-parking facilities at its stations, said Caltrain spokeswoman Jayme Ackemann.
In its request for proposal seeking input from manufacturers that make electric trains, also called electric multiple units, Caltrain officials are also considering eliminating onboard restrooms. At minimum, each onboard restroom takes up about eight seats prompting the board to look at this as a means to increasing as capacity, Ackemann said.
Tissier said she’s received concerned messages from Caltrain riders and it’s hard for people to give up what they’re already accustomed to. While some reference Bay Area Rapid Transit that doesn’t provide bathrooms onboard, Tissier noted many ride Caltrain for longer journeys.
Still, it’s something that’s worth studying and the board must also consider Americans with Disabilities Act standards before any final decision is made, Tissier said.
With Caltrain striving to have 75 percent of its current diesel fleet converted to electric trains by 2020, Tissier said she looks forward to continuing to forge ahead with the modernization project.
“I think it’s going very well. We are trying to stay on time,” Tissier said. “My hope is we can continuing moving forward.”
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