In a nod to cycling commuters concerned about bike theft, Caltrain officials appear to be willing to address concerns about the designs of the rail agency’s new bicycle cars once the system is electrified — slated for 2022.
At a Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board meeting Thursday, Caltrain officials were met by bicycle commuters who believe a proposed design for the new rail cars with bicycles separated from riders would invite theft.
Caltrain plans to offer two dedicated bike cars per train, with bike storage on the lowest of three levels. The proposed design includes 36 bike racks in the lower level of the car, accompanied by three folding seats, which are meant to share the space with wheelchairs. Each bike car will also be equipped with security cameras.
“This (design) is a recipe for passenger conflict,” said Shirley Johnson, one of 10 bicycling advocates who spoke at the meeting. “You can’t see your bike. This is a thief magnet.”
During the meeting, staff presented the latest design proposal for Caltrain’s electric fleet, which will debut as part of the $2 billion modernization program.
Bicycle advocates dominated the public comment period of the meeting, concerned primarily that limited seating in the bicycle cars would prevent them from sitting near and keeping watch over their bikes.
The board made no promises to the concerned bicycle advocates, but at least one member confirmed the design is far from set in stone.
“We have thinking to do on this,” board member Cheryl Brinkman said in response to concerns about bike theft. “There’s a sketch plan here, but many details left to be worked out.”
Some board members offered alternative methods for protecting bikes, including increased video surveillance and police presence.
Board members Cindy Chavez and Charles Stone agreed that potential technological innovations could somehow be used to combat bike theft.
But bicycle advocates maintain increased seating is the only really effective way to prevent theft.
“Any other solution to bike theft should be in addition to more seats,” Johnson said. “It’s eyes on property that keep people from stealing.”
Brinkman echoed the need for increased security, but also suggested the current car design might be too bike-focused moving forward.
“I’ve never seen a train in the world that carries this many bikes,” she said. “With increased access to bike share, we may be looking at peak bike right now.”
Caltrain currently carries 60,000 passengers a day, and more than 6,000 of them carry bikes.
The Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project has been decades in the making and will electrify by early 2022, 51 miles of track between San Francisco to San Jose, though the rail line runs to Gilroy. That means 75 percent of Caltrain’s diesel locomotives will be replaced with faster electric trains capable of transporting more passengers through the backbone of Silicon Valley. Construction is currently underway and by 2040, improvements to the system are expected to reduce 176,000 metric tons of carbon emissions annually as well as slash 619,000 vehicle miles through the faster and quieter electric trains running more frequently. The project has also been touted as a means to addressing regional traffic congestion by expanding capacity from its current 65,000 weekday riders to 110,000 passengers.
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