Caltrain’s new electric train cars will be redesigned to address persisting concerns about bike theft, but many cyclists feel the changes don’t go far enough.
Once electrification is complete in 2022, Caltrain will run trains consisting of six and sometimes seven cars. Each train will have two cars for bikes and each of those cars will have bike storage on the first level with some seating and a second level with additional seating. The initial design of the electric cars included just three seats near the bike storage area on each of the bike cars for a total of six seats per train.
Cyclists have been vehemently opposed to that design because they’re worried their bikes will be stolen if they’re unable to sit within view of them.
“If I can’t bring my bike on board and if I can’t see it because it will be stolen, you’re pushing me into a car, you’ll lose me as a rider and that’s unfortunate,” Giuliani Carlini said during public comment at a meeting Thursday.
At that meeting, Caltrain’s board of directors unanimously approved a $1 million redesign, which increases the total number of seats in view of the bike storage area from six to 14 per train.
While 14 seats is an upgrade over six seats, most of the cyclists who spoke during public comment felt that number was still insufficient and called for a third bike car per train. Some even wanted all cars to be bike-accessible.
“You’ve become a trailblazer in bicycle transportation over the last 25 years or so, and while there are problems with it we need to keep moving ahead to have Caltrain be such a trailblazer,” Jeff Carter said during public comment. “I do urge the board to reject the staff proposal of two bike cars per train and explore three bike cars per train. Sure it’ll cost more money, but it’s worthwhile to accommodate as many bicycles as we can.”
Redesigning the electric trains so that three cars per train can accommodate bikes is estimated to cost $10 million, which is part of why the board rejected that option.
“We’re constrained by the space we have and the financial resources we have and I don’t like it, I’d like to have as many human beings without bikes and as many human beings with bikes as would like to ride Caltrain on there and in my mind I’d like them to be able to ride it cheaper than today, but that’s my perfect world where resources are infinite and someone else pays for them and that’s not the way things work,” said Board Member Charles Stone, also a Belmont councilman.
Stone also noted that while the electric trains will carry fewer bikes than the diesel trains, the increase in capacity associated with electrification means Caltrain will carry more bikes through the corridor than it does today. Right now, Caltrain carries about 6,000 bicycles per day, officials said.
The latest electric train design will result in a 17% increase compared to today in onboard bike capacity per peak hour, per direction because of increased train frequency, according to a staff report.
And Caltrain currently carries more bikes onboard than any commuter rail in the country. Cameras will be installed in the cars and officials are confident a technological solution will be found to ensure bikes remain safe.
Board Member Dave Pine, also a San Mateo County supervisor, suggested the design that the board voted for balances the needs of cyclists, who take up two spaces in the trains, and those who don’t cycle.
“The lens I look through is we need to move as many people as possible on this train corridor and there’s obviously a tension or tradeoff between bike spaces and passenger spaces,” he said.
The redesign vote also entails a $3.5 million commitment to bike parking and micromobility options at stations, including bike and scooter share. Board members, including Pine, celebrated the investment.
“Because of the growth of bikes, the importance of the wayside solutions is critical. I think that’s the place where we need to vest our efforts,” he said.
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