Caltrain Bike Master Plan
Public Meetings, Public Comment
Caltrain held three public meetings to collect comments on its Bicycle Master Plan during June 2008; here are bicyclists' accounts of each meeting:Caltrain Bike Master Plan Public Meeting in San Francisco, June 17, 2008 Caltrain Bike Master Plan Public Meeting in San Carlos, June 12, 2008 Caltrain Bike Master Plan Public Meeting in Mountain View, June 16, 2008
Attendees: Six Caltrain representatives, one San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) representative, and 19 bicyclists
Caltrain began the meeting by saying, "we are learning as we go with these meetings," and "in San Carlos [at a public meeting held on June 12], people were really mad, because we weren't talking about bikes on board." So, Caltrain set the agenda as 30 minutes Bike Plan presentation, then 20 minutes to discuss bike parking, then 20 minutes to discuss bikes on board. Caltrain asked the cyclists to hold their anger until the 20 minutes bikes on board session, and the cyclists dutifully obliged. When the time came, the anger flowed freely. The discussion wandered from topic to topic, but comments are categorized here for ease of reading.
1. Removing Seats to Make Space for More Bikes
Public: Remove more seats to make space for bikes. We're tired of being bumped, and the trains have empty seats.
Caltrain: We can't remove seats because the trains are full, and we don't want to lose customers.
Public: You are already losing customers, because bicyclists stop riding the train to avoid the risk of being bumped. You will not necessarily lose walk-on passengers by removing seats.
Public: It's standard operating procedure to stand on public transportation when it's full.
Public: There is only one train that reaches capacity, and that is a baby bullet leaving from San Jose that reaches capacity at Redwood City. All other trains travel the entire line with empty seats.
Caltrain: I respectfully disagree with you. There are 10 trains that are full. You should take the train with me, and I'll show you.
Public: We do take the train, every day.
Public: Why don't you remove seats from every car so that we can get more bikes on board?
Caltrain: We can't do that because dwell time would increase. Bicyclists would have to walk down the platform to get to the next car if the one near them was full. Cyclists we talked with said it would be better to concentrate bikes on one car.
Public: Remove seats from the entire car to make it a complete bike car.
Caltrain: We can't do that because bicyclists want to sit in the same car with their bike, so they can watch it.
Public: Walk-on passengers get priority boarding over us, and so many non-bicyclists sit in the bike car that we can't see our bikes anyway. We'd rather be able to get on the train, so remove the seats.
Public: Why are only cab cars bike cars? Why not convert other cars?
Caltrain: We can't take seats out of other cars for many reasons. There is a control panel we need access to. We can't take out seats, because bicyclists need to be able to see their bikes.
Public: The constraints you've stated for not being able to take out more seats are synthesized. They are not based in reality.
2. How the Grant Money Was Spent
Public: Where did the data come from that bike parking is a good idea? How many people would actually use it?
Caltrain: A survey was done, but I can't remember the results. We know we need a better bike parking manager.
Public: That wasn't the question. How many people would use it?
Public: When you get grant money, you should survey bicyclists to see how they would like the money to be spent.
Public: Your data show that 7% of cyclists bring their bike on board, but only 1% park at the station. You had a federal grant and you spent the whole thing on the 1%, but ignored the 7%. You misdirected the money. How does that make you feel?
Public: You didn't even look at bikes on board. You've skewed your study.
Caltrain: We focused on an area where we had more opportunity to make improvements. It turned into a policy question. This is our first bike plan, and we're stumbling. We'll inform the board of your comment.
Public: I've been going to public meetings like this for 30 years where the people on staff are not bicyclists. You don't understand us. You are not like us. Your job is to *not* work with us. We need to talk with people who understand our needs.
3. Parking for Cars
Public: What is the utilization of your car parking lots?
Caltrain: It varies widely, but the lots at baby bullet stations are 100% full.
Public: So to help grow your business, you need more cyclists, because you have no more room for cars.
Caltrain: We are working on transit oriented development (TOD), so more people can walk to the station.
Public: TOD in the Bay Area is often a big parking lot.
Caltrain: We have a free shuttle from Belmont to Hillsdale.
4. Future Bike Capacity
Public: The last time you bought new cars, you reduced bike capacity by half. This was very bad for all of us. So what are you doing now?
Caltrain: We are not going to increase bike capacity on trains. Once we electrify [in 2014], we'll provide more frequency, therefore more bike space.
Public: Frequency will not help. We don't want to take a local after getting bumped from a bullet.
Public: The ratio of bike space to seats is the important measure.
Public: What are you doing about the new Bombardier cars you just bought?
Caltrain: Two are cab cars. They will each hold 16 bikes.
Public: So, you just cut bike capacity in half again.
5. Train Scheduling
Public: Why don't you schedule trains with two bike cars during busy times?
Caltrain: We have 20 trains, 5 trips per train. It's hard to balance all types of access.
Public: When do you assign trains to a run?
Caltrain: Before the first departure in the morning. We have 98 runs per day, and we switch 5 or 6 trains per day.
Public: So, you have about 95% confidence in the assignment.
Caltrain: What? No, I don't think so.
Public: OK, fine, even if your assignment is only 50% accurate, it would help us to know if a train is supposed to have two bike cars. Bike space on baby bullet trains varies from 16 to 64 bike spaces. If we knew there were going to be 64 spaces, we'd ride to a bullet station. Why don't you post the assignment on your web site every morning?
Public: And update it several times during the day, if there are changes.
Caltrain: That's good information.
6. System Design
Public: How many station platforms are long enough to take six car trains?
Caltrain: I'm thinking about it...
Public: It doesn't matter, because other countries handle this issue by stating which cars are for which station. So, it's a non-issue.
Public: How many spare cars do you have?
Caltrain: None right now. We have no extra equipment.
Public: That's strange, because on your website, it says you have 110 cars, and you aren't running that many, even with the 14 gallery cars out-of-service.
Caltrain: Usually we have 13 spare cars.
Public: Then why don't you run six-car trains? Improve your maintenance so you don't need so many spares.
Caltrain: We're working on improving our maintenance.
Public: With the new Bombardier cars, will you be running six-car trains?
Caltrain: We will try to put two bike cars on each Bombardier train set, so we'll have 32 bike spaces.
Public: 32 is already not enough.
Public: The space on the Bombardier trains is poorly allocated. You could easily fit more bikes on with a space redesign.
Public: How much of your resources go into reconfiguring cars for bikes compared with bike parking?
Caltrain: Bikes on board is a problem, but also a benefit. A point comes where we can't take out any more seats to accommodate bikes. Bikes cause dwell time delays.
Public: The reason the trains are "full" is because people put their stuff next to them, so no one can sit next to them. Plus seats facing each other is a poor design. There is not enough room in those seats facing each other, and people don't like them.
7. Accuracy of the Data
Public: I'm worried about under counting on your surveys, so all the numbers you're basing everything on may be too small.
Caltrain: We take an annual passenger count every February. We use ticket sales to scale the numbers the rest of the year.
Public: Do you have any way to separate ticket sales between walk-on passengers and bicycle passengers?
Caltrain: No. But we take limited surveys during the year, too. We know which trains are full. There are 17% more riders in the summer.
Public: Do you know how many more bicyclists there are in the summer?
Caltrain: [Blank stare]
Public: It's 42%.
8. Why Bike Parking Is Not the Solution
Public: We've brought up reasons why bike parking is not the solution - theft, we take different stations, parking is not available at every station. Don't expect a lot of use of the lockers.
9. Folding bikes
Public: I own a folding bike and I've been bumped from Bombardier cars, because the luggage rack is full.
Caltrain: We said there are no restrictions on folding bikes, so long as they are folded. You may have to sit them in your lap.
Public: Putting a folding bike in your lap is like putting a vacuum cleaner in your lap. It's heavy.
Public: Design trains so there is space designated for folding bikes. Include a six-month free ticket on Caltrain as a subsidy for those who use folding bikes.
10. Bike Sharing
Caltrain: What do you think of bike sharing? Would you use it?
Public: I recently went to Holland where they have bike sharing. I could use it, because I'm about the size of Dutch people, but the person I was with could not use it, because the bicycle didn't fit.
Public: I'd use it only if there were bikes at every station that I use.
Public: I'd use it only if I could be assured that there would be a bike there when I arrived. I need to get to work on time.
Public: I don't want to ride a 50 pound bike.
Public: I don't want to pay for a bike all day while I'm at work. And when I keep it at work, that means no one else can use it during the day to buy groceries.
Public: Bike sharing is a big security issue. If the bike got stolen, would I be responsible for paying for it?
Public: We have hills in San Francisco. We need bikes with gears. Maintenance would be an issue.
Attendees: Four Caltrain representatives and 17 bicyclists
Every cyclist in the room was there because they were concerned about bike capacity on trains. Not a one said they park their bike at the station. Everyone politely listened to the Powerpoint presentation from Marisa Espinosa on the Bicycle Master Plan, and the first question was about bikes on board, and so was the next, and the next, and the next…
Marisa kept trying to deflect the discussion away from bikes on board, but to no avail. After 10 minutes, Marisa said the public comment part was closed, and it was time to go and look at the posters. The audience would have nothing of it, and several people said, “Come on, it's not even 7 o'clock yet, and lots of people still have their hand up. We want more time.” And so it continued, with Marisa obviously uncomfortable, still trying to deflect questions away from bikes on board. Finally, Marian Lee-Skowronek from the Caltrain planning group had the courage to say that what everyone came for was the bike capacity issue, and we should just face that and talk about it. The tone of the meeting changed after that. We didn't really get much accomplished, mind you, but the tension in the room dropped a notch.
One cyclist asked what the utilization of racks and lockers is. Celia Chung answered that they did a study, and there is 60% utilization. Then the cyclist said, “Why are you adding more of what you already have enough of, and ignoring what you don't have enough of?” Then Celia said they need to add more lockers, because lockers are full in Palo Alto.
Marian said Caltrain has done surveys, and the reason people really like Caltrain is that they can get a seat. So, Caltrain can't take out more seats for bicycles, because if people end up having to stand, then Caltrain has the potential of losing customers. A cyclist said, “If you take out more seats for bikes, you have the potential of losing customers, but you are currently losing bicycle passengers now by bumping them so often – they just stop taking the train and start driving. Why are you more concerned about the future potential of losing customers than the current reality that you are losing customers now?” To which Marisa responded, Caltrain would take a look at the trade-offs.
Questions asked by the public, to which Caltrain's standard response was “We can't, because blah, blah, blah…”
Why don't you add two bike cars to every train?
Why did you buy Bombardier cars that hold only 16 bikes? Why don't you increase bike space to 32, like the gallery cars?
Why don't you remove seats in the other half of the existing [gallery] bike car, so you double the capacity of each bike car?
Why don't you schedule trains with two bikes cars during rush hour?
Why can't you post the train set assignment for that day every morning on your web site?
Why can't you ask the conductors to let more bikes on, especially during rush hour?
Four “innovative solutions” were recently added to the Bike Master Plan, because two JBP board members expressed concern about bike capacity on trains at the JPB board meeting held April 3, 2008. Marian asked the public what they thought about the innovative solutions.
Innovative solution #1: What if we let you know how many spaces are available on the bike car in real-time?
So, you'll tell us before the train comes that we're going to get bumped? That's not too satisfying.
What you really need to do is add bike capacity to the trains.
Innovative solution #2: What if we charge for bikes on board?
It will probably cost you more to implement such a program than you'll get back from it.
If you charge for bikes, then you'd better charge for wheelchairs, luggage, strollers, and the balloon boy's large balloon creations.
Innovative solution #3: What if we have a bike sharing program?
Bike maintenance is a big concern here. The lockers you have now are poorly maintained. How will you ever maintain a fleet of bikes? We don't want to ride poorly maintained, junky bikes.
How will you ensure there is a bike is where I need it, when I need it?
Innovative solution #4: What if we subsidize folding bikes?
We like subsidies, but you'll still have to plan for space on the train for folding bikes.
Not everyone wants a folding bike – we already have other bikes.
Why should we be required to buy something expensive and special to ride public transit? Walk-on passengers don't have to buy gold-plated shoes.
Caltrain ended the meeting by thanking the public for attending, and stating, “We like a small audience. It's just easier.” Maybe that explains why the meeting announcement and Bicycle Master Plan Key Findings weren't posted on the Caltrain website until June 10, only two days before the meeting.
Attendees: Six Caltrain representatives, a representative from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), and 30 bicyclists
Cyclist #1 Report
The first 30 minutes was a presentation of the draft plan, followed by a 20 minutes discussion of the bike parking and access items in the plan, followed by 20 minute discussion of the bikes on board issue. Some comments which came from this were:
1. The draft plan does not mention at all the bike capacity issue, that this was ever raised, that a specific group was formed to study and make recommendations, none of this was noted in the report. One person said he was involved in the bikes on board group and asked why this group's work and recommendation were not in the plan. A few people asked how this can be called a master bike plan when it does not address or even mention the main issue. Should be called a bicycle parking plan, not master plan.
2. The only sort of hidden reference to bikes on board was a demand management reference, which was explained verbally to be an idea to charge a fee for a guaranteed space on a train for your bike.
3. In this plan there is no mention of the possible future electrification of Caltrain and the need to ensure these cars are designed to accommodate bicycles. Nor any mention of future changes to the train itself such as studies on ridership levels, future service needs. The plan is really only a description of the current parking and access situation and suggestions for changes to these current conditions. Not really a long term master plan looking into future requirements
4. One person raised some good points on the demand management or pay a fee for a guaranteed space. Does this mean only a space on a specific train, what if this person works late, leaves early or takes a different train than normal, no space then. Also when people go on vacation or do not use the train, is the reserved space then left empty?
5. Another person noted that most of the stations seem to have been lengthened, does this mean it could fit another car. No answer given.
6. Many people complained about non bikers using the bike car and the need to enforce the rules to prevent this.
7. Another idea was to have a dedicated bike car with seats removed, charge more to use this car use this money to cover the cost of this additional car. Or raise car parking fees to provide funds for this additional max capacity bike car.
8. A lot of people mentioned how they know which stations to board to reduce their chances of getting bumped.
This draft will be presented to the Caltrain board in August 2008 and there will be another chance to comment again at this time. My impression was the draft plan is complete and these workshops were to present the plan, but not to make any additional changes from comments learned at the workshop, but this is only my impression and might be wrong. My concern and comment I made at this meeting was that items not included in a master plan can then be ignored or not worked on at a later date by the simple excuse that this item is not in the Master Plan. Not being included can make any future efforts much more difficult.
Cyclist #2 Report
They kicked the meeting off by saying that Caltrain applied for and received a Federal Transit Administration grant to develop a bike master plan. So, I assume that's what paid for the consultants (Celia Chung, Eisen Letunic, Feher and Peers, etc.). If they used bike transportation money for this project, I think they might have misused it as this really isn't a bike master plan; it's more of a facilities plan that might include adding bike lockers and racks.
Also, two attendees called out Celia Chung as the project manager with the raw data from the survey they took on how people use their bikes and Caltrain. Nothing was mentioned specifically about the survey with the exception of a reference to “open jaw trips” that was on a handout separate from the draft master plan.
Generally, the staff did a good job of controlling the comments. Todd McIntyre introduced himself, then Marian Lee-Skowronek, who explained that they could guess what people were really interested in. But first, they wanted to present their findings, so we were all going to have to wait to address the bikes onboard issue. Marisa Espinosa presented the plan. The group of interested bikers played nice. They talked about the access problems at the various stations. They commented on the proposed abatement program: Marisa presented the suggested abatement program saying that they were going to start removing old and stripped bikes from the racks to remove the appearance of bike theft, the Bike Master Plan task force recommended removing stripped bikes on a regular basis. One person commented that if there's an appearance of vandalism, removing the bikes isn't going to change the vandalism. He suggested that the bikes need to be protected with guards and be located in well-lit places. Caltrain should address the problem of bike theft, not merely the appearance of bike theft.
A couple of people pointed out that the data presented represented 2007, when gas prices were (a lot) lower. One mentioned that the pressures on Caltrain are only going to get worse as prices continue to rise. He also pointed out that the most loyal riders on Caltrain over the years have been the bikers even when Caltrain was “starving for riders and gas was cheap. The institutional memory needs to have that.”
One man asked what was a salient question: “Did Caltrain give any thought to increasing capacity onboard the trains?” He didn't find it in the proposed bike plan. Michelle Burchard answered: “Bikes onboard present a unique challenge to Caltrain. We acknowledged a long time ago that bike patronage was expanding.” She went on to say that the organization will increase onboard capacity by increasing service frequency, and “the solution of taking seats out at some point runs into a ceiling.”
Another person said, “I worry that there wasn't anything said upfront [in the master plan] that you're working on ways to make it better.” Todd McIntyre jumped in and asked something about, “Do you have ways to make it better?” The guy said that some things have been touched on [during the discussion], but they weren't a part of the listed comments on priorities in the bike master plan. Michelle jumped back in and said, “That's why we're getting your input. We understand from the operating side that it's frustrating not knowing if you are going to get on the train or not.” She pointed out that using technology such as signage to help with “demand management” and identifying ways of expanding bike access (to the stations, I assume, not onto the train) is a part of the process.
One of the slides in the presentation was entitled “Are we doing enough?” and contained a list of innovative concepts that included finding subsidies for folding bikes. It also was mentioned during Marisa's presentation that Demand Management could include charging a fee to bring a bike onboard. Several people said they would pay a fee if they were guaranteed a spot on for their bike on the train. (Todd McIntyre actually stated it like that: a guaranteed spot.)
I commented, “You are tap dancing around a few things here. You mentioned charging a fee and what happens if that is a successful program? You're still going to have a capacity problem.” I mentioned that I was on the technical advisory group and we talked about capacity, but it wasn't in this plan. “I know you don't want to hear this, but that's the way it is. People want to bring their bikes on board. People bring their bikes to run errands, to go to their second jobs — there are a million reasons why people want their bikes with them. Telling them to rent a bike locker just isn't appropriate.” Marian jumped it at this point. “It's true it's not in the bike plan — but there is a separate effort to improve — [I couldn't understand her, I think she said “the experience”] for all riders, not just bicyclists.”
I pointed out that we were taking about a bike master plan. “This is a bike plan that doesn't address capacity on the trains. What kind of bike plan is that? You have a successful program here, but it needs to grow. You are not talking about growth. What happens if you give subsidies for folding bikes and that becomes a successful program? Where are you going to put the folders? You're still going to have a capacity problem.”
That started a conversation by several other attendees that some folks with folders aren't allowed on the train by some of the conductors. Michelle Bouchard wanted to hear more about that after the meeting. Another attendee said that he worked for the county and when items don't get into plans (such as the bike master plan) then they never get worked on. He said “It's important that this gets into the plan as an issue people are talking about.” One woman asked, “Why not have a whole car just for bikes?” She got a lot of cheers. The meeting finished early. People who wanted to stay and chat with the staff could do so.
I went up to Marian afterward and we chatted a few minutes. She said that Caltrain is struggling with the capacity issue and they really don't know what to do. I wasn't sure what to make of that comment.