Bikes & Transit: Together for the long haul by Owen C. Franklin

Transit modes around the Bay Area are becoming more accessible to bikes, thanks to the continued advocacy efforts of multi-modal cyclists. Photo by Russell Reagan
Thousands of Bay Area commuters will try a new route on Bike to Work Day this May 16. Many treks will combine cycling with at least one form of public transit. For the new riders, this event could cure long-held aversions to multi-modal transportation. For the veteran cyclists, the day could highlight how continued bike-friendly improvements to our buses, trains, and ferries can yield new solutions to transit problems.

BIKES ON MUNI Muni is unleashing its new fleet of electric and diesel chariots into the city. Approximately 1,000 new buses will cover nearly every line, each equipped with a special hood ornament: a $700 bike rack that holds up to two bikes. Within the next few months, all buses, except the 35 or so back-up buses, will be accessible to bicycles.

The SFBC is also sketching improvements for Muni's other half. Bikes are currently prohibited from every car of the light rail system. While limited space in the cars may block usability trials, SFBC members hope bicycles will be considered in the upcoming 3rd Street rail project.

"It would continue to improve Muni's image as a transit service for all San Franciscans," says Rufus Davis, an SFBC member from the Bayview Hunters Point community. "Bicyclists should just be another aspect of Muni's customer base."

BART'S BIKESTATIONS For her daily commute, Maggie Robbins bikes from the Lower Haight to 16th and Mission. There, she locks her bike at the BART station's rack inside the tollgate area, then rides the train to Berkeley. A two-block walk awaits her on the other side.

Robbins has enjoyed several bike-conscious improvements at BART in recent years. The SFBC member pays special attention to elevator service, which she says is more reliable, and cleaner, than it was in years past.

"I'm forty-one years old," says Robbins. "I have a goal to never pick up my bicycle if I don't have to."

BART officials have a goal of their own. They plan to open a new bike station at the Embarcadero stop in May to herald in Bike to Work Day. Similar to the popular downtown Berkeley Bikestation, the Embarcadero station will have room for 150 bicycles. Cyclists can simply leave their bikes with an attendant in a secure location and reclaim them later.

While the bike station shows a sincere effort from BART, Robbins says a bike station in one of the Mission street terminals could serve more cyclists than a downtown project.

BIKES ON CALTRAIN Ketra Oberlander watches DVDs during the shank of her commute. She rides her bike from her Mission District home to the 4th and King Caltrain station, then takes the train to Sunnyvale.

"The ride is about an hour and fifteen minutes, and it's useable time," says Oberlander.

With a folding bike, Oberlander doesn't have to worry about being "bumped" from overfilled cars. However, she says Caltrain has come a long way in addressing that problem. New bike lockers at 4th and King and increased capacity on the bike cars means fewer cyclists have to wait for a vacant spot.

And a bump-free future looks possible with plans in the works for a new Caltrain bike station at 4th and King that will provide secure parking for 200 bikes. The design phase is expected to be completed in May. The challenge now for Caltrain is to find operating funds for the new station. The SFBC will be working to make sure that funds are secured and that the bike station is up and running as soon as possible.

FERRIES & BIKES Josh Hart takes his bike on the briny during his commute from San Anselmo to San Francisco. He rides the Corte Madera bike trail to Larkspur, then takes the ferry across the bay.

"It's unbeatable, and you never have to wait in traffic," says Hart. "I don't think I'd live in San Anselmo if I didn't have that option."

Hart says that more routes would offer cyclists a faster means of crossing the bay.

"It would be nice to have multiple destinations from Larkspur. Right now they only go to San Francisco, and it would be really nice to go the East Bay."

The Water Transit Authority, working under a state mandate for expanded ferry service, is considering new routes throughout the Bay Area. Heidi Machen, an SFBC member and Public Affairs Officer for the WTA, says her group will keep the bike community in mind as they move forward with their plans.

BIKES ON BUSES Other bike-friendly transit agencies that course through the Bay Area include Golden Gate Transit, AC Transit, and SamTrans, all of which have racks installed on their buses.

Rider Alert by Russell Reagan

At the end of May, Caltrain plans to suspend all weekend service for approximately two years while it adds express tracks and modernizes its signaling system.

Caltrain is building the express tracks to enable its super express service to begin by Fall 2003. These new trains will cut SF-San Jose running times almost in half by passing local trains and making only three intermediate stops. They will carry bikes like the local Caltrains.

Caltrain's Citizens Advisory Committee rejected an alternate plan for construction seven nights a week, as it would have cost more, taken longer, and disrupted evening service, placing hardships on evening commuters and neighbors of the rail line.

Concerned riders convinced Caltrain to provide replacement bus service during the weekend shutdown. As of press time, Caltrain was arranging to have five to six buses operate in place of each scheduled weekend train. However, in order to match train schedules, these buses will be able to make only two stops between SF and San Jose: Hillsdale (in San Mateo) and Palo Alto. Each bus will accommodate four bicycles: two on its front rack, and two inside the bus. This capacity, although significantly less than bike capacity of the trains, reflects Caltrain's positive response to bicyclists' concerns.

If you're heading south during this service shutdown and have time to spare, biking the entire distance is one option. One recommended route includes long stretches of back roads and paved paths roughly parallel to I-280 as far as Menlo Park. Another option: detour via the East Bay and take Amtrak's Capitol train. For updates on the shutdown, see www.caltrain.com, or call (800) 660-4287.

For more transit and bike access information throughout the Bay Area, see www.transitinfo.org.