CategorySeattle

What it’s like to Amtrak it with a bike

Update: This post has been widely shared. I suspect other people have blogged about their experiences of taking bikes on Amtrak. Leave a comment with the link, or tweet or email me, and I will include a link to your blog on this page. 

My friend, Will Vanlue, from Portland describes his experience taking a bicycle on Amtrak to Seattle. He bought a bicycle ticket even though he was pretty sure folding bikes could be brought on as carry-on luggage. It was true and the Amtrak staff refunded him.

Like some light rail trains, Amtrak Cascades cars have vertical storage for full-size bicycles. Travis was able to get his Bullitt “Long John” cargo bike on the train with assistance from the staff. 

The Amtrak Cascades train spoils their passengers compared to those on the Hiawatha or Wolverine, offering a power outlet for every seat, and free wifi. I took the train in April 2010 on my trip with Brandon to Portland and Seattle.

This is a good time to bring up, again, that Michigan trains will soon offer “roll on” bicycle service to passengers in 2012.

Bikes and streetcar tracks

UPDATE 12-11-10: Someone recently searched for rubber in tracks and I wanted to provide some additional resources on the topic of protecting people who ride bikes from the dangers of open streetcar tracks. It is possible, in some situations, to fill the track flangeway (where the wheel goes) with rubber that the train depresses as it rolls over but people riding bikes ride over a level surface. Resource one input from people around the world, and two, a column in The Oregonian newspaper of Portland.

UPDATE 12-14-10: BikePortland has a story about an activism and advocacy group (AROW) that will demand better accommodations for bicycling around new streetcar tracks in Portland, Oregon.

UPDATE 08-13-13: Zurich, Switzerland, will be testing a flangeway filler on their tram tracks. I believe this will be the first transit system to test the rubber fill. 

Bicycle riders in Seattle are suing the City of Seattle for not providing enough warnings about streetcar tracks in the South Lake Union neighborhood. They allege the City installed warning signs only after several bike-track crashes.

Photo: A sign on Stewart Street in Seattle, Washington, advises bicycle riders to use EXTREME CAUTION when crossing the streetcar tracks. These signs are coming under question in a lawsuit this week.

Mixing bicycles and transit is one of the most sensible matches of transportation modes. The Federal Transit Administration has been promoting a positive union since at least 1999 (see the booklet they produced). The publication includes case studies and good examples of integration, including a story about how King County Metro (the primary bus operator in Seattle) installed bike racks on its buses in 1993, following the footsteps of Phoenix.

Photo: A resident rides their bike on the street while a Portland Streetcar rolls by.

So how is it now, 17 years later, we’re still deliberating how streetcars, light rails, and bicycles can safely share the road? Why this is a problem:

  • People are getting hurt. Concerns about personal safety demotivate people to ride their bikes.
  • The Federal government is funding many new streetcar projects across the country, including in Tucson, Arizona, two hours south of Phoenix, which has its own light rail system.
  • Bicycle riders have been navigating tram and streetcar tracks in Europe for 100 years. What knowledge can European riders and planners share with us?

Photo: A rubber-filled flangeway in the gap between rail and deck on the Cherry Avenue Bridge in Chicago, Illinois. This bridge serves a 1-car train a few times a week.

Could a rubber-filled flangeway be used on a medium-frequency streetcar line?

Taking the train

A bunch of people asked me how much I paid for my train ticket between Portland and Seattle. I paid $29, one way, 310 miles, for a comfy ride. Every seat pair has a power port, ample leg room, and tons of luggage space. The train left on time. I didn’t pass through security, and I didn’t have to turn off any electronic device.

The last time I took an Amtrak train was in the 1990s, from Minneapolis to Chicago. That was during the time Amtrak and United Airlines had a partnership where you could easily book a trip that involved a plane in one direction and a train in the return direction. Interestingly, I took a coach bus to Minneapolis just last September for a trip to try out their bicycling infrastructure.

The Amtrak Cascades trainsets from Talgo feature remarkable branding and livery. Find more photos.

Seattle trip and new camera

My recent 6 night, 7 day trip to the Pacific Northwest gave me the perfect opportunity to test out my new camera that arrived only days before my departure.

I purchased a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V (Sony should follow a simpler product naming scheme) from RitzCamera.com (which seems to be a different operation than Ritz Camera stores).

I bought the camera for its HD video (1080i60), decent image quality, wide-angle lens, and loads of neat features. I used the camera on every day of my trip and the results please me. The most significant neat feature is a mode called “Handheld Twilight.” The camera takes up to six shots (in one second) at different exposure and ISO settings, and then blends the photos together – and without flash. Because of this feature and the other low-light enhancing features, I don’t think I used the flash more than once or twice on my trip.

This photo of the Space Needle at Seattle Center demonstrates the image quality as a result of Handheld Twilight mode.

This photo shows the lens width. I held the camera at less than arm’s length.

Another mode that helps in low-light situations is Anti-motion Blur. I’m not really sure of the difference between this mode and the Handheld Twilight mode (both take multiple shots in quick succession), but whenever I saw the flashing hand that indicates a probably shaky picture, I switched the camera to Anti-motion Blur. Great photos emerged!

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