TagBART

San Francisco is an expensive place to get around

$8.15 if you want to exit the San Francisco airport via public transit.

In June I visited friends in San Francisco and attended the State of the Map US conference. I spent a lot of money on transit and bicycle rentals. This doesn’t exclude the cost of driving to Davis, California.

BART

Airport to 16th/Mission: $8.15
Union City to North Berkeley: $4.10
16th/Mission to Berkeley (roundtrip): $7.60
16th/Mission to airport: $8.15

I needed to travel from Stanford University (where my friend Stefano does research) to Berkeley (to visit Rock The Bike) and the cheapest and soonest way to get there was to take the Dumbarton Express bus across the lower San Francisco Bay to the Union City BART station. 

Dumbarton Express
Bus from Stanford to Union City BART: $2.10

Caltrain
22nd Street to Stanford (Mountain View): $7.00 (Google Maps says it would cost $21.99 to drive this trip)
Stanford (Mountain View) to 4th/King: $7.00

Total for 8 transit trips: $44.10

In Chicago, if I had taken all trips individually (no transfers), my cost would be about $31.75. To compare Caltrain to Metra, I calculated the cost of a trip from downtown Chicago to Geneva, which is $6.75 each way. This includes the $5.00 trip cost to get out of O’Hare airport, significantly less than BART’s $8.15.

I didn’t ride Muni trains (they’re kind of slow compared to bicycling) but I took a lot of photos of them arriving at Duboce Park. 

Bicycling

Bike rental in Davis, California for 3 hours: $10
Bike rental via Spinlister for 4 days: $72

This is the Surly Long Haul Trucker I rented via Spinlister, seen on the BART train in the roomy bike spot. For the most part, the bike can rest here without any securement. 

This is the charge I’m least concerned with, except that Spinlister charges me a 12.5% service fee). I also picked it up in Stanford because that’s where the bike owner lived; it was the best alternative of the available bikes for people my height as it was a bike I liked (Surly Long Haul Trucker) and it was $16 per day, the cheapest by $9 per day!

Part of the OpenStreetMap conference included a trip to the California Academy of Sciences on the Friday before the meetings started. The SCUBA diver on the left is cleaning the glass while the diver on the right is talking to the museum worker outside the pool. 

Not having a bicycle in a place I visit makes me feel naked. Having the bicycle reduced my potential fees on getting around. I had to move from my friend’s house to the OpenStreetMap conference (which would have required two transit trips or a taxi), between the conference and downtown for the World Naked Bike Ride, and between the conference and Sunday Streets in Dog Patch and Mission Bay. I also biked to Golden Gate Park to visit the California Academy of Sciences, pedaled over to see the Aether shop made with three shipping containers, joined SF Bike Party on Friday night, and biked around Berkeley to see Paul Freedman at Rock The Bike.

I left the OpenStreetMap conference during Sunday’s lunch to check out Sunday Streets. Even though I sold my Yuba Mundo for a WorkCycles Fr8, I love seeing families on cargo bikes.

Enter the Houten Fietstransferium, and other bikes and transit commentary

Video by Mark Wagenbuur, aka markenlei on YouTube. See his original blog post about it.

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that “Fietstransferium” means “bike transfer building”. It’s a structure underneath the train tracks at the Houten (in the Netherlands) main railway station (it has a secondary station on the same line a little bit south of the main one). You roll in directly from a car-free street in the center of a town, park your bike, and walk up to the platforms. Also available in the Fietstransferium are bike rentals (likely OV-fiets) and bike repair. It wasn’t open when I visited Houten in January 2011.

From the video (and from other sources) 60% of NS passengers arrive by bike. Good connections between bikes and trains helps maintain that access rate, but probably also helps increase it. Bike connections to major train stations in Chicago is woeful, even at the stations that are new enough to support a good connection. Let’s call Houten’s bike to train connection quality “roll in, walk 100 feet, service”: you roll into the bike parking area, and walk upstairs to your train (there’s even a ticket machine in the bike parking area). This differs from “roll on service” as that means you roll your bike into the train.

One shot from the video was taken from this vantage point, showing the bike parking, the staircase, the platform, and a train. Photo by Vereniging van Nederlandse Gemeenten VNG (Dutch Association of Municipalities). 

Chicago

The LaSalle Street Metra Station got an upgrade in bike connections this year when the “intermodal center” adjacent to it on Congress Parkway and Financial Place was added. It came with bike parking, an elevator, and a staircase with bike ramp. The station has other access points, which are very well hidden. Unguarded.

The LaSalle Street intermodal center. 

Northwestern Station lacks indoor and guarded bike parking, and any that’s available is far away from the tracks. The sheltered bike parking is very undesirable, dark, and dirty; I don’t recommend parking on Washington Street. Nor do I recommend parking on any of the sidewalks surrounding the station block.

Union Station is similar to Northwestern Station: all bike parking is unguarded and far from the tracks. Millennium Station. Same problems.

The nexus of bikes and transit is something I enjoy planning, and talking and writing about. Read my past articles on the subject. I’ve created the biggest and best collection of bikes and transit photos in the eponymous Flickr group. It’s an important part of the Chicago Bike Map app. You can load train stations on the map, search for them, and get information about when and how to board a train or bus with your bike. Coming soon is information on accessible stations (which have wide gate turnstiles making for self-service bike entry) and stations that aren’t accessible but have the same wide gate turnstiles (called TWA, or turnstile wheelchair accessible).

Additionally, none of these stations are accessible by good bike lanes. Only Union Station and Northwestern Station have adjacent bike lanes, and then only ones that are north-south (Clinton and Canal). As the Chicago Department of Transportation noted in its multiple presentations about the upcoming installation of the Union Station bus intermodal station, biking on Canal Street is not good and the bike lane will probably be reconfigured during the Central Loop BRT project. To summarize, the connection quality that Chicago’s downtown train stations provide is “confusing service”: where does one park? will the bike be safe? how does one get to the platform now?

Biking on Canal Street outside Union Station. It has multiple entrances and access routes but which one is best?  Another photo from biking on Canal Street.

Near Northwestern Station, the Washington Street bike lane ends abruptly three blocks away at Desplaines Street. The Madison Street bike lane doesn’t reach Northwestern Station, nor would it be effective with its current design, as it would constantly be occupied by things that aren’t bicycles.

Biking on Washington Street, a very wide fast street, whose bike lane ends very soon (in the middle ground) where then you find yourself competing for space with buses and right-turning cars. As soon as one is “competing” on a street, the street fails to provide good space for either mode. 

Harrison Street just south of the LaSalle Street Station is usually a good street to bike on, but it lacks the kind of bikeway infrastructure that attracts new people to transportation bicycling, and more trips to be made. (I’ve lately been thinking of ways to synthesize the argument about why protected and European-style bikeway infrastructure is necessary, so here goes: Bicycle usage will not increase without them.)

San Francisco

Photo of a man walking with his bicycle in a BART station by San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. 

BART in the San Francisco Bay Area tested in August policy of having no bike blackout periods on Fridays. That meant people could bring their bikes on the trains at all times on Fridays in August, and not just outside rush periods. Showing their high level of attention planning and policy, the agency evaluated the program with a proper survey. There’s a meeting tomorrow with the BART Bicycle Task Force; Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority should have such a group!

Can we standardize rules about bikes on trains?

Every transit agency across the United States has different rules about bikes on trains.

I think every bus operator with front bike racks has the same rule: “all day, every day”. But taking your bike on the train is a different story.

In San Francisco, there’re three operators with three sets of rules:

MUNI, a city agency, doesn’t allow bikes on trains, ever. I almost learned about it the hard way. I was returning from downtown on Market Street to my temporary apartment in the Castro District and I took my bike into the MUNI subway. I entered the station without seeing a sign or a staff member that would indicate I couldn’t do this. While walking along the platform, I saw a rules board and noticed no bikes. The trains were not busy, but they’re also not very big. I can see where some people would say, “Oh, I’m new here and I didn’t know”.

But that’s not me. I went upstairs and rode the bike all the way home.

Update May 26, 2011: Streetsblog SF tells us that MUNI will now allow folding bikes on the light rail trains.

BART, a state-controlled transit agency, allows bikes on their trains most of the time. Just not at certain stations, at certain times, and in certain directions. You either memorize these restrictions or carry a brochure.

And BART trains run on broad gauge track making them wider than all other rail transit vehicles in the country. This makes for a lot of space – dedicated space!

Finally, there’s Caltrain, a commuter/regional rail system operated by a joint committee of three transit operators. They seem the least restrictive: every train has a bike car or two, capable of holding about 40, 48, or 96 bikes. “But by the end of 2011, every gallery train set will have two bike cars, allowing for 80 bicycles minimum.” (See last photo.)

In Chicago, the Metra (like Caltrain) and Chicago Transit Authority (CTA, like BART and MUNI) have their own rules that differ from each other and from above.

It’s quite simple to remember the rules of one transit agency, but to be subject to the rules of two or three makes bicycling with rail transit a bit more complicated. The size and design of train cars has a big influence on rule making, but so does politics – the Active Transportation Alliance, né Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, had to lobby the state and the transit agencies here in Chicago to open up their trains to bicycles, and to further liberalize the rules as the agencies became more comfortable.

National or regional planning efforts could ensure that the designs of future or upgraded transit systems follow guidelines that “standardize” the rules of bringing bikes on board. The first step in this direction could be a dialogue between BART and CTA about carrying bicycles onto escalators:

BART did its own study on the “safety issue” years ago and concluded that escalators and stairs were equally safe for cyclists to use in BART stations. (Via Cyclelicious)

The rule banning bicycles from escalators is expected to be lifted this year. The CTA, and other rail operators, could review BART’s study and come to the same conclusion.

Photo of a loaded Caltrain bike car by Richard Masoner.

A better way for bike storage on trains

UPDATED: How BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit, San Francisco region) treats bikes on board. Simple signage and a bike graphic tell all passengers where bikes belong. Photo by Jim Dyer. More photos.

Look at the photo below and take in all the details about the bicycle’s position and orientation in relation to the vestibule, modesty panel, doors, seating, and aisle. Accommodating bicycles on many of the Chicago Transit Authority’s ‘L’ cars can be a hassle, not only for the bicycle-toting customer, but for the other passengers as well.

This photo shows what I see as the only appropriate location for a bicycle on the Red Line’s 2600-series car.

The passengers may be hit by wheels or handlebars, or have their personal space intruded upon or reduced.

The bicycle owner has the responsibility to ensure they don’t hit or disturb other passengers – to be successful with this on every trip is nearly impossible. Additionally, according to the platform position, the owner will have to move their bicycle to the other side of vestibule to allow access to the doors and aisle. Sometimes other passengers are already standing there, not paying attention, and it can be almost embarrassing to ask them to excuse you and your bicycle.

The 2600-series car in which I rode and took these photographs was built in the 1980s. I think it’s safe to say that the designers and engineers at CTA and Budd Manufacturing didn’t consider the spatial needs of bicycles in the plans. And retrofitting train cars is expensive. Bicycle riders in Chicago “get by” with the current rolling stock. (The train cars with the butterfly doors cannot accommodate wheelchairs or bicycles – there are 2 of these cars on many Blue Line runs.)

But there’s an opportunity to change things because the CTA will be asking Bombardier Transportation for some refinements on the 5000-series cars that the transit agency has been testing on all lines. Now’s our chance to request changes!

If you don’t know of the differences beforehand, you can’t recognize that this is a brand new car with a slightly different exterior design. The interior, however, differs wildly.

The most striking distance is the longitudinal or aisle-facing seats.

The new train car now provides two spaces for passengers in wheelchairs (look in the middle for the wide seat backs facing you). The seats flip up and there’s a seatbelt to hold the wheelchair in place. Photo by Kevin Zolkiewicz.

Based on the design we’ve all seen, I suggest the CTA and Bombardier make the following changes to better hold bicycles on board:

  1. With signage and markings (on the interior walls and floor), indicate that the space for wheelchairs is a shared space and that passengers with bicycles may also use it. The signage would mention that customers with disabilities always have priority as well as mention the times bicycles are allowed on-board. This change would send a stronger message to all other passengers that bicycle owners also have a priority to use this space and they may be asked to move so a bicycle can fit here.
  2. In an educational and marketing campaign, teach customers about bike-on-board rules, where to place bicycles on the ‘L’, and where and when customers can expect passengers with bicycles.
  3. On or near the train door exterior, use markings to indicate where passengers with bicycles should board. The current system has a sign on one entrance saying, “Limit 2 bicycles this car” (see photo below). The other entrance has no sign. The confusion lies here: Should two bicycles occupy the same space, at one end of the car and only enter through the door with the sign? Or should two bicycles occupy opposite ends of the car and enter through either door? If the former is preferred, the second door could have a sign that says one should enter with their bicycle through the other door.
  4. Install a method or mechanism that can hold a bicycle still. This could be with a hook, a seatbelt, or a “groove” in the floor. In Minneapolis, passengers with bicycles can hang them (see photo below).
  5. Install a light at each door in the car that would pulse to indicate which doors will open at the next platform (left or right). This can help passengers with bicycles know where other customers will be alighting and boarding.

I have some other ideas for the 5000-series cars but not related to bicycling.

Photo of exterior bicycle sign. Photo by Payton Chung.

Photo of bicycle hanging from hook within the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Transit Hiawatha light rail train.

Update on BikeLink electronic bike lockers

Two weeks ago I wrote about BikeLink electronic bike locker from eLock Technologies in Improving bike access to airports. I discovered some new information about the lockers about changes being made to a bike parking facility in San Francisco, California. Later, after watching a Streetsfilm video on the novel system, I realized I mistakenly identified the electronic access method.

BikeLink news in San Francisco

In October 2009, the Embarcadero BART station switched from a valet-based bike parking facility to using a BikeLink-controlled cage. The San Francisco Examiner thinks the lack of a hired attendant will deter people from parking here. The reason was cost: The labor needed to staff the cage cost $3.22 per bike while the electronic system costs only $0.42 per bike. Members pay only 3 cents per hour between 8 AM and 8 PM, and only 1 cent per hour at all other times.

The writer found three people to go along with the story and question the converted facility’s safety/security.*

The article doesn’t give up further details, but Alameda Bicycle (a local bike shop) fills in the missing information:

  • New members sign up and pay for an access card from BikeLink online or one of several physical locations.
  • The member opens the cage with their card and finds a place to park inside the cage. This is the sign-in.
  • The member locks their bike (there may not actually be an object to which one can lock their bike) and removes any easily-removed parts (like lights and bags) and exits the cage.
  • The member then exits the cage and inserts their card into the read to perform the sign-out. If 10 minutes has passed and the member has no signed out, an audible alarm will go off, and the cage operator (Alameda Bicycle) will be alerted.

There are some other rules that apply to cage use. You have to also register your bicycle so that the operator knows which bicycle belongs to which member so they can better track misuse of the facility. The operator will conduct random checks to verify this. Because of the way this electronic cage works, members have an incentive to not let non-members into the cage.

*The San Francisco Examiner article went so low as to publish this worthless quote from an individual, “I have plenty of cards already in my wallet,” said E.M., who takes his bike from Richmond to the Embarcadero station daily. “Why do I need another one for parking my bike?” The benefit of having a card to lock your bike is that you can use the same card to securely lock your bike at lockers up and down the state.

Smart card, not magnetic stripe card

I wrote that the “debit card” is a magnetic stripe card (like a credit card or transit fare card), but instead is a smart card, with the member’s data and current balance stored on an integrated circuit chip. Occasionally, some people equate smart cards with proximity, contactless, or RFID cards. It seems more popular though to only identify a smart card as one that has a gold-plated chip visible on the front side. These are more popular in Europe and Asia.

Streetfilms (a sibling of Streetsblog) visited Oakland and El Cerrito, California, in 2007, to show how they work and how they compare to traditional, leased lockers (short story: electronic lockers are on demand and can serve multiple, unique users in a day or week, while the leased locker has one unique user). Watch the video:

Improving bicycling to airports

An airport may seem like the last place to which you would ride your bike. You still want to ride there: It’s an alternative to driving (either by yourself, or getting dropped off), taking a taxi, or riding transit. It’s an ideal destination to which to encourage bicycling: Thousands of passengers move in and out, in addition to thousands more workers – switching just a portion of these trips to bicycling would reduce congestion and damaging demands on the transportation system. I see two major issues that stifle the frequency of biking to the airport: how to get there, and parking.

A photo from Jonathan Maus’ first trip to the airport via bicycle. See links in “Getting There” below.

Many cities have airports far away from population centers. Think Denver, Colorado (a commuter rail will reach DIA soon). Kansai near Kobe, Japan, is on an artificial island two miles from shore. A causeway carrying high-speed trains and a highway gets passengers to KIX.

But what if you live in a city where the airport is in town, accessible by city streets (either minor or arterial), or is even a short train ride away? It seems more plausible to bike there. I’m thinking of airports like Midway in Chicago, Illinois (MDW), or Portland, Oregon (PDX).

Getting There

In Portland, bicyclists can either take the MAX light rail train, or bike all the way (PDF map). At the airport, the path leads right into a bike parking area. Photo of bike parking at PDX and Read Jonathan Maus’ experience.

In Chicago, bicyclists can ride directly to Midway on any street (Archer provides a direct connection, but has high-volume traffic on many segments), and there are many north-south and east-west streets with marked bicycle facilities. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Orange Line terminates at the station. Bicyclists will find sheltered bike parking outside or inside the train station.

Neither situation assuages my concerns about bike parking security.

Parking: Lockers

Cities, transit agencies, and airport operators should work together to provide secure, electronically accessed bicycle lockers either on airport property, at adjacent transit centers, or at key stations on connecting trains. Electronic bike lockers will provide bicyclists with the convenience and security necessary to encourage them to ride. I would ride to the train station nearest my house if I knew I could store my bike in a locker for seven vacation days.

A bike locker at the Victoria International Airport available for cheap use near the departures entrance. Photo by John Luton.

The airport in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada (YYJ), provides bike lockers for $2 a day. It’s not as convenient as one that’s accessed electronically; it requires you visit the security office to get keys. The manufacturer, Cycle Safe, offers an electronic option.

This photo shows the BikeLink electronic card access solution for bicycle lockers. Load a magnetic stripe card with cash and control any locker in the network. Photo by John Luton.

I think BikeLink is a great solution in providing electronic bike locker access. It would work like this: The local airport authority, in collaboration with the city and transit agencies, would install BikeLink lockers at several, various locations at the airport, and transit centers (both bus and train). Users purchase a smart card and load it with cash. It now works like a debit card. Users insert the card into the locker they want to use, open the door, store their bike, and lock the door. Days later, when your vacation is up, re-insert your smart card to unlock the door. The BikeLink network operator debits your card for the amount of time you used the locker.

So far, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and nearby Silicon Valley cities have installed these lockers at many train stations, parking garages, ferry terminals, libraries, and university campuses. Find a map on BikeLink’s website.

BikeLinks works similar to pay-as-you-go cellphones or RFID transit passes (like ORCA in Seattle, Washington, or the Oyster card in London, England). The BikeLink smart card differs in that it uses the traditional magnetic stripe. However, enterprising agencies could build an integrated RFID card (much like the I-Go car sharing program and the Chicago Card that opens car doors and bus doors).

I’ll be waiting for this to happen. In the meantime, on Monday, I’m going to hop on the bus and transfer to the train, a journey that costs a reasonable $2.50 and takes 30 minutes.

© 2017 Steven Can Plan

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