Taglight rail

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.

Heard of the Great American Streetcar Conspiracy?

General Motors and Standard Oil bought up the country’s streetcar systems, replaced the routes with buses, and thus began America’s automobile love affair and distaste for mass transit.

Streetcars are being now being rebuilt all across America, including in Portland, Oregon.

Heard that before?

Before you perpetuate it further, read this essay for some perspective on the story. Apparently, it’s a problem only liberals suffer from.

Even today it resonates with liberals – The Atlantic casually mentions it as the reason America abandoned mass transit, The Nation wrote a whole article about it a few years ago, Fast Food Nation discusses it, and in the last week I’ve seen two references to the theory in the planning blogosphere.

Now, this essay still isn’t the “end all, be all” chronology of transportation evolution history in the United States.

The new(ish) streetcar in Portland, Oregon.

Do you know of a book or article where the writer summarily presents concrete evidence? The essay does cite four academic sources, so it’s the best explanation of the so-called conspiracy I’ve ever read.

I’m bringing this up thanks to Edward Russell, who posted it, and my sister, who mentioned it to me after a friend told her about the story.

A diversity of transportation

Portland is a great city to visit to see a large variety of small-scale transportation, including facilities and accommodations for non-motorized and human-powered transportation, or out of the ordinary modes like an aerial tramway (also called a cable car). The photos are from my trip to the Pacific Northwest in April 2010.

You pay to go up. It’s free to come down.

Portland also has traditional transportation modes like streetcars and light rail.

What to see and ride in Portland (I rode or saw each of these):

  • TriMet MAX (Metropolitan Area Express)
  • Portland Streetcar
  • Portland Aerial Tram
  • Bikeways, including bike lanes, marked shared lanes, bike boulevards (now called neighborhood greenways), and cycletracks
  • Bike parking
  • Lift and moveable bridges – the Steel Bridge carries light rail, railroad, automobiles, pedestrians, and bicyclists; the Hawthorne is the most popular bridge for bicyclists. I made sure to cross over the Broadway, Hawthorne, Steel, and Burnside bridges. I missed crossing on the Morrison bridge. I guess I will have to take another trip!
  • Bus – This is standard fare, nothing unique about it in Portland compared to other cities.

Bicycles make up 21% of all traffic on the Hawthorne Bridge. See the rest of my “Transportation in Portland” photos.

Video: Bicycling next to Phoenix Valley light rail train

UPDATE: View overhead photos of all of the bicycling treatments on Jefferson and Washington streets (the one-way couplet) between 7th and 24th Streets in Phoenix, Arizona, courtesy of the Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists.

My dad and I rode our bikes in the inside left-hand bike lane on eastbound, one-way, Washington Street in Phoenix, Arizona (purely to take this video).

The left-hand travel lane is for home and business access while the one-way light rail track (and its stations) run in the middle of the street. The lane is here so that there aren’t gobs of driveways and track crossings – it’s a safety feature. I think the bike lane is here instead of on the right side of the street (and next to the curb) because less traffic drives here. Also, there are few opportunities for right turns in front of the bicyclists.

Eventually, though, going east, the bike lane moves over to the right side through the use of a “perpendicular bike lane” adjacent to a crosswalk in a signalized intersection. The perpendicular bike lane looks like a bike box. This happens at 24th Street because the left-hand access lane disappears and Jefferson Street merges into Washington Street, between 25th and 27th Streets, which becomes a two-way street with the light rail tracks dividing the travel directions. (I would add links to Google Maps, but the imagery is outdated and doesn’t show the 1-year old train line; it does show some construction.)

I would call all of these features innovative designs and good solutions. I think tomorrow I will ride the area again (probably alone) to get a better feel for how it works and how safe bicyclists would perceive the design.

The video is sped up by 20% to be less droll. The audio drops out a few times because I was talking (giving my dad directions like a movie producer), but you can still hear the electronic sounds of the train as it approaches and departs the station. I didn’t have my camera’s bike mount so I held it in my hand. I want to come back to take photos instead of video. It was fun to make this video!

The airport link

On Friday I wrote about improving bicycle connections to the nation’s airports (daily destinations for thousands of passengers and workers). I’ll continue working towards this goal, but in the meantime I want to point out what I see as more important: Extending trains to the airport.

A revenue train built by Kinki-Sharyo pulls into the airport station. See more opening day photos from Atomic Taco.

The Sound Transit Link light rail opened to the public on yesterday, Saturday, December 19, 2009, taking travelers and passengers from downtown Seattle south to Seattle-Tacoma airport (SEA) in SeaTac, Washington*. The Seattle region now joins the fortunate ranks of North American cities with direct train access to the major airport. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, opened the Canada Line this year, connecting to YVR.

*SeaTac, Washington, is a real city! Visit the Wikipedia article to learn more. The town has only been incorporated since 1990.

Annual trip to Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe

I have lots of family who live in the Phoenix Valley in southern Arizona. I take a trip out there annually to visit, usually around Thanksgiving or Christmas. I’ll be leaving in a week and I haven’t yet planned what I’m going to do. Neither of my siblings will be coming at the same time (odd), so I’m going to have a lot of me time. I know the Phoenix area has had some of the worst foreclosures and job losses in the country, and maybe I can try to find visual, apparent indications of this (not sure how, though).

I’ll have a car, a bike, or a light rail train!

So far, I’m thinking of these things:

  • Photoshoot of the construction of the new Bombardier People Mover at the PHX SkyHarbor airport. When the light rail opened last year in December (see my photos), the connection between the Valley Metro station at Washington and 44th and the northern terminal of the people mover was this disconnected, unadorned viaduct. I hear construction has progressed at a steady rate on the $1 billion, 1 mile system (keep in mind that the entire light rail system of 20 miles cost $1.4 billion to construct).
  • Visit the Phoenix Trolley Museum. I found this just now through someone’s Flickr photostream next to a photo of the people mover construction area. I’ve never heard of the place, and I don’t know anything about it right now, but it has at least one train, so why not go!
  • Visit Tucson! I’ve heard that the University of Arizona, Tucson campus, is very bike friendly (my former coworker, Christy, studied there). The Tucson Bike Lawyer keeps everyone apprised of the local comings and goings. The city is a 2.5 hour drive so I can easily handle it by myself in a day (or perhaps my dad or one of my cousins would come with). I don’t know what there is to do, but I get a lot of joy from walking and taking photos.
  • Lastly, I’m thinking of visiting Los Angeles. I’ve never been to L.A. and I want to go to test ride a bike I’ve recently started researching. I still have a big soft spot for Dutch bicycles, but the Yuba Mundo has caught my eye as a bike that can handle just as much cargo, costs less, and I can customize it with many Dutch bike attributes (like internal gearing, brakes, and dynamo-powered lighting). A Chinatown bus is $60 roundtrip, but the duration is 6 hours. Also, Amtrak no longer serves Phoenix but does stop in “nearby” Maricopa (not the county).

If you live around here and want to show me something neat, I am interested.

Whose light rail train do you prefer?

In just one year, I’ve traveled to the grand opening for the Phoenix Valley’s (Arizona) first light rail line, visited the light rail lines in Salt Lake City, Utah, (opened before the 2002 Winter Olympics), and took the Megabus to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to check out the Hiawatha light rail. My devotion to monorail is unphased, but in the United States we build monorail lines at a rate of one per decade. To get my train fix, I ride light rail trains around the country. Each of the systems I mentioned uses rolling stock from different manufacturers.

Here you get to pick the best looking cars:

Kinki-Sharyo, a manufacturer from Japan. LF LRV (low floor light rail vehicle).

A Valley Metro train waiting at the Roosevelt/Central Avenue station in Phoenix, Arizona, on December 28, 2009, for the grand opening festivities. Kinki-Shary makes many commuter and shinkansen trains for Japan.

Bombardier, a Canadian builder. Flexity Swift car.

The Metro Transit Hiawatha line (route 55) travels northbound along the Hiawatha corridor multi-use path, approaching 24th Street in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Siemens, a German company. SD-100 or SD-160 car.

UTA’s TRAX light rail in the Salt Lake City valley operates trains from the Canadian-originated Urban Transportation Development Corporation (now part of Bombardier) and Siemens SD-100 series trains. The UTDC trains have butterfly doors (like some cars on the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line); an example from TRAX.

New light rails this year

Visiting my family in Mesa, Arizona, over my holiday break last year got me more excited about light rail than I’ve ever been. I hopefully showed this with my photos on my Flickr account. I posted over 300 pictures of the new Valley Metro light rail that serves the west side of Mesa, central and north Tempe, and many regions of Phoenix. It goes through two downtowns: Tempe and Phoenix. The light rail will be good for commuters, but also discretionary travelers; both downtowns are major destinations for the valley. Tempe has a vibrant night life and the state’s largest college campus. Phoenix has tons of large-scale attractions.

I love trains. I’m almost a railfan.

So I present you this list of light rail extensions that will open this year in the United States – just two, but they’re respectively significant for the regions they will serve. There are no new systems opening this year, but there’s at least one for 2010.

  • Seattle SoundTransit Central Link – This new line goes from the Westlake Center (southern terminus for the Seattle Monorail) south to the Seattle-Tacoma airport. This will be an amazing new asset for the region – transit links to airports is always a plus. We’ve benefited from this in Chicago for over 15 years (the Orange line to Midway opened in 1993, after the Blue line to O’Hare). Sadly, after several years of voting rounds and bickering, the monorail was never extended into the transit system; the potential’s still there.
  • Portland MAX Green Line – Scheduled to open in September 2009, the Green line will wrap around the new/reorganized Portland Transit Mall and head south along I-205 to a new transit center at the Clackamas Town Center mall. As part of this construction, the existing bike path following the highway will be redesigned and improved greatly. The TriMet website has more information about the enhancements along I-205.

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