Tagtransit

Wayfinding signs at Van Buren Street Metra station are incomplete

New RTA interagency transfer signage near Van Buren Street Metra Electric station

“B” marks a new bus boarding area near the Van Buren Street Metra Electric station.

The Regional Transportation Authority has spent $2 million to improve wayfinding between CTA, Metra, and Pace train stations and bus stops in a needed effort to connect newbies and long-time residents to their next transfer.

Some of the signs need to show better information, though. The RTA installed signs at the Van Buren Street Metra Electric station at Michigan Avenue that create “bus loading groups,” similar to bus bays at suburban park & rides.

It works like this: you come across the nearest bus stop – I happened upon boarding area B – hoping to find the route you need. Instead, though, that route stops at boarding area A. The sign at boarding area B points you in the direction of A and from where you stand you can see a sign that identifies A.

RTA’s signs have two issues. First, they don’t tell you that boarding area C is across the street – unless you inspect the small map – and instead point you in the direction of A (from B). If you walk in the direction of the arrow from boarding area B you will not run into boarding area C or a sign that tells you where to cross the street in order to access C.

The first issue creates the second problem: by reading and relying upon the sign’s text you can’t know at which boarding area, A or C, you should board a bus route that stops at both boarding areas. (Those who also study the maps on another side of the sign will have better luck.) That’s because the same route operates in both directions and if you’re not familiar with the route, you won’t know which direction takes you towards your destination.

New RTA interagency transfer signage near Van Buren Street Metra Electric station

Both boarding areas A and C will get you on the 3, 4, J14, and 26, but only the map on the other side tells you which direction they go. Also, while the arrow points in the direction of boarding areas A and C, only the map tells you that A is across the street.

The fix seems an easy one. First, point the arrows on A and B across the street instead of north or south towards B or A, and add an intermediary sign along the walking path that communicates that “boarding area C is across the street.” Then, update the signs to indicate which direction the bus routes are going so that travelers are assured they need to visit C across the street for King Drive buses going towards Bronzeville or A for King Drive buses going toward Streeterville.

The RTA has installed other signage in this program at 95th and Western (CTA & Pace), Joliet Union Station (Metra & Pace), and Davis Station in Evanston (CTA, Metra, & Pace).

Tidy bikes on trains: a trip to Den Haag, and Thursday in the Netherlands

Two WorkCycles bikes stand tucked out of anyone’s way in a Nederlands Spoorwegen (NS) train to Zandvoort aan Ze. See all photos from this set, and from Netherlands.

60% of people arrive to train stations on bicycles.
A third of the country commutes by train each weekday.
Passengers, in a departure from American transit policies, must pay a fee to bring a bike aboard trains. (Bikes are not allowed on buses or trams, though.)

In August, my friend Brandon Gobel and I took a trip to Copenhagen for 7 days and Amsterdam for a little less than 3 (when he returned to Chicago I kept going to Munich and Berlin). We arrived in Amsterdam on Wednesday, August 22, by overnight train, walked to the WorkCycles Jordaan shop and picked up our reserved rental bikes. Brandon got an opafiets and I a Fr8 (the same model I bought two days later).

Bicycles are accommodated at every point in a Dutch resident’s journey – and for visitors, too! I don’t know how it would have been possible for us to do so much in the Netherlands without the bicycles.

In Latin: A wise man doesn’t piss against the wind. 

On Thursday we had breakfast at some place with a surly waiter that old pancakes near the Apple Store and this funny slogan written in Latin. We then ambled to Amsterdam Centraal Station to buy tickets for our short train trip to Zandvoort from where we’d then bike to Den Haag (The Hague; I just love pronouncing Den Haag). The station never stops bustling. We walked our bikes to the desk to buy one-way tickets, including all-day bike tickets. I never set a PIN on my credit card so the NS ticket vending machine wouldn’t accept it; I had no idea that you could set a PIN on credit cards, thinking that was something only debit cards had.

The train station at Zandvoort. The train is a DD-AR.

A lot of people were traveling to Zandvoort: it’s a beach resort town less than an hour from Amsterdam and the weather was atypically wonderful, warm and sunny. We rode in the direction of the water until we found the infamous red and white bike wayfinding sign pointing to Den Haag. It hugs the sea for a short distance. Before deviating, though, I wanted to jump into the North Sea.

There are no photos of me swimming in the North Sea, but here’s a photo of my rental bike on the beach. 

We got back on the route to Den Haag. I didn’t bring my GPS logging device so I can’t say for certain where we got off the route, but we kept going south and on the advice I got from a local, “kept the sea to our right”. We eventually drifted inland and started riding through towns and along highways (Americans: in the two-lane, rural sense of the word). There was separated infrastructure for most of the journey. When there wasn’t, the roads and laws were set up to prioritize bicycle traffic.

Welcome to South Holland province. Holland ? Netherlands. Do not call the Netherlands “Holland”. 

At one point in our “off the route” cycling, the off-street path ended. That didn’t seem right. I didn’t notice a sign indicating that we should turn off prior. We backtracked a little an then found a different path (still no directional sign). But we kept moving south. Neither of us had a map, nor data connections on our iPhones. I was confident we wouldn’t need one. I have a pretty good sense of geography, even in a foreign country. This one’s so small and I memorized some of the names on a map before we left.

I will admit that I was getting nervous. I didn’t want to “get lost”, even though I completely disbelieved that “getting lost” in the Netherlands was really possible because of its small size and extremely well-connected towns, trains, and roads.

One of the signs that eventually popped up along the bike path that pointed us towards Den Haag. 

“Huzzah!” A red and white sign saying Den Haag is 17 km thataway! After this sign, every proceeding junction had one pointing to Den Haag. It’s still weird that we got off the route for 30-45 minutes (it seems longer).

The last part of the route before entering Den Haag is along a motorway. This is kind of awkward. Think of biking along any interstate. The only separation between the bike path and the road was a strip of grass and some trees (I didn’t take a picture of it). This is the complete opposite of American motorway design (Americans: motorway is “European” for interstate): here, if there’s no concrete or metal barrier on the outside, then there’s a 50-feet wide cleared right-of-way, often with a ditch.  But we know that while clear areas mean less colliding into stuff, it means faster driving!

Pretty much any city greater than 200,000 people in Europe has trams.

Anyway, back to the bike route. We arrive in Den Haag. We head toward the train station, in the center of town. We’re hungry but there’s nothing around here (which is unexpected, as this is the center of town). But the center of Den Haag is very modern and “business oriented”. Maybe the restaurants are inside the office buildings where the plebeians can’t find them.

Expansive plaza outside the Den Haag train station. View of the opposite direction.

We bike north a little towards what looks like a residential area and find what could be a dive bar. Whatever, as they’ve got cheap beer and food. The menus in Dutch, neither of us read Dutch, and the proprietors don’t speak English, but we recognize the word “hambuger”. That’s what we order. I order mine “deluxe” – I can’t remember how it was described; it came with an egg on top! Hamburgers don’t automatically come with buns, apparently.

We ate weird hamburgers at Café Locus. 

I turn on my iPhone and find that the restaurant has wifi. I’m having a hard time recalling how I asked for the wifi password. A patron (who seems like a regular) knows English and passes this along to the proprietor and tells me the wifi password. After a few attempts it works. I needed it to try and contact someone in Delft whom I wanted to meet but it wasn’t to be. We pay up and depart the restaurant for the Den Haag train station, saying thank you and goodbye to the owner and patrons.

A low volume neighborhood street between Café Locus and the Den Haag train station. 

The bike ticket we bought (€6 each) is good for the day. We return to Amsterdam, tired. It was a smooth, fast train ride  on a VIRM (my favorite).

The return train to Amsterdam (which leaves pretty much every 30 minutes) had seatbelts for bicycles. 

We return to the apartment on Bilderdijkstraat we rented through Airbnb. The lovely bakery across the street, Cake Loves Coffee, is still open so we talk to the owner and sole employee, Nicole. I get a slice of berry sponge mascarpone (photo). We can’t subsist on sweets and fill up on fast food pizza restaurant across the street while we gulp beers sitting outside on the sidewalk in front of the apartment, watching nearly a hundred people bike south after work.

Beers in public. Yes, it’s allowed. Yes, it’s a very civil and normal thing to do. No, it doesn’t lead to the downfall of society. 

View Street View of apartment/bakery neighborhood larger. This image was taken over 3 years ago and the street has been redesigned. Instead of having door zone bike lanes, there’s now a proper cycle track. The bakery wasn’t built yet.

It eventually comes time to head out and visit the Red Light District. What a fun place to visit. If you don’t like seeing real live topless women, or stag parties (Americans: stag is British for bachelor), you should probably avoid it. On our way back to the apartment we stop at a nice bar down the street (between it and Vondelpark). I had noticed it the previous day and finding it reminded me of something peculiar: I never created a turn-by-turn route for any journey we took but I was able to get Brandon and I to any destination in Amsterdam, and “home”, without too many deviations (one of my goals is to never backtrack). I think half the money we spent that wasn’t on trains was spent on booze.

Hash Marijuana and Hemp museum in the Red Light District. 

A group of guys carry the bachelor in the Red Light District. Prostitution is legal in this area of the city. It’s impossible to photograph Amsterdam without a bike in the shot. 

Notable about Chicago transit: Bikes

I forgot where I heard this, but it’s from a guy named Adam (he might be from Ireland*):

Biking in Chicago is great… because you can give up and at any time… and put your bike on a bus.

He’s right – every single one of the Chicago Transit Authority’s 2,000+ buses have bike racks to hold two bicycles.

Photo by jochemberends. Visit the Bikes and Transit group on Flickr for more photos like this.

*My notes are vague.

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 on trains, Bremen, Germany edition

As part of my “continuing coverage” of how bikes are welcomed (or not) on transit, I’m pointing out how bikes are accommodated on trains in Germany.

My friend and I rode our bikes from central Bremen (the name of the city and its state) to the Valentin submarine pens in the north part of the state (the smallest state in Germany), a 22 miles journey. View an approximation of our route through a rural part of North Germany. The map shows a ferry from the west side of Weser River to the east, which we took. I think it cost 1€ per person, one way.

On our way back we took two trains:

  • A shuttle train, essentially, from Bremen-Farge to Bremen-Vegesack. Operated by NordWestBahn. 18 minutes trip.
  • A Regionalbahn train from Bremen-Vegesack to Bremen Hauptbahnhof (central station). Operated by DB Regio. 23 minutes trip. This trip required an extra ticket, just for the bicycle.

Both trains have designated spaces for bicycles as well as “seat belts” with hooks on the end for wrapping around your bike and then to a pole or to the belt itself.

Our bikes on the first train to Bremen-Vegesack.

Our bikes on the second train to central Bremen.

The train station at our final destination, Bremen Hauptbahnhof (central station).

Find more related photos:

Bikes on Seoul subway

Brandon found this photo on an irritating website called ffffound. Why irritating? Because there’s no respect for attribution and authorship. I have no idea who took this awesome photo.After a little investigation on Twitter, I determined that the language is Korean. Then I searched for “bikes seoul subway” and found that the Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit company was testing bikes on trains in 2009. I couldn’t find any more recent information, nor information in English about bringing a bike on the train on the MTR website.

Anyway, if you ignore all that you’ll agree that what you see in the photo is pretty cool. I’ve been writing about how Americans put their bikes on trains for quite some time now, and I love seeing how other transit systems accommodate passengers and their bicycles.

More good transit news:

Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak will begin roll-on bike service on three of their Amtrak lines, the Wolverine, Blue Water, and Pere Marquette in spring 2012. That means I can take my bike with me next year to the 2012 Movement Festival (or Detroit Electronic Music Festival).

Same bad news as last year:

The South Shore Line to Indiana still doesn’t allow non-folding or non-boxed bikes aboard. So you can’t bring a regular bike on the train to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

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.

Is this the sign of things to come for the CTA?

The Mayor of Chicago has considerable influence over the Chicago Transit Authority. Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel let Chicagoans know on Tuesday, April 19, 2011, partially how he intends to wield that influence. This post is a look into the recent announcements regarding transit in Chicago.

1. Forrest Claypool “appointed” as CTA president*

During the press conference, Rahm had some choice words and expended a little of his still-growing political capital:

He shares my belief that (the CTA) is our most critical piece of infrastructure. Forrest has the experience to capitalize on the CTA’s strengths and the creative mind to guide its future.

He didn’t mention our roads, highways, or airports. While Mayor Daley may have shirked finding the best funding solutions for the Chicago Transit Authority, saying it’s the state legislature’s responsibility, Rahm and his choice for president staking a bigger role in leading the CTA. Chicago Tribune, April 19, 2011

2. Gabe Klein at CDOT

The Chicago Department of Transportation supports the CTA in many respects. It owns the downtown subways and subway stations. It can renovate or build stations for the CTA. For example, CDOT is currently renovating the Grand/State Red Line station and building the completely new Morgan/Lake Green/Pink Line station. Gabe is a very transit-friendly DOT commissioner. In Washington, D.C., he helped launch a streetcar project to supplement the city’s bus and subway networks.

Robert Thomson, or “Dr. Gridlock” from the Washington Post, defended Klein from a letter writer with a windshield perspective on traveling within the city:

Klein was trying to restore an old balance that would allow everyone to move around more easily. “People think about having to move X number of cars,” he said. “We’ve tried to think about how we’re moving people. . . . We want to provide people with attractive choices.” Washington Post, December 11, 2010 (just days after Gabe announced his resignation)

3. Ray LaHood and the Red Line Extension

Rahm says he’s gung ho about extending the Red Line from 95th to 130th, a project that will cost over $1.2 billion. The plans are waiting for funding. On his campaign website, Rahm expressed his interest in the project: “Rahm will make it a major priority of his administration” and mentioning how he would leverage every available funding opportunity to get it built.

During his visit on Thursday to Chicago, reporters asked U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood about funding this project. As I expected, he offered no clear answer:

LaHood made no commitment to fulfill Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel’s stated plan to line up federal funding in his first year in office to extend the south branch of the CTA Red Line from its current terminus at 95th Street another 5.5 miles to 130th Street. [LaHood said he] would invite incoming CTA President Forrest Claypool and Gabe Klein, whom Emanuel selected to head the Chicago Department of Transportation, to Washington to lay out their project priorities and present cost estimates for the work. Chicago Tribune, April 21, 2011

Currently, the CTA has not applied for funding for this project so Ray couldn’t provide any different answer.

See all of my 500+ Chicago Transit Authority photos.

*It should be noted that the Transit Act requires the board to choose the president, not the Mayor of Chicago. From (70 ILCS 3605/27) (from Ch. 111 2/3, par. 327): “The Board may appoint an Executive Director [president] who shall be a person of recognized ability and experience in the operation of transportation systems to hold office during the pleasure of the Board. The Executive Director shall have management of the properties and business of the Authority and the employees thereof, subject to the general control of the Board…”

TransportationCamp West

TransportationCamp West was an unconference that took place on March 19th and 20th in San Francisco at Public Works SF and other locations (restaurants, the street, online).

I only went on Saturday and attended four topic sessions (view the full schedule with 28 topic sessions). These are the writeups of my notes and links to others’ writeups.

My writeups

Others’ writeups

Where I went in 2009 through 2011

I think my trip to San Francisco this past weekend for visiting friends and Transportation Camp West winds up over a year of domestic and international travel. This post links you to all the recap entries and Flickr photo galleries for the awesome cities I traveled to, rode the train in, and biked through.

2009

September

December

Approximate 2009 travel distance: 3,792 miles*

2010

April

August

September

November

December

Approximate 2010 travel distance: 17,515 miles (does not include intercity train trips)*

2011

January

March

May

August

September

Approximate 2011 travel distance: 8,271 miles (does not include intercity train trips and one car trip)*

*Travel distances exclude biking, walking, and trips on transit.

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