Category: San Francisco

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.

SFO airport showed me some cool planes

I flew on Virgin American to Portland, Oregon, last year and had to stop in San Francisco on my return journey to Chicago. The layover was over 2 hours long, and I spent that time relaxed in the new Terminal 2. The terminal has great window coverage of the airfield.

I saw for the first time an Airbus A380, the largest of the so-called jumbo jets (is that phrase even used anymore?). It was flown by Lufthansa (see photo).a

I also saw a lot of Boeing 747s from different airlines, including United, OneWorld, Star Alliance, British Airways, and Cathay Pacific. I may have seen a Chinese airline.

I also saw President Barack Obama land in Air Force One. I recognized the plane from far away, as it was coming in for landing, but I wasn’t completely sure until it touched down. My camera was probably hanging around my neck; I was too dumbstruck to do anything about it. After it landed and I was positive that Boeing 747 was flown by the United States Government, I walked around the terminal until I could see it.

The plane had been parked far away from a terminal, near a hanger and two C-17 military cargo planes.

American airports should have viewing platforms. Not just plane spotters like to photograph them. Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS) airport has a viewing platform and there was over 50 people up there, including lots of families.

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!

The Green Lane project is announced in Chicago

I covered this event for a Streetsblog article (which has been delayed). Essentially the Bikes Belong Foundation and its donors are trying to get “better bike lanes” (Euro-style) installed faster across North America. It’s more of a strategic planning thing; the money isn’t going to be used for paying for construction of the bike lanes.

It’s about knowledge sharing and technical assistance and documenting the process. Eventually this knowledge will be shared with all cities in the whole country. But essentially, Austin, Texas, can use this network to be able to get some help from Chicago or San Francisco, without incurring on those cities’ ability to quickly get their own lanes in.

See all photos from the soirée and then the next day’s press conference (Wednesday, May 30, and Thursday, May 31).

I am somewhat impressed that the director of the Federal Highway Administration*, Victor Mendez, pictured above, came from Washington, D.C., to tell us about the federal government’s support for bike lanes. I wish he could have said the same thing about House Republicans’ support. They’re against transit, too. I asked Victor to tell transportation secretary Ray LaHood to read Grid Chicago.

Watch this video by Nick Brazinsky. I believe he was hired by Bikes Belong to shoot it. That he roller skates to take video makes the film a little cooler.

The Green Lane cities are:

  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Austin, Texas
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Portland, Oregon
  • San Francisco, California
  • Memphis, Tennessee (this one’s inclusion is exciting)

* The FHWA administers bike lane funding, as well as funding for roads and highways. They are in charge of the CMAQ, Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality, funding program.

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.