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Third Caltrain Bike Parking Plan Postponed

Caltrain has failed for over a decade to install electronic BikeLink lockers, which are standard at BART, VTA, and SMART stations. Photo: SMART

For the past decade Caltrain has promised better bicycle parking at its stations, through plans adopted in 2008 and 2014. But on Tuesday October 5 at 12:20 pm, the agency’s Board of Directors Chair and Redwood City City Council member Jeff Gee abruptly decided to postpone discussion and adoption of a third bicycle parking plan, the 2017 Caltrain Bicycle Parking Management Plan. This plan was written by Caltrain staff from Spring 2016 to Fall 2017 using a $150,000 grant from Caltrans received in 2015. Although unstated in the meeting video, we expect the new bike parking plan to be reviewed at the Board’s November 2 meeting.

“Despite the development of the Bike Parking and Access Plan – Implementation Strategy in 2014, the agency has seen mixed progress in terms of improvements to the bike parking system due to staffing shortages, funding challenges, and management difficulties.”

Translation: We’ve done a poor job providing secure bicycle parking at Caltrain stations.

Caltrain’s research using in-person and online rider surveys conducted in 2016, rather unsuprisingly, “demonstrated that there is a significant market for high quality wayside bike parking within Caltrain’s existing ridership,” and that ” there is a substantial number of current customers who ride a bike to or from a station and would consider using bike parking facilities, if the parking facilities met their needs.”

The agency’s data show that 93 percent of passengers arriving at a Caltrain station with a bicycle bring their bicycle on-board, while only 6 percent park their bicycle at a station. One percent arrive via bike share bicycle. Such a lopsided ratio of on-board to parked bikes confirms that demand for better bike parking at Caltrain stations isn’t being met.

Caltrain found through its surveys that the desired bike parking qualities are: a high level of security, a quick, easy, hassle-free experience, a guaranteed parking spot, availability on-demand without advanced registration, protection from weather, 24/7 availability, and cost-effectiveness.

“Bicycling is a major mode of station access and egress for Caltrain passengers, it is estimated that 17 percent of passenger trips to and from a Caltrain station are made using a bicycle,” states the plan. “93 percent bring their bikes on board the train, six percent park their bikes at the station, and one percent use bikeshare.”

Caltrain provides mostly individually assigned keyed lockers for secure storage, which mostly sits unoccupied. Caltrain’s tiny share of electronic BikeLink lockers is well-used. Image: Caltrain

Caltrain’s plan doesn’t commit the agency to specific bike parking improvements with any budget, but rather only commits to funding “an expansion” of bike parking system-wide.

“It is recommended that Caltrain generally increase the capacity of bike parking along the corridor, focusing on facilities that provide qualities desired by passengers, such as a high level of security, low cost, and on-demand availability.” states the plan. “While additional bike rack capacity is recommended, especially at stations where the bike racks are reaching capacity, the main features of the proposed bike parking expansion focus on e-lockers, unstaffed secure facilities, and, at high-demand stations, staffed secure facilities.”

Just 66 electronic BinkLink lockers are available at Caltrain stations, at only the following ten stations: Millbrae, San Mateo, Hayward Park, Hillsdale, Sunnyvale, Tamien, Capitol, Blossom Hill, Morgan Hill, and Gilroy. None of these  include the top five Caltration stations as measured by bicycle boardings: San Francisco, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Redwood City, and San Jose Diridon.

Old-school keyed lockers make up about half the Caltrain’s fleet of bicycle parking facilities, with 1,089 keyed lockers system-wide according to a 2016 bicycle parking inventory. 642 standard bike racks are available, as are 250 spaces in a staffed secure building (San Francisco), and 186 spaces in an unstaffed secure building (Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View) are available. Keyed locker occupancy rates are about 15 – 20 percent while electronic locker occupancy rates are 50 – 75 percent, depending on the station and time of year.

“Through the organizational changes recommended in this Plan and a modest, ongoing investment of resources, Caltrain has the potential to build and sustain a bike parking system that will better serve its customers and ensure the continued growth of cycling as a primary mode of access to the system.”

Caltrain anticipates spending $150,000 of its own money “to advance preliminary activities toward implementation” of the new bicycle parking plan in Fiscal Year 2018 (July 2018 – June 2019). Agency staff are advising that a part-time Bike Access Manager be hired in that fiscal year.