09 March 2019

1 Bike Less = 1 Car Less

A packed bike car
(photo: Steve Wilhelm)
Bikes Onboard, an advocacy group for Caltrain's globally-unique system of carrying thousands of bicycles on board crowded rush hour trains, is lobbying for more bicycle storage space on Caltrain's new EMUs. The argument goes that creating more space for bikes encourages people to leave their car at home, resulting in a fast, convenient, low-carbon commute. They even have a tidy equation for it:
1 bike less = 1 car more
There's a slight problem with this equation. Storage for one bike takes up about the same space as one seat, so each biker occupies two spaces on board the train. Everything works out when there is spare capacity, but when a train gets full, the equation starts to break down.

The bikers argue that no regular passenger ever gets "bumped" off the train the way bikers do when the bike car is full, so the worst outcome of bringing a bike on a crowded rush hour train is that somebody else will need to stand rather than sit. How bad can that be?

Standing is uncomfortable, which invites the invisible hand of supply and demand. When the train ride at rush hour becomes uncomfortably crowded, passengers will sometimes stop riding. The level of peak crowding is self-regulating; there is an equilibrium level of unpleasantness where each new rider is balanced by another fed-up rider who quits due to crowding. This invisible hand works without a single passenger ever being "bumped" at boarding; the "bumping" in this case is happening at home when a person is deciding whether or not to ride the train that day. Unlike bicycle "bumps," you can't measure how much crowding discourages riders, and you can't count the number of people who won't ride out of concern for not being able to sit. That doesn't mean it's not happening.

In this case, a biker who no longer takes the train (and drives instead, let's say) will free up two spaces on the train (for former drivers, let's say). The correct equation for standing-room-only conditions is then:
1 bike less = 1 car less
This is why Caltrain should limit how much bike space is available on board the trains during rush hours. Any additional train cars ordered to increase the passenger carrying capacity of the new EMU fleet should be packed with seats and not a single additional bike space beyond the ones already provided. Peak hour bike commutes should be encouraged by improving station bike parking facilities, as is done in other countries where bike mode share is far higher than the Bay Area.


  1. That corrected "1 bike less = 1 car less" equation should more correctly be "1 bike space less = 1 car less" ... and only applies during SRO conditions typically seen during the peak of the peak, and not just if a BOB rider doesn't show up, but only if an onboard bike space is replaced with an occupied seat. At all other times, 1 bike less merely equals 1 less paying rider.

    1. Disagree. 1 bike less means the bike space is available for standees, so at a constant level of discomfort (standees per square meter) you can carry more people. There is no requirement for the bike space to be replaced by an actual seat for this relationship to hold true.

      During non-SRO conditions I agree that bike spaces help ridership. Coming up with a compromise to handle both SRO and non-SRO conditions is a delicate balance, but I am fairly certain that the solution does not involve adding more bike spaces to the trains!

    2. Yes, on Bombardier and future KISS EMUs, unused bike spaces can accommodate standees. However, on gallery cars, they're only standable for shorter children and very short adults. On certain special event trains (e.g. SF Pride), I've seen where groups of young people are happy to sit on the floor in front of empty bike racks.

      So the ideal solution so as not to reduce bike space on non-peak/non-SRO trains would be to have bike space be flexible ... either usable for standees with suitable grab bars/straps, with bungee-equipped racks to continue offering substantial shoulder/off-peak bike storage space at other times with the same train sets.

  2. There is a lot of wrong information here, it is hard to know where to begin.

    There is nothing "globally unique" about permitting rush-hour bike access to trains. It isn't even Bay-Area unique as BART has been doing it for years, not to mention ACE and Capitol Corridor. Internationally (unless something changed recently) there is Copenhagen and Berlin. Copenhagen S-train has a ratio of 60:264 fold-up seat (bike-space) to regular seat -- much more than anything being asked for with Caltrain.

    The idea that bikes "take away" space from regular passengers only makes sense in a zero-sum game where the service is completely constrained; i.e. by platform length. But that isn't the case at all -- Caltrain has stupidly short platforms and runs a minimal schedule. Moreover the service isn't even that crowded, as the last ridership reports shows just a handful of trains running more than >20% standees (your typical BART, MUNI, NYC subway rider would find this complaining very amusing).

    Secure bike parking is definitely part of solution, but has not received any funding from Caltrain. And ideally it requires an actual building, which most stations lack (and leasing an off-site retail store is expensive).

    1. The sheer quantity of bike space provided at peak hours is indeed globally unique. The vast majority of operators worldwide impose time-of-day restrictions on bicycles, and warn cyclists that boarding is not guaranteed if the train is packed. BART included. Copenhagen S-train included. Bicycles are typically carried in flex spaces that are not exclusively dedicated to bikes as on Caltrain; the reason for all those tip-up seats isn't to make room for bikes, but to make room for standees, strollers, luggage, and everything else besides also bikes. The S-Tog website warns that "It is always the train staff who, with regard to the other travelers and the safety of the train, decide whether there is room on the train for your bike. You can therefore not always be sure to bring your bike on the train."

      I would be curious to hear why you think the scarce resource of on-board space does not lead to a zero-sum game. I see it playing out every day on Caltrain.

    2. Caltrain also warns cyclists that boarding is not guaranteed, so I don't know what point you are trying to make. And as I understand it, the purpose for having racks on Caltrain was due to strict FRA requirement; otherwise I think everyone agrees that flex-space is a better solution.

      > why you think the scarce resource of on-board space does not lead to a zero-sum game.

      Because on-board space is not a scare resource. It is relatively inexpensive to lengthen platforms and buy more railcars. Instead, money is being spent on things like underground parking garages.

    3. Adirondacker12800010 March, 2019 16:55

      Bikes are quite durable, they stand up to the sun or rain quite well. Snow and ice too. They don't need a building for short term storage.

    4. @Drunk: the point I am trying to make is that adding even more dedicated bicycle space on board the trains is misallocation of a scarce resource. It will still be scarce even if platforms and trains are extended.

      @Adirondacker: The average bike on Caltrain is probably worth $1500 and is a ripe target for theft if simply locked unattended. Station bike storage, if it is to succeed, requires an attendant (or at least good camera surveillance) and a roof. The sort of basic infrastructure that we often provide for free and without question for horseless carriages.

    5. Adirondacker12800010 March, 2019 17:47

      People who think $1,500 dollar bikes are an appropiate solution for commuting can pay ten bucks a day for the private operator to attend to their bike.

    6. Don't knock $1500 bikes when turning a blind eye to $40K daily commuter cars. I call double standard.

    7. Adirondacker12800010 March, 2019 18:37

      Doesn't even occur to them to park it on the train either. Really odd how all the other people on the train, that didn't drag a bike along with them, manage to cope without one.

    8. $1500.00 plus usually implies carbon fiber which is easier to negotiate bus and rail loading. Old folk like me need all the help we can get. $1500.00 also implies bike doubles as a primary source of transportation and major source of exercise. More exercise ==> more train space.

    9. "Doesn't even occur to them to park it on the train either" - I don't even know what to make of that nonsensical comment, so that gets a bye.

      But set aside the $1500 figure ... what bike price is appropriate for you - $800? $400? $300? You certainly can't get a reliable commuter bike for less than that; and regardless, a bike rider is presumably paying what they can afford, and hence they DON'T WANT and CAN'T AFFORD to get it stolen. Why is it such a ludicrous notion that Caltrain should throw up a few bike cages at busy stations, to encourage ridership (and make room on trains)?

  3. Interesting…. I seem to recall Clem suggesting that standing is ok and capacity is not measured by seats. In his defense, Clem does suggest that Caltrain acquire 8-car EMUs ASAP.

    Clem is also advocating high 50” platforms for HSR and Caltrain, meaning the dual level doors to also accommodate 25” platforms, therefore taking up seats.

  4. A question in a different direction: how much does it cost to take a bicycle on board? Should be at least the same as for the passenger…

    Also, in most places where bicycles are allowed on board, they are stored in a "general purpose" area, where they have to share the space with big baggage, strollers, wheelchairs and so on. Usually that space has fold-down seats.

    Another thing I notice from the picture: they let the bicycles stand on their wheels. In most places, bicycles are hanged on a hook, and with that, they actually do occupy less space.

    One more point: bicyclists take a long time to get on and off the train. This will over-proportionally extend the station dwelling times. This will be unacceptable with a higher-density operation.

    1. Interestingly your last two points interact; because the bikes wind up getting "double-parked", it can take longer for a cyclist to free their bike and get off than if all the bikes hung vertically.

    2. People do things like tag their bikes with the stops they embark & disembark to avoid this. That is, bikes going further are placed inside so the bikes at closer stops are outside and can be easily removed.

    3. @Unknown, no, bikes get quadruple (and sometimes even quintuple) parked. As @J Wong notes, the BOB protocol is for bikes to carry destination tags. While newbies and/or the clueless sometimes screw this up, BOB riders quickly learn to check destination tags so as to stack their bike atop other bikes that are either going further or to the same station. If none of the up to 10 racks in a bike car offer this possibility, then they will find a rack whose bikes require the least amount of bike "shuffling" to make it possible.

      Yes, there is a capacity vs. convenience trade-off, which, owing to the extremely distressing and unpleasant randomly unpredictable experience of being bumped (denied boarding), the BOB "community" has opted for maximizing capacity by continuing to almost-unanimously support continuing to stack bikes (last on, first off) vs. random-access arrangements (hooks, diagonal individual racks, etc.) — none of which are as capacity-maximizing/space-efficient.

    4. Yes of course, I know, I ride Caltain, that's the ideal protocol. But all it takes is one or two people putting their bike in the wrong place to muck up the entire system. And I certainly don't know of *any* other transit system that requires bikes to be labeled with destination!

  5. Like with luggage, prams or wheelchairs, there is no charge for taking bicycles aboard. Apart from being against the law, charging for bikes would be logistically difficult to implement and enforce.

    Caltrain's stacking bike racks are, in fact, more space-efficient than any other design (including hooks) examined, proposed or imagined. On the gallery cars, there is an exact one-to-one correspondence between bike spaces and seats removed. Each stacking rack with a nominal 4-bike capacity (5 thin bikes fit) occupies a space created by the removal of 4 seats.

    1. One option - and this might be up to the bike community - increase the stacking from 4 bikes on each side to 5 bikes on one side and 4 on the other side. This would move capacity of each bike car from 32 to 36 bikes, and might not cost much except for some signage.

    2. If everybody rode slim road/racing bikes with narrow bars, that could work. But they don't, and so would be a recipe for more chaos since there are lots of thicker/wider bikes in use. Allowing more bikes per rack will further constrict the already-crowded/chaotic aisle with more riders per stop, and leave less room for bike re-arranging/shuffling, etc. when the racks are full (or nearly so)

      And people already do occasionally quietly put 5 bikes on a rack. It works OK if they're thin, and conductors often don't either notice (or complain) as long as they don't encroach on the aisle.

      The gallery cars have five 4-bike racks per side ... so 40 bikes spaces would become 45, a 12.5% increase.

  6. This analysis only considers the space onboard. If you widen the scope the value of bikes on board is better appreciated. Almost every Caltrain rider consumes a subsidized resource for their last mile to/from station transportation. Motorists consume ~300 sq.ft. of valuable station adjacent parking. Transit riders consume access to other subsidized transit vehicles (VTA's farebox recovery is particularly low). Maybe the only riders who's last mile is not subsidized are those who walk to the station. Though BOB riders clearly consume valuable on-board space, their last mile subsidy isn't as great as the motorists consuming 'free' parking.

    Then consider Caltrain riders who have asymmetrical daily travel patterns: People who ride Caltrain one way and bike the other direction. People who disembark at a different station on the return journey to pick up groceries or do other errands. Bike lockers won't support those travel patterns. Bikeshare and scooter share can help but they're limited to just a few miles for practical purposes.

  7. Those who afford to ride $1500 bike, they can buy two $750 bike for both home-station and station-workplace. World standard is park bicycle at train station and then ride train.
    What is the finance of Caltrain if they don't offer bike during peak period? 6-car trainset can operate 5-car with same seating capacity. Caltrain can make more trainset with same number of rolling stock or reduce rolling stock. This will reduce maintenance cost. Conductor can spend more time on safety operation and/or fare enforcement.
    Caltrain management need to calculate those cost vs cost of building bike parking at train station.

    1. A bike at each end requires a symmetrical commute (see my comment above).

    2. And if I can't afford a $1500 bike, and am instead riding my $350 REI special? And I'm supposed to lock that up at a 2nd or 3rd tier station like San Antonio and hope that it's there in the morning?

  8. Your facile rewrite of the equation disregards that bike commuters likely travel further from the Caltrain station, and thus are more likely to drive as an alternative, than a non-bike rider. While the anecdotal is not evidentiary, for example my neighbor in the Inner Richmond bikes to 4th & King, and then rides Caltrain to Palo Alto. I can assure you that if he had to instead take Muni to 4th & King (because he couldn't bring his bike with him) then he would instead chose to drive down 280... whereas some millennial living in Mission Beach who walks to Caltrain is *not* likely to resort to a car if they are "bumped" (indeed, they probably do not even own a car).

  9. Rather than keep talking about biking plans like they have for last 10 years, we should've by now deployed electronic bike lockers at all stations. And talking as to how many more we should buy to meet the demand. You can find Caltrain talking about them as far as 2008 and 11 years later, we're still talking about that. We don't need a study to know they are better and more flexible than keyed lockers.

    While it's too late, during the yearly passenger counts, it would help if Caltrain would note the cross streets of each biker's origin and destination. Such data can be used by cities when deploying bike share and other infrastructure.

    Neither of these is particularly hard, but instead we're still discussing number of bikes on trains, bike lockers etc...

    Sorry for rant.

    1. "Rather than keep talking about biking plans like they have for last 10 years"

      Ten years! A mere TEN years! Hah.

      You know since when they've been claiming they'll "look into" putting in lockers near 22nd Street station?

      Since 1993.

      Death is too kind a fate for anybody in any way associated with Caltrain.

      Hey, time for some more studies! And a Business Plan! And State of Good Repair funding! And a Rider Survey! And a Market Demand Study!

      And never forget, they're AT CAPACITY running all of five trains per direction hour at "peak" -- and one train every hour and a half off-peak. More studies! More cash! More!

  10. Some questions:

    1. How will all of this be affected by the increasing use of battery enhanced bicycles? Those are typical quite a bit heavier, and often a bit larger, than a typical non-electric bicycle.

    2. Is the one-bicycle == one standing person equation really accurate? My eye suggests that a single bicycle occupies more floor space than one standing person. Perhaps the equation is based on multiple, well nested bicycles.

    3. Is it Caltrain practice to remove or retain a bicycle at an interim stop if there are foot passengers who are unable to board? (Removing an already on-board bicycle would certainly do a lot of harm to dwell times.)

    4. I've had clothing damaged by the oil from a bicycle chain. How often does that sort of thing happen?

    1. 1. Heavier bikes = harder to lift; space, not weight, is what matters. Powered bikes are not permitted.
      2. The equation is 1 bike space = 1 removed seat
      3. No! (What a nutty idea.)
      4. While possible this is a non-issue. And who knows or cares?

    2. Following up:

      1. On the battery powered bike thing: The arguments that support the taking of human-powered bicycles on the trains apply equally well to battery powered bikes. So, apart from their higher weight, which only matters if they are lifted by third parties, why should they be discriminated against? It seems as if the distinction could be construed as arbitrary and capricious.

      2. Thanks for the clarification on the 1 bike == 1 removed seat. That, however, tends to confuse the mathematics of how many passengers, whether standing or sitting, are displaced by one bicycle.

      3. I've had some pants ruined by oil from a chain on a bike. So to me, at least, it is hardly a non-issue.

    3. 1. Oops. Either the policy changed or I was mistaken. Fuel-powered bikes are not permitted.
      2. Yup.
      3. Bummer. Your own dirty chain? A properly-maintained chain is not greasy. While it undoubtedly could happen, it's really not hard to keep your clothes away from the bike chains of others. Indeed, it's just not a problem I've ever seen in my decades of riding and monitoring rider correspondence/complaints. "Bicycles must be kept clean and free of excessive dirt and grease." and "Cyclists are legally responsible for any damage to the train's equipment and/or for any injury to other passengers or train personnel as a result of the cyclist's negligence. Caltrain is not responsible for any theft or damage to bicycles while on the train."

  11. So the Dutch, who everyone points to as really having this bike thing down, are 100% wrong on the issue of bikes on trains?


    1. No, I think they would agree with him:

      "You are allowed take your bicycle on Dutch national trains outside rush hour. The prohibited times are between 6.30 and 9 a.m. and between 4.30 and 6 p.m. on workdays. This restriction does not apply in the weekend, on national holidays or in July and August."

  12. OT: Paging Balfour Beatty:

    "The double cantilever illustrates the important principle of Mechanically Independent Registration (MIR). This means that each wire run has a support and registration which is independent of any other."

    http://www.ocs4rail.com/download/178/ Section 10.11.2 on page 136

    1. On topic: paging Roland Lebrun of San Jose! Context-free word salad! Malformed link! Random reference to an unknowable something deep within a lengthy 100%-guaranteed-to-be-English (little-Englandish!) document/video of unknown provenance and of unknowablable relevance to an unknown subject!

    2. @Roland has been without success trying to raise alarms with the Caltrain staff and board about contact wires for two tracks being supported by a single pole, particularly when they are connected by the same cantilever arm spanning two tracks from the side. He is warning that such configurations will have pantographs from trains on one track set up oscillations in the contact wire of the adjacent track, and thereby create risk of catastrophic dewirements, etc., particularly with trains moving at the higher 110 mph speeds envisioned for future blended operations with HSR.

    3. Germany/DB does not see any problems with that configuration (at least not for 160 km/h operation). Maybe that guy is still in the trolley wire nostalgia, where oscillations can indeed lead to "dewirements". Looks like a real non-issue to me.

  13. https://youtu.be/XN76VHKkur0?t=149

    1. The sweet smell of deja vu (can you spell CBOSS?) http://www.caltrain.com/Assets/__Agendas+and+Minutes/JPB/2019/2019-04-04+JPB+Board+packet.pdf Item #9

      What's next?
      Change orders?
      Balfour Beatty walk off the job just like they did in the UK?
      Revenue service rescheduled to the late twenties (or early thirties)?

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Roland,

      Do you even know what a Construction Manager does?

      Here, they're switching from using an on-call CM to a project-specific CM. Likely so that they don't burn through their contract capacity for the on-call contract, and can use the on-call capacity for other smaller projects in the future. Why is this a bad thing, and what does it have to do with any of your end-of-days scenarios you list?

      And of course there will be change orders, there always are, no matter the project. Fun fact, change orders are issued for any change to a construction project that changes the scope of what is to be built.

  14. Clem is the below too far fetched? (It assumes an eventual SF tube).

    Given HSR's financing, route, political issues and its constant piecemeal evolution, in order to ensure HSR's success it is critical to reemphasize a commitment to a world class system in terms of speed and functionality, and not be tempted into a system of mediocracy. And given the future's small incremental "burst" of financing available, CAHSR needs to focus on adding small segments which in-turn continue to add ridership and revenue and, again, not surrender the greater aspiration of a top notch system. As CAHSR has noted, lightening the financial burden through leveraging other intercity rail development is a preferred aspect to realizing these goals.

    This said, I think a Collapsed Triangle Approach is the way to proceed.

    Below are the benefits of a Collapsed Triangle Approach(vertices at Modesto, Stockton and Ulmar) for HSR development:

    It would create a faster route from LA to SF.

    It could save at least 5-8 billion dollars.

    It lends itself to more attainable segments with 2-3 billion dollar "burst" of spending. For
    these segments there would always be easier funding mechanisms in hand, and consequently,
    greater ridership gains and revenue would be generated, something that would be consistently

    System would be a greater revenue generator earlier on.

    It would add a major station to the network at Oakland (430,000 pop) and a flexible transfer
    station at Ulmar.

    It would virtually be adding a station in Fremont (250,000 pop) by building a strong ACE
    connection to San Jose.

    It would offer two options for Penisula/San Jose riders. They could either continue on HSR
    through San Francisco to their Peninsula stop or they could transfer at Ulmar and continue on an
    improved ACE into San Jose.

    An Ulmar station would give Sacramento HSR riders a place to transfer for a San Jose trip on a
    new and improved ACE line, and it would give Modesto and points south of Modesto riders a place
    to also transfer to San Jose instead of heading on to Oakland-SF.

    It would give nearby ACE boarders a place to transfer to the HSR system; similar to what will
    be occurring in the Hanford area and its' perpendicular regional line.

    It would also build up parts of ACE and Capitol Corridor while concurrently building HSR.


    1) Finish to Merced as planned (though I prefer not to make a permanent HSR station here - slowing down to run for a small ridership gain is not optimal).

    2) Next: fund to a Modesto vertex.

    3) Next: fund from Modesto to an Ulmar vertex.

    4) Next: fund 2nd part of Y segment from Modesto to a Stockton vertex

    5) Next: fund down from Stockton to Ulmar vertex (Should have completed a warped triangle at this
    point; vertices at Modesto, Stockton and Ulmar)

    From here there are 3 different "affordable" 2-3 billion dollar expenditure ways to proceed:

    a) Fund a Lodi or Elk Grove segment (temp station)
    b) Fund a segment to Dublin-Castro Valley (temp station) or
    c) Fund a segment from Bakersfield to Tehachapi (temp station; good for political and support

    Follow this logic until system is complete. Phase I and II order need not hold true to form.

    1. I suppose I should replace Ulmar with Tracy.

    2. I see why you chose the route you did. Getting across from Livermore to Dublin is a real bitch; not a lot of real estate to work with. I guess there are no real easy options to include Oakland with a station. This also explains why you do not include the use of a beefed up ACE line.

    3. Maybe an improved ACE to Pleasanton then tunnel 13 miles to Hayward?

    4. Also got some Prop 1a issues (we need a re-vote on this).
      May have to also foot the bill for the SETEC route (some variation of). LA-SJ has a 130 mins requirement and also needs availability of a 1 seat ride. Would need two separate runs: LA-SF and LA-SJ.

      Prop 1A
      (1) San Francisco-Los Angeles Union Station: two hours, 40 minutes
      (4) San Jose-Los Angeles: two hours, 10 minutes.

      (f) For each corridor described in subdivision (b), passengers shall have the capability of traveling from any station on that corridor to any other station on that corridor without being required to change trains.

    5. SETEC route will cost at least 10 billion; not much less than Pacheco. Stick with the game plan of 2-3 billion increments until we win the lotto. Meanwhile ridership will increase phenomenally.

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. The missing piece (open in cognito)


    ie, replace Dublin-Peasanton BART track with ACE track.

  17. Interesting thing is that Caltrans gave BART enough space for three tracks in the median of 580. There are center pocket tracks existing just east of the Castro Valley station and in about half-way between CV and East Dublin. The median space remains the same width for most of the distance. Could BART maintain a 12-minute headway with a single line with two long sections of passing track? (The answer is sure could) Taking the other track for standard gauge rail would probably require a bit of re-design at the stations, and probably new or fortified bridge structures and some excavation to lower the track to pass under the existing overpasses, but there is space there to have BART plus standard gauge.

    1. Alternatively, just take the SP Niles branch and upgrade it then connect it to Valley Link at Dublin. This dovetails into a full 680 rail project using the existing Iron Horse Regional Trail, which would terminate in Martinez. This works well with rebuilding the SN ROW into a freight bypass, adding a new bascule bridge for that purpose.

      With SMART running into Fairfield (or Martinez) the Cap Cor gets three major transfer stations in a ~40 mile space. Down south, a new Shin Park BART/ACE/CapCor/Caltrain station would service both local, regional and transbay trains.

      Bonus: expand Zephyr service down to San Jose. There's no real reason to terminate it at Oakland if everyone just packs onto BART or CapCor trains.

    2. I think using the existing Niles Canyon route for heavy commuter traffic would be quite technically feasible. This would mean taking over the Niles Canyon Railroad and building a new 3/4 mile tunnel to bypass the biggest horseshoe bend of the river on this route. Westbound trains usethe Niles Canyon Railway/Southern Pacific route on the north bank, eastbound follows the existing ACE/Western Pacific/Union Pacific route on the south bank.

      The political feasibility of taking over the NCRY is another matter, however.


  18. OT, and it would be fine with me for the moderator/admin to delete this entry.

    Today, it came out that Stadler was the winning bidder for the MARTA train replacement. Does anyone know who else was bidding in the final round?