Caltrain bike overload is a ‘land use issue’

Bikes boarding Caltrain – Photo credit: Richard Masoner

It’s no secret that my favorite way to make healthy choices easier for people is to influence change in the ‘physical environment’ around them. That is, for example- the street structures/ sidewalks/ bikeways, distance between people and healthy food and distance between homes and employment.

Therefore, something said in a public comment by Adina Levin at a Caltrain Board meeting really stuck with me. She urged the Board not to think about bike + train riders a special interest group, but about the need for bike + train commuting as a ‘land use issue’.

In recent years, Caltrain’s overall ridership has increased dramatically, but not as dramatically as it’s on board bicycle ridership (11.8% vs 13.6% increase since 2013 respectively). In fact over the past 10 years the number of passengers bringing their bike on Caltrain has grown by 364%! However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for bike + Caltrain riders as many people are denied boarding with their bicycle every day – or “bumped” – due to insufficient capacity.

Even still, Caltrain expect bicycle ridership to continue increasing. But why will people persist?

It’s a land use issue!


Average Weekday Bike Ridership since 2004

Around 80% of jobs are within 2-3 miles of Caltrain (not to mention schools and homes) and often bikes are needed on both ends to complete the first and last mile (or 3). Locking the bike up at the station is simply not an option for many of these passengers who need it on the other end too. For Caltrain, this is an unfortunate consequence of sprawl without sufficient public transport infrastructure or services to support it.

Sure, there are more ways people can travel to and from the station for these distances other than a private car, such as the bus or shuttle, but for many these forms of transport often add too much time to their already too-long commute. It also makes me so proud to learn that many prefer to bike for the chance to get some exercise! Although driving down the congested freeways may be up there as one of the fastest transport options, it seems this is often considered a last resort.

Caltrain Zone Map

Caltrain system map 2014

I’m sure there are many reasons why the employers along the peninsula (and Silicon Valley) haven’t located themselves right next to the train line. Perhaps high rent prices? But in any case, that’s what we’re dealing with.

Whether it’s convenience, cost, care for the environment or a desire for a healthy lifestyle that’s influencing individual choices for a bike + train commute over the alternatives, the real driving force of increasing demand for on board bike capacity seems to indeed be a land use issue.

At this time of skyrocketing bike + train commute and ‘bike bump’ rates, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition are calling for on board capacity to be increased – click here to get involved.

To the folks back home in Melbourne – Think about how Melbourne might benefit from on board bike capacity on trains. Metropolitan trains have no allocated bike space and regional services have only very limited space wand discourage bicycles from travelling during peak hours. With similar ‘land use issues’ (i.e. sprawling development), overflowing car parking lots at train stations and significant traffic congestion during peak times which spans right into the outer suburbs, would bike space on trains convert some private car users to bike + train users?


2 thoughts on “Caltrain bike overload is a ‘land use issue’

  1. Evans says:

    This post claimed land use issue of office location and reason for bike requirement. However, bike capacity sometimes full from the SF 4th&King or 22nd strees.
    SF supposed to be transit friendly city and there are frequent bus/rail service to Caltrain station. Why they need to use bicycle to Caltrain station?
    This is not mentioned in this post but should it improve transit acess to 22nd street and bike security at station?
    Increasing bike on board capacity is not sustainable as Caltrain expect to increase 100,000 daily ridership near future.


    • It’s true that there are public transport options to and from the San Francisco and 22nd Street Caltrain stations, but I don’t think this addresses the primary reason for why people need to take their bike on board Caltrain – to reach their final destination on the other end of their journey.

      To answer your last question – improved transit and secure bike parking at 22nd Street may give some people an alternative option for the first or last leg of their commute, but it still does not address the issue of distance on the other end.


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