Published Wednesday, October 1, 2008, by the San Francisco Chronicle
Caltrain board to consider new bike provisions
By Rachel Gordon
Chronicle Staff Writer
All Scott Wildy said he was trying to do was get to work, but in
the process he became a symbol of the growing frustration and anger
among bicyclists who commute on Caltrain.
Biking to and from Caltrain has become so popular that cyclists
are regularly kept from boarding when space on the trains for
their two-wheelers runs out.
When Wildy boarded a train last week with his bike, he said a
conductor told him to get off, that there was no more room. But
the 39-year-old Stanford information technology employee found a
place to park his bike on a rack and he refused to leave. He ended
up in handcuffs and under arrest. [BATN: See the shocking video of
Mr. Wildy's arrest at: <http://caltrain-arrest.blogspot.com
"I just couldn't believe it. I was just trying to catch a train to
get to work," Wildy said.
Caltrain, the commuter line that runs from Gilroy to San Francisco,
has seen its trains become more crowded as ridership has spiked to
nearly 45,000 boardings a day. On Thursday, the agency's governing
board will consider a plan on how to deal with the growing number
No one knows for sure how many bikers get bumped, but in September
2007, the only time Caltrain gathered such data, 51 out of 2,400
cyclists were left behind during a single day. Caltrain
representatives and bike advocates say they think the problem has
Caltrain officials insist they're committed to finding a solution.
But, said Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn, there are no viable
The proposed Bicycle Parking and Access Plan, to be discussed
Thursday, outlines a number of suggestions, among them providing more
bike parking at the stations, setting up a bike-sharing program,
offering patrons subsidies to buy folding bicycles and letting people
know before the trains arrive the availability of space on the bike
Under the current system, bikers don't know until their train
arrives whether it can handle 16 bikes, 32 or 64 -- the available
configurations that change from run to run.
"There's always a question when the train comes, 'Am I going to get
on?' Not knowing adds to the stress," said Jay Trimble, a computer
scientist for NASA who rides his bike, the ferry and Caltrain for
the 2.5-hour commute between his home in the Marin County town of
Fairfax and his job in Mountain View.
Adding to the strain, he said, is a disorganized boarding system that
relies on the honor system of first come, first served. Trimble has
seen people show up with their bikes at the last minute who cut in
front of those who have been waiting. When demand exceeds capacity,
the tension builds.
"I've been seeing many unpleasant incidents between bikers and
conductors, and sometimes between bikers themselves," said Trimble,
Caltrain officials know there's a problem, which became even more
acute over the summer when 14 rail cars were temporarily removed from
service because hairline cracks were discovered in the suspension
"It's always difficult when you have to tell people, 'Sorry, you
can't board the train.' It's frustrating for the bike riders and
it's frustrating for us," said Dunn.
Frustration would be a tame way to describe the way Wildy felt last
Thursday when he boarded the train with his bicycle at the Burlingame
Station for his morning commute to Palo Alto and was ordered off by
the conductor because the bike car was full.
He acknowledged that the car was carrying 16 bikes when he boarded,
but that only three bikes were strapped into the rack he used, with
another space available. A rack at the other end of the car held
five bikes, one more than normally allowed. Wildy argued with the
conductor, placed his bike in the rack and took a seat.
When the train pulled into the San Carlos Station about 20 minutes
later, police were waiting for Wildy. He was arrested for delaying
the train, a misdemeanor. [BATN: See the shocking video of poor
Mr. Wildy's arrest at: <http://caltrain-arrest.blogspot.com
He said he could have complied with the conductor's order and waited
for the next train -- as he's done in the past -- "but I wanted to
make a point," Wildy said. "There was capacity on the train."
Caltrain is investigating the incident. [BATN the conductor should be
fired for his extremely poor judgment: delaying everyone on the train
and everyone waiting down the line by 10 minutes or so because he was
unable to back away from an asinine pissing match over nothing. What
did arresting Mr. Wildy, a guy who properly and harmlessly parked a
bicycle in an OPEN SLOT in a bicycle rack. The fact that there
happened to be another rack somewhere on the other side of the car
with one extra bicycle is purely academic, and obviously was abused
as a flimsy pretense to harass and ultimately demand and achieve the
ejection and arrest of Mr. Wildy. What a customer service and PR
disaster! What a waste of time and money for EVERYBODY (thousands!)
this conductor single-handedly involved in assuaging his inflated
ego or anti-bicycle agenda or whatever psychological malfunction he
suffers from. Caltrain and Amtrak should institute a policy of
guidelines for when to hold trains for police and/or have riders
arrested, and should always require supervisor approval via radio
before authorizing a hold-for-police for non-emergency, non-violent
Dunn hopes implementation of the new bike plan will help solve the
space-crunch problem. But for now, there's no money to proceed.
The suggestion by some bike advocates to covert more of the existing
fleet into bike cars would displace other riders, and isn't something
Caltrain is eager to do, Dunn said.
Andy Thornley, program director of the San Francisco Bicycle
Coalition, said he hopes Caltrain officials rethink that position.
[BATN: See SFBC's excellent Draft Plan for Bicycle Carriage on
Caltrain at: <http://www.sfbike.org/?caltrain_bob
"Most days you have cars pulling away from the station with empty
seats, while you've got a bicyclist left behind on the platform with
a ticket in hand," he said.
His fear is that if cyclists get bumped enough, they may give up
on train travel altogether at a time when government agencies and
environmentalists are urging people to give up driving to relieve
freeway congestion and reduce air pollution.
Dunn said there is a nugget of good news: Caltrain plans to roll out
eight new passenger cars by the end of October, two of them bike
cars, which should alleviate the worst of the problem for those
cyclists lucky enough to catch one.
Thursday, Caltrain board members will review the following proposals
as part of their Bicycle Parking and Access plan:
* Expand secure bike parking at the stations -- an idea that critics
say only works for people who don't bike at both ends of their trip.
* Create a bike-sharing program where communal bicycles would be
available for people to ride to and from the stations.
* Provide subsidies for people to buy folding bicycles, the number
of which is not restricted on the trains, as long as they can be
stowed beneath the seats.
* Set up an automated system that tracks bike capacity on the trains
and allow cyclists to tap into that information before they head to
Bike plan showdown
The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which oversees Caltrain,
will consider adoption of the proposed Bicycle Parking and Access
When: 10 a.m. Thursday
Where: 1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos, second floor auditorium.
E-mail Rachel Gordon at rgordon@...