IT IS SPRING SO MAY MUST BE BIKE MONTH

April 25, 2013

IT IS SPRING SO MAY MUST BE BIKE MONTH

It always happens and it is happening more and more when May comes around that people just heed the good word and get on their bicycles as opposed to other travel modes they might usually experience. May, indeed, is Bike Month. Yours truly will be supporting several events that the CCJPA will be involved in around our service area; one for certain is the May 9 Capital Region Bike Fest in Sacramento on the West steps of the Capital. Other events led by the East Bay Bicycle Coalition will feature Capitol Corridor discounts and giveaways.  In the spirit of May is Bike Month, here’s how we’re planning on transporting our event items from the train station in Sacramento to theCapital Region Bike Fest event:

Carrying our event materials in style!
Carrying our event materials in style!

 

 

 

 

 

 

DUDE – WHERE’S MY BIKE CAR?

Even before a month like May is upon us, there are simply a whole bunch of bicycles making their way on to the Capitol Corridor trains. If you have not noticed, there are some retrofitted cab cars out there that hold quite a few more bicycles than they used to before. These retrofits join with our already outfitted cab cars to generally (as in most of the time, but not always…more on that in a bit) provide the bicycle storage capacity you out there need on the train. Each car in the fleet, except the food service cars and the occasional Superliner car have the existing bicycle racks but only hold three official bicycles. So, in general, the answer to where will you find bicycle parking can be best accommodated in the cab car (that would opposite from the locomotive end of the train and in normal operations mode, the car on the most northern part of the train). But that doesn’t always hold…

Sometimes there are some of the non-retrofitted cab cars out there (the seven slot variety) which are yet to go in for their upgrade and then, suddenly, there are fewer bicycle slots out there. And on a really bad day, there are no other options and maybe a four-car trainset. Those are not fun days for anyone but, sometimes due to stuff that goes on out there in the world, the Amtrak team, try as they might, have to put out a sub-standard trainset just to fill a slot. BELIEVE ME – we hear about it and at times I am a witness to those unfortunate situations. And then we make sure that we try to get that transet swapped out or fixed in some manner as soon as we can. But sometimes there is a bright spot and that would be the 8200 series of cars which are often times placed right behind the locomotive…those are also bicycle friendly cars. So, if you see one of those, head that way too. But maybe in an early morning or at the end of a long day that is all too much to remember and that is why the CCJPA and Caltrans (who owns the cars) will be putting large “stickers” on the bicycle cars so that when you see the train, you can get your bicycle in position to board. You are getting the scoop on these stickers but it will still be some time before they will show up because, frankly, we are busy lot here at CCJPA and Caltrans, and there are numerous steps to go through but they should show up sometime this summer.

One of the other questions you may now be asking is “When are you ALWAYS going to have a bicycle car in the trainset?” I will be blunt and tell you that I was hoping for June but we now know that probably won’t happen until later in the year mainly due to other retrofits that these cars have to go through (Positive Train Control – or PTC – retrofits are delaying that schedule). So until we get to this point we will be juggling cars to try and provide as complete a trainset as possible…and that is why we are not yet at the point of requiring stricter storage requirements for your bicycles on the train. That does not mean that a conductor might not have to take action to deny some people and their bicycles if the conductor determines conditions are unsafe while we are going through this transition. Hopefully we can avoid those situations but we just don’t have the equipment at our disposal to provide you the best-of-conditions at this time. So, those of you who can obtain folding bicycles, please do so – you will make room for others – and those of you who take your bicycles, please work with each other and the conductor to keep your bicycles outside of the aisles and stay with them if necessary so you can monitor the conditions your stored bicycle is creating.

THE BIKE FRIDAY TIKIT IS LIKE SWAPPING LEGO PIECES

March 27, 2013

The Bike Friday “Tikit” (a Speeding Tikit) that I am using courtesy of the folks at Bike Friday (bikefriday.com) is a fun folding bike and practical too. I like to ride my bicycle home after work from Davis back to Sacramento (where I live) as much as I can to (hopefully) get into and stay in shape for long recreational bicycle rides.

The way the Bike Friday is set up, it essentially replaced my prior full sized Bianchi. The Tikit has a rack that holds my panniers (clothes in one, laptop in the other) and it has drop bars and a geometry style that feels like it mimics a road bicycle. Of course, the major, and most practical,difference is that it rolls on sixteen-inch wheels and stuffs into the luggage rack on the train (thus preserving a spot for a full sized bicycle, which came in handy on a Monday on the way to work on train 523). I never did put my clip pedals on this bike, but have enjoyed using tennis shoes to crank out the miles between Davis and Sacramento (along with the miles to and from the stations).

So the question I will try to answer is, “Does the Bike Friday Tikit replace a full-sized road bicycle in my situation?” Functionally, there is no question that it does. With the pedal switch being the only non-action I took to essentially make it have the same elements as my commute road bicycle, the Tikit carries me and my gear over the same roads at a speed probably just a bit less than the full sized equivalent, but along with that, this bike actually gives me a slightly better workout since it is marginally less efficient (those small wheels you need for a folding bicycle – oh well, you can’t escape physics) and I train to maintain a heart rate anyhow. So, if you get technical, which some people like to do with decisions like this, this folding bike is not an exact replacement but, with it I lost just a little bit only to gain in an entirely new area; that area being the folding which the Tikit does very well and very quickly.

I am grateful that Bike Friday lent me this bicycle to test out. My run with it ends March 30th. Using it  taught me that if one’s lifestyle is like building with Legos, one can easily swap out one crucial piece and easily replace that piece with the Bike Friday Tikit.

There are a good many folding bicycle customizations, other than the Tikit, that Bike Friday makes in Oregon, which means Bike Friday probably covers a majority of the specialized needs of the bicycling public. Being sensitive to my public role here–not to endorse or favor one folder over another–I have ridden a Dahon (they have many models), a couple of Tern’s, a few Bike Friday’s, and a Brompton. These and other manufacturers are enjoying a strong growth period as people, mostly people using a bicycle in an urban transportation setting, are seeing the benefits of bringing a bicycle with them that folds into a small manageable package. The crucial thing is to do your own research. You can get opinions from the internet or, ask someone with a folding bicycle. You will learn about the pluses and minus of each bicycle, thus you can evaluate this type of bike based on your needs. Since you may ride a bicycle today with your train commute, or are thinking about it, I am sure there is at least one replacement Lego piece out there ready to support your lifestyle and even add that one new dimension.

CAPITOL CORRIDOR TAKES YOU TO THE GOOD STUFF

Vineyard2

Being able to use the Tikit combined with this next bit unquestionably allowed be to complete the only other double century I have ever done other than the Davis Double Century. This weekend I completed the excessively beautiful Solvang Spring Double Century (they have a fall version too). The green California hills, and a temperature that really started off cold, but, for the bulk of the day was ideal, made for the best double century experience I have ever had personally. So what does that have to do with Capitol Corridor? Well, if you are going to do these double centuries, you have to train for them. Riding home the Tikit from Davis to Sacramento is one way I used to put in some miles but when you need to really get in time in, you tend to want new or a variety of experiences other than trudging along the Yolo Causeway. Living in Sacramento, the American River bicycle trail is great and perhaps one of the best amenities to Sacramento. So are the hills beyond the trail into El Dorado County and Placer County but that is not all that is accessible to me. I thought I would highlight how I used the Capitol Corridor and my full sized Fuji road bicycle to make the most out of what a relatively mild winter gave us.

I started taking the train on the weekends to get a little variety in my rides a couple of years ago. One of my favorite places to ride is out of the Suisun City Station. I head north working my way up Wooden Valley Road and from there I have all sorts of choices. I can ride back to Sacramento, or I can make any number of loops back to the Suisun Station with the Capitol Corridor being my ticket to variety. Wooden Valley is one of my favorite places to ride and with the green hills (which may turn yellow soon since we are a bit short of precipitation), the vineyards and tall hills surrounding them, I feel like I am riding in a postcard dream.

I have made several of these loops using the various wine region valleys (Napa figures heavily) and the sum total of them meant I got in great miles, challenging climbs, but most of all experienced the beauty that Northern California has to offer, all made possible via a brief jaunt with the Capitol Corridor.  Want to learn more about bringing your bike onboard for a longer ride?  Send a note to our customer service folks, who are always happy to help.

Vineyard1St. Helena

ACTIVE TRANSPORTATION – ACTIVE PLANNERS

February 20, 2013

ACTIVE TRANSPORTATION – ACTIVE PLANNERS
BART Director Robert Rayburn recently forwarded me a link to a study about how becoming an active transportation participant is both good for you (by increasing your health) and good for others (reducing your carbon emissions). The aim of the article is to show what various future scenarios might look like under a variety of policy actions (or inactions). For those of you who are interested, here is the link to the article synopsis: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2012.300939
We can tell from our own (CCJPA) mode of access survey that there are about 20 percent more of you out there who would bicycle if something about bicycling was “better” than the current dominant travel mode (“better” meaning things like safer and/or more convenient). I think one of the points of the article is that making things “better” is both a personal, but in this context, but also a public policy choice, and that is where the “collective we” can make decisions about our future through our elected policy makers.
I remember Eugene Skoropowski, the former CCJPA Managing Director, would frequently say that without transportation options, people’s travel choices were largely condemned to the automobile. He was usually speaking in support of passenger train travel, but it is no stretch to extend that mindset to getting to and from the Capitol Corridor train. Public policy supporting a wider variety of travel mode options can begin to address the needs of those 20 percent who would be open to riding a bicycle to and/or from the train. And of course, those who do ride a bicycle to and/or from the train today, which is somewhere between 10 to 20 percent, would benefit from more facilities on the street and at the stations to help improve the bicycling conditions.
The good news is that public policy makers on the CCJPA Board will have the chance to address this issue in regards to the Capitol Corridor and make a difference with the adoption of the Capitol Corridor Bicycle Access Plan. I am writing this blog post the day before the vote and don’t expect too many surprises or, for that matter, a vote to delay the adoption of the Plan. More importantly, I want you to know that in implementing this Plan, our elected policy leaders will be choosing a positive future scenario for Capitol Corridor passengers.

VALENTINES DAY ON A BIKE FRIDAY?
We all need love and on February 14, 2013, I think my Bike Friday loaner bicycle fell in love as evidenced by the picture below:

That is right folks – two Bike Friday Tikit bicycles sitting side by side like peas in a pod – they just look so content stuffed away outside of the aisles, in the luggage compartment. The blue one belongs to a Capitol Corridor customer and the green/black one is the one I am getting to use. Definitely an exciting first day (or is that first date?) as I was finally able to take the Bike Friday Speeding Tikit for a spin courtesy of the folks at Bike Friday (bikefriday.com) who have lent me this folder for a couple of months. Here is how the Tikit looks in my office.
IMG_0527

The Tikit arrived a few days before and I spent some of my time at home putting it together from the box and suitcase in which it was shipped. It folds down very quickly and on this version (it has a special extend-rack), I am able to use my full sized panniers, the ones that carry my laptop and clothes. The handlebars make it a bit bigger in folded space than, for instance, the other customer’s blue Tikit, but those do come in handy with my exercise ride home from Davis to Sacramento. In fact, the ride home was just a tad slower because I stopped to take a few photos of the lender Tikit on the way.

IMG_0534IMG_0537

As you can see, a small wheeled folding bicycle with panniers on it. Ta – da! I wish I had a picture of my full sized bicycle with the same set up on it to show you (even a similar color scheme). They both play the same role except the Bike Friday Tikit folds up and away. I will review this bicycle more as I will be riding it almost exclusively in the coming months, but I from my vantage point now, I see a folding bicycle fitting the very same niche as my full sized bicycle. Check, check, check. I am ready to keep rolling.

HAPPY FOLDING NEW YEAR

February 4, 2013

HAPPY FOLDING NEW YEAR

A new year is upon us and yours truly will mark this as the year of the folding bicycle, among other things. In my last entry I talked about the success of the Oakland event with Bay Area Bicycles and the bicycle representatives of Tern and Brompton.  We also hosted an event in Sacramento later that week and things went pretty well given the rainy day weather on December 5th forced us to host the event inside the station building.  Similar to the Oakland event, we worked with homegrown local Sacramento bicycle store talent Steve Rex Cycles and Edible Pedal and hosted brand representatives from Brompton and Bike Friday to showcase their various folding bicycles.  It also happened to be my birthday, but if you have to work on your birthday and you enjoy bicycles like I do, then it doesn’t feel too much like working.  Plus, there were several Bike Friday bicycles present and I tried some “gearing” systems I have never tried before, most notably the Nuvinci transmission system and a belt drive system instead of a chain.

Thank you to those of you that took the time to fill out Capitol Corridor’s online survey about train access in December.  We gave away some great prizes and I’m happy to report that the Brompton folding bicycle went to an 18-year old UC Davis student who didn’t have a bicycle, the monthly and 10-ride passes were won by regular monthly riders, and the 2-person round-trip was won by an occasional traveler so we hope went to have some very happy travelers onboard this month.

Happy Brompton Winner and me
Happy Brompton Winner and me

If you weren’t the lucky winner of the Brompton folding bicycle, it’s time to go visit a local bicycle shop who will be happy to help you find the right folding bicycle for you.  If you’d like to support the local bicycle shops that participated in our events, you can visit their websites here: Bay Area Bikes, Rex Cycles and Edible Pedal.

All that survey data about your mode of access to/from stations, whether you use a car, use a bicycle, or walk, is GREAT STUFF for geeky planners like me.  We asked all sorts of questions that were tailor-made to your responses based on your mode of access to our stations and trains.  I suspect we have had a high response rate from those of you that ride a bicycle since our response rate about usual mode of access for bicycles was above 20% – super high!  The goal of this survey was to obtain an impression about what types of at-station bicycle solutions would work best for our passengers’ preferences and lifestyles. There were 957 survey responses and a whopping 41% of you responded that you ride a bicycle to/from the train station and about 14% of you said you’d ‘maybe’ ride a bicycle to/from the train station. That is a lot of existing and potential bicycle riding!

A part of the survey asked you to rate your preference of two at-station alternatives, and the general answer was “YES” for everything.  Based on your replies, it seems likely that we will work on implementing both a developed system of e-lockers across nearly all the stations and some sort of bicycle-sharing system such as the Brompton Dock (or an equivalent) at our most deserving stations.  Both of these options will be presented to a group of my local bicycle planning and advocacy peers who are deeply involved in bicycle facility planning, funding, development, etc., to give us some final feedback.  All this data will form the final version of Capitol Corridor’s upcoming Bicycle Access Plan that we solicited public comments on through January 15, 2013.

The “Plan”, as I am calling it, will include an enforcement element to help keep our trains safe and accessible for all passengers.  This means no bicycles stored in aisle-ways and making sure all bicycles stored outside the designated rack spaces AND out of the aisle-ways are secured to the train (with a bungee cord, for example). You may remember that we tried this before and it didn’t go very well- so why are we trying it again?  The long and short of it is that we did not have any cars available that were retrofitted with additional bicycle storage during our first attempt at enforcement.  We have been working hard with Caltrans to retrofit all of those cab cars with the ‘”four on the floor” bicycle racks.

Starting in the Spring of 2013, we will consistently have a car type (maybe one of these retrofitted cab cars, or possibly another type of bicycle-friendly car) on each train-set where we can store a big overflow of bicycles out of the way of passengers.  I will certainly be posting more information on this as we move forward, but we’re determined not to go on with business as usual, but to instead move forward with business that is better – and that means safely storing bicycles brought onboard the train.

I AM A NEW FOLDING BIKE USER

Since I’ve been advocating folding bicycles as a solution to on-train bicycle storage issues, I thought it only right that I take my own advice.  This past month I purchased my own folding bicycle – a Brompton M6R.  So far I’ve been able to store it on the overhead bin and between the triangle of space created by the table seats and it’s nice to know that I’m freeing up a space in the bicycle racks for my fellow bike-riding passengers.  I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about this bicycle from me in the future, but for the moment I’m working on breaking in the Brooks saddle and getting lots of practice at folding and unfolding on a regular basis.

I guess my enthusiasm must be contagious as Bike Friday asked me to test out one of the models they showcased at the Sacramento event and give them my feedback.  The bicycle I will be testing out is a Bike Friday Tikit, specifically the Speeding Tikit, with the drop handlebars. This particular model is set-up much like the Bianchi road-commuter bicycle that I have been using to ride from Davis to Sacramento in an attempt to fit in some exercise on my way home from work. I am certainly looking forward to the opportunity to try out this model out as it seems to be similar, feature-wise, to my full-sized bike.  You can now count me as an official owner and user of a folding bicycle, and if you see me on the train, feel free to ask about my stow-away, two-wheeled companions.

New Year Message to Riders

January 24, 2013

Dear Valued Riders:

As we celebrate the New Year, it is traditional to make resolutions. The CCJPA team knows that your top priority as riders of Capitol Corridor is to have clean, safe trains that run reliably and on time. Recently, we know that you have experienced significant delays due to poorly functioning or inoperable locomotives. CCJPA staff have resolved to address these delays by retaining an independent consultant to conduct a review of the service delays relating to the inadequate and substandard performance of the Northern California intercity passenger rail fleet. The results of this study will be used as a tool to get the Northern California IPR fleet back into compliance with our operating contract to meet the high standards expected by you, the passengers, and by the CCJPA Board. Results of the study and the actions to improve the equipment reliability will be posted on this blog as we progress through this improvement program.

New Timetable and Call Center Hours
By now Capitol Corridor riders should have experienced the new timetable and call center hours that went into effect as of January 14. Amtrak changed the location of the Napa bus stop from both the old transit center on Pearl Street and the Wine Train stop to the Soscol Gateway Transit Center on Burnell Street. Several motorcoach bus connections from San Francisco will depart on new schedules to allow for more timely connections during heavy traffic conditions. Eastbound weekday trains will now depart the Santa Clara University (SCC) one minute earlier. You may view the complete new schedule
online.

More Quiet Cars
Quiet Cars are a popular addition at rail agencies around the country, allowing passengers to happily find a quiet place to get away from cell phone chatter in order to read or nap. Capitol Corridor Quiet Cars have dimmed lighting, conversations are discouraged and riders are asked to place cell phones in “silent” or “vibrate” mode. Riders using Quiet Cars are asked to respect the “one seat, one ticket” policy and should not make a bed out of two seats.


Capitol Corridor expanded the Quiet Car program effective January 14 and Capitol Corridor 500 series trains that arrive on or about 10:00 a.m. in the Bay Area or Sacramento have been added to the program. Quiet cars are availble on Westbound Trains 521, 523, 525, 527 and 529 and Eastbound Trains 520, 522 and 524. As with previous quiet cars, the designated cars will be either the cab car or car 1. This will minimize foot traffic through the car. Groups will be accomodated as best as possible in cars away from the quiet cars.


Join CCJPA Staff At Business Plan Public Workshops
The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority Board of Directors is the policy body that oversees Capitol Corridor intercity train service. The Board of Directors has released its draft business plan for FY 2012-13 and FY 2013-14 for public review and comment. The plan is available on the website at
www.capitolcorridor.org. Comments on the plan are due by Wednesday, February 6, 2013 and can be submitted via the website, to the CCJPA mailing address: 300 Lakeside Drive, 14th Floor East, Oakland, CA 94612 or by calling the customer comment line at (510)464-6995.

Also as part of the review process, the CCJPA invites members of the public to attend the series of annual workshops to have input on the future plans for Capitol Corridor (fares, schedules, stations) as the CCJPA Board seeks to make the train service the preferred means of travel along the congested I-80/I-680/I-880 highway corridor. The schedule for the public workshops is available
online. They will be held onboard select trains between January 28 and 31.

New Pre-Tax Transit Commute Benefits
Included in new legislation passed by Congress in the first week of this year, is an increase to the public transit commuter benefit making it equal to the parking benefit. Now both provide for up to $240 pre-tax dollars to be deducted from paychecks through employer commuter benefit tax programs. The benefit is retroactive from January 1, 2012. Riders should speak with their employer’s transit coordinator about the program.