Great Bicycle Minds of the “Mega-Region”

September 24, 2012

After a week break before Labor Day (spent in the fine late summer Seattle weather) I returned to host a peer workshop of all—well, most of—the  great bicycle minds in Northern California (admittedly, some could not make the workshop). “Great bicycle minds” is my term for the people that administer the funding for, plan, implement and advocate for the bicycling infrastructure in Northern California.  A good many of them came on September 6, 2012, to give the team here at CCJPA feedback on the draft Bicycle Access Plan

In this draft plan, which CCJPA will release for public comment after our November Board of Directors meeting, we described our prior and ongoing efforts to improve bicycle access and capacity on the train. What was most notable was the feedback we received on the “at-station” improvements described in the plan. For the on-train improvements, which include operational measures, we basically have done or are doing just about all we can do and the group understood that;  however, there were other educational measures suggested that were new to our ears. One that we want to investigate further is developing a bicycle ambassador program. In concept, a bicycle ambassador would be an educational voice on the train who can help those with bicycles safely stow and secure their bicycles. There were also suggestions to put signage on the train cars about where bicycles can and shouldn’t be stored. These both seem like worthwhile ideas to pursue but they would all need to fit within a larger effort…an effort further described next.

The Quest to Improve Bicycle Storage at Stations

For the “at-station” improvements the CCJPA explained our interest in supporting communities that are trying to pursue bicycle sharing and we discussed the rollout of secure bicycle storage and the folding bicycle “rental” membership program (a la the Brompton Dock). As I was preparing the materials for the meeting, I recalled an effort that was given attention in 2008-09 by the two regional metropolitan planning agencies in our territory [Sacramento Area Council of Government (SACOG) and Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC)] which involved looking at Northern California as an emerging mega-region. I dropped a mention of that concept with related to the “at-station” projects and that saw broad receptivity. So what does that mean? The electronic access control behind the storage systems (Bikelink cards) in place at many BART stations is quickly becoming the Bay Area standard. The bicycle share program sponsored by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in San Francisco and along select communities on the San Francisco Peninsula, is about to enter a pilot phase. I’m excited as this program has the potential to spread throughout the Bay Area into the communities Capitol Corridor serves…and so, both of those developments sort of set a standard for the Bay Area.  Since the Capitol Corridor connects with the Sacramento region, which is just entertaining these notions, wouldn’t it be nice to have things be consistent, ubiquitous, and cohesive all along the Capitol Corridor route? I can hear the Beach Boy’s “Wouldn’t it be nice…” song modified with lyrics about using one card for bicycle locker access or a common membership program for bicycle sharing…

Seriously though, with public sector procurement, funding making things nice like that can be a challenge; however, the CCJPA can be a resource to support that concept with the funding we do have for secure bicycle storage. We will do our best to ensure compatibility across our service territory.

As you can guess, the egalitarian concepts of bicycle sharing are some ways off but the more immediate solution that relates directly to the Capitol Corridor needs is the folding bicycle “rental” program. Via Skype, Michael Foster of Brompton Dock discussed their program to the group. This was a very new concept to many of the attendees and out of the interest in that emerging option, there were concrete suggestions to gather a better understanding of how a membership-based folding bicycle “rental” program might work for CCJPA. As such, and along with other general suggestions that came out of the meeting, the CCJPA will plan to conduct an online survey looking at overall mode of access to and from the Capitol Corridor service.

CCJPA’s “Further Effort Bucket”

Now finally, back to the further effort concept…the survey described above, the ambassador program, signage, incentivizing the use of folding bicycles, cab-car retrofits for more bicycle storage, and enforcement, are all being poured into the “further effort bucket.” We will be taking a revised draft of the Bicycle Access Plan to the CCJPA Board for their review and comments in November 2012 and schedule final adoption in February 2013. In between that time, there will be much more work on these further efforts to wrap them into the final Bicycle Access Plan.

 Training for Two Bike FAVs

On a more personal note I will be taking place in two century rides, the Tahoe Sierra Century (first time doing that) and one of my annual favorite rides, Levi’s Gran Fondo on successive weekends. Training for and doing these rides remind me why bicycling is a crucial quality of life and health issue and it also gives me plenty of time to think about the challenge of improving bicycle access with the Capitol Corridor. Whether you are a Lance Armstrong fan or not, it can’t be denied, the awareness brought to bicycling and the health issues his organization crusades for are, in some way, responsible for why the “I think I will ride a bicycle today” light has turned on for so many people. Quite clearly, the long time and new bicyclists are being drawn to the Capitol Corridor in ways we were not prepared to accommodate. I would like to thank the “great bicycle minds” who are cheering CCJPA on our own century ride as we try to meet and eventually expand the bicycle services associated with Capitol Corridor.

 

Negotiating Sacramento Valley Station’s “Path to Progress”

August 15, 2012

On the evening of Sunday, August 12, 2012, the City of Sacramento’s “Path to Progress” was put to use at Sacramento Valley Station as Capitol Corridor and Amtrak trains switched to the new platform. The City’s new pathway is 500 feet (comparable to a block and a half) longer than what loyal riders are accustomed to walking; therefore, in my previous blog, I suggested riders give themselves extra time for the longer distance.

My staff and I walk the talk. We ride the Capitol Corridor or use other forms of public transit to travel to work or get to Sacramento, so we understand how changes in one’s everyday travel plan may take a little getting used to. But I am also aware that there are folks—whom for whatever reason—may find the walk a challenge and may need extra help in negotiating the longer path or the grade between the tracks and the platform.

The purpose of this blog is to let you know that not only is CCJPA listening to your concerns we have staff who use this station each weekday, so we are observing the issues as well. Therefore, the CCJPA is actively working with Amtrak to see what changes should be made to accommodate those riders who need extra support.

For example, Amtrak modified its early morning jobs schedule there at the Sacramento Valley Station, which means Amtrak will have two ticket clerks on duty at 4am on weekdays. In addition, the CCJPA is using various avenues to publicize that mobility impaired, ADA or elderly passengers who want assistance going to the new platforms need only to go the ticket window to request an electric cart to transport them to the trains.

We will continue to make adjustments in order to ensure that passengers have a safe and pleasant experience at the Sacramento Valley Station as well at other Capitol Corridor stops or on our trains. We appreciate your patience. We know public transportation is a choice, and we are grateful for your continued loyalty.

Bike Storage & A Summer Tip

August 14, 2012

 

CAPTURING IT ALL!

I am working hard to get a draft of the Capitol Corridor Bicycle Access Plan together for a September 6, 2012 meeting with key players in the “bicycle project funding world.”  I use quotes  because that phrase is my term for all the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), Air Quality Districts(ADs)  Congestion Management Agencies (CMAs), local jurisdictions (cities and counties), and bicycle advocacy organizations along the corridor we serve.  If you put all of those entities together, there are quite a collection of MPOs, ADs, CMAs, jurisdictions and organizations across 170 miles and 17 stations. From your own experience, whether you’re an office worker, an activist, a student or a parent, coordinating large groups is always a challenge and coordinating bike funding expects to be an even bigger challenge. We at the CCJPA can, however, be thankful that the “bicycle project funding world” recognizes the positive combination between bicycling and trains riding as an alternative to driving.  So, although we expect a good deal of support, it won’t change the fact that the team here at CCJPA will have our work cut out to gather public input, research solutions and comply with funding application milestones.

To keep you informed of the very latest, I wanted to let you know that we are focusing on a three-legged stool approach for bicycle-related station improvements.  One, which we have some funding programmed for, is for secure bicycle storage.  The other is akin to the “Brompton Dock” I mentioned in prior posts, a bicycle lease/rent program using folding bicycles.  And finally, the third “leg” is having CCJPA support local jurisdictions and any bicycle share programs they may already have – naturally, our train stations are key hubs for programs like that.  Our affable citizens who advise us on the Bicycle Policy Advisory Group were happy to hear about all legs of our bicycle access stool when we met with them in early August.  What will also go into the plan are the on-train features that we have discussed on the bicycle webpage (cab car retrofits, double stops in Berkeley, etc). That way the on-train fixes, as well as the at-stations solutions, will all be captured by one net.

WATER DOWN YOUR SUMMER RIDE

Commuting from Sacramento, I know by direct experience for many of us cyclists that it is HOT out there!  I hope you’re staying hydrated, drinking your water, and getting some of those important electrolytes in your system along the.  I will be the first to admit that the water from the dispenser on the train is no Crystal Geyser, but it’s a better alternative than being parched on a ride home in the afternoon heat.  So, either plan ahead and bring your top water choice or avail yourself to fill up from the train—just get that water bottle full.  Either way, I suggest you enhance your water by mixing in a good balance of your favorite electrolytes..  I think it’s best to remain hydrated and electrolyted (is that a word?) as too much water alone may actually disrupt that electrolyte balance as it is flushed out of your system. There are all sorts of drink mixes out there and I am not in the business to recommend any one of them but if you ride some distance—and and some of you do—I encourage you to research what product works for you and drink it!

Important Update — Weekday Train Service Changes, Effective August 13, 2012

August 3, 2012

Important Update — Weekday Train Service Changes, Effective August 13, 2012

Capitol Corridor customers may have heard recent news reports about changes in the Capitol Corridor weekday train service levels. This blog post is to accurately confirm specific information so Capitol Corridor riders will be aware of the very latest service news.

Discontinuing Trains 518 and 553

Effective Monday, August 13, 2012 Trains 518 and 553 will be discontinued. This decision to reduce weekday service levels from 32 to 30 trains took months of careful consideration, but like other public transit systems, the CCJPA was faced with cost-effectiveness decisions that lead to this action.

We outlined our intention to reduce service in the CCJPA’s Business Plan published in January 2012 and adopted by the CCJPA Board in February 2012. This year, as we have for over 12 years, CCJPA staff and I boarded several trains in January 2012 to present the annual business plan and the related weekday service changes to the Capitol Corridor passengers. This outreach effort let those passengers know personally that we were discontinuing these trains.

To accommodate Train 518 riders, effective Monday, August 13 2012, an existing Davis to Sacramento Amtrak Thruway bus will be scheduled to begin its trip at Martinez. The bus will serve the Martinez and Suisun/Fairfield stations, as well as the current Davis and Sacramento stations and provide connections to San Joaquin train #702 to Bakersfield.

More About Train 553

In our new train schedule, you may notice that Train 553 will not be listed in the schedule. Train 553 is being renumbered to Train 551, this means the latest train out of Sacramento will still leave at 9:10PM. As we are merging two westbound trips (6:40pm and 7:40pm) into one train (#549) departing Sacramento at 7:10pm, our last trip out of Sacramento will be listed in Capitol Corridor’s train schedule as 551 at 9:10pm.

This is the first time in 20 years that we discontinued a train or reduced service, but changing from 32 to 30 trains per weekday will help CCJPA save approximately $1 million. These cost savings will be used to address steep increases in diesel fuel prices, while ensuring the continued operation of trains that have higher passenger counts.

Other Changes: Train numbers 520, 531, 549

Also effective Monday August 13, Capitol Corridor schedules for trains 520, 531, 549 (and again Train 551) will change as a result of the City of Sacramento’s track realignment project. The project will enable an additional train to be stored in Sacramento overnight, eliminating the need to operate an extra round-trip every day to move train sets to/from Oakland as we had to do when train storage space was limited. Therefore, several other trains have minor adjustments to provide better spacing between departures.

Eastbound changes:

  • Train 520 will operate 10 minutes earlier.

Westbound changes:

  • Train 531 will operate 10 minutes earlier.
  • Train 549 will operate 30 minutes later.
  • Train 551 will operate 90 minutes later (taking over slot currently used by train 553).

There will be no changes to weekend Capitol Corridor service (trains 720-751).

Sacramento Project Improves Your Safety

Speaking of the track relocation project, the four new station tracks will improve passenger safety because the new boarding platforms will provide grade- separated access to the trains. Passengers will never have to cross a track in order to reach their train. When the improvements are complete, new electronic signs will direct patrons to the proper boarding areas, and new canopies will protect the passengers from the elements on the walkways, ramps and boarding areas.

A new walkway will be put in service on August 13.  It is an extended walk from what riders are used to, so until you’re used to the new path, I’d suggest adding an extra 10-15 minutes to get to your train.

Building a Movement to Increase Bicycle Access Support

July 18, 2012

BUILDING A MOVEMENT TO INCREASE BICYCLE ACCESS SUPPORT

I came back from my London research (see blogs 3 and 4) with lots of energy and ideas to apply the London lessons to the Capitol Corridor bike user’s experience. Upon my return, I attended a meeting with various entities in the Sacramento area to look into a bicycle-hire solution — also commonly described as bike-share. The very important first step, which is in its infancy stage, is to investigate if Sacramento is right for a bike share program.  The second step is to determine just how that system would work. To that end, the CCJPA was the first to contribute a modest amount of funding ($10,000) toward such a plan (a plan for Sacramento would probably be about $90,000 in total). The entities will hopefully use that seed funding to build a fully funded planning effort. A bicycle-hire solution at the train stations in Sacramento (and hopefully Davis) is a natural fit but the real key is making sure the entire system works in the community it is designed to serve. Thus, a program for cities like Sacramento (and Davis) actually takes more effort on a per capita basis than cities which are more no-brainers (like Boston, NYC, and, yes, London) for bicycle-hire programs. I will keep you up to speed on the developments in this area.

GETTING IT TOGETHER

Being an interregional service can have its drawbacks since we are not strongly integrated into regional or local planning processes.  With our limited resources, we can’t cover every corner. But with bicycling improvements like bicycle-hire, secure bicycle storage, and with options like Brompton Dock, we have to dive as deep as possible into the regional/local planning process. To that end, we are putting together a Bicycle Access Plan for CCJPA which will outline our efforts system wide – on the train, and at the stations. From that plan, we can work with regional and local jurisdictions to present a local perspective organized in an interregional framework. A good example of this can be phrased as a question – how many of you would like to be carrying multiple bike storage electronic-access cards because things were done differently in Sacramento than in Oakland? Or would you want one card system that works across the route?

HOW TO HELP US HELP YOU

If you do have an on-train bicycle issue (I am using “issue” to generally mean anything related to an interaction with another customer or a conductor in which some aspect of storing the bicycle on the train didn’t go as the reporting customer would have liked) it will really help us here at CCJPA to have the details about the train number, the date of the occurrence and finally, any other details related to the issue while still in the “education phase” of the 2012 bicycle access program, . Occasionally we have gotten complaints regarding on-train bicycle storage with reports of ‘the conductor did this…did that…”. We would love to get right into investigating and learning what we need to on such issues but without a date and train number, we are one step away from getting going and investigating since we need to circle back to get those details. So if you do have an issue – please include those details.

That said, there really have not been as many issues as I expected. I think that speaks to the conductors stepping up their management of the bicycles on the train and you, the traveling cyclist raising your awareness and making the effort to keep aisles free and bicycles secured. Nobody is perfect and sometimes, especially when an unfortunate four car set of equipment is out there (we are trying not to provide those!), storage gets tight and more issues can be anticipated. From riding the trains, I have equally seen conductors and customers not quite doing as much as we have hoped they can do, leading me to believe that there is room for all involved to improve.