Reports of Bike Activists' 'Win' Over Caltrain Stretches Definition of 'Win'

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Both of our local dailies reported today that Caltrain has responded to local bicycle activists' missives and will expand its trains' bike-carrying capacities. And yet, neither of the papers reported that Caltrain's solution may only deliver less than a third of what bike backers were after. (also, the Chronicle headline "Bicycle activists win 1, lose 1 in space battle" left us thinking this story was going to involve X-Wing Fighters; finally we'll have space for our bikes and our R2 units).

"What we came away with is a lot less than what people would like," concedes Andy Thornley, the program director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

Tired of being bumped off Caltrains with full bike cars -- and legions of empty seats -- Thornley and his fellow activists have been lobbying the trains system for more than a year leading up to yesterday's San Carlos meeting. The Bicycle Coalition's plan was bold: It called for two bicycle cars per train, each of which would be revamped to hold 40 bicycles. But that's not what Caltrain opted to do.

Instead, the rail system decided to augment its conventional gallery cars to allow them to carry 40 bikes instead of 32, and upgrade its newer Bombardier cars (that's the name of the company) to allow 24 bikes instead of 16.

Caltrain said it would "try" to run two cars during commute hours, but this is obviously not binding; similarly, one expects, they'll "try" not to run over any more vagrants or Palo Alto High School students. Running two bike cars at peak hours "Is not a promise. It's a goal," Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn says.

What this means for bicycle commuters is that, after a year of petitioning for 80 spots per commuter train, Caltrain will guarantee to have only 24 available spots. What's more, when the system goes electric (cross your fingers for 2015), it'll have to come up with new cars altogether. There are no guarantees on how bike-friendly those cars would be; it's all in the theoretical stage now. While Thornley hopes for future concessions, it strongly appears Caltrain will resist making any significant modifications to cars it plans on discarding within six years.

Thornley, however, chose to accentuate the positive. "Hey, even a year ago, Caltrain was saying they could do nothing to boost bike space on board." But is it a stretch to call yesterday's outcome a win?

"It is, it is," Thornley says.

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