Monday, July 7, 2008

SFBC responds to Caltrain's Draft Bicycle Master Plan

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's comments on Caltrain's Draft Bicycle Master Plan

I went to the SFBC Bikes On Board subcommittee meeting tonight. SFBC is trying to collect some data on bike usage on Caltrain in order to address perceived inaccuracies in Caltrain's data. I got a look at the data organization tonight but the data is far from broad - most of the data is from two riders who are in the committee. Please feel free to add to the data set by collecting data from your Caltrain rides.

Incident report link here


Dustin Jensen said...

I'm not a master at data collection, but I don't think I'd even call numbers causally collected by some committee members data. I don't think it would be that difficult to collect some reliable data. I'm amazed that there isn't a systematic method for collecting the numbers already.

murphstahoe said...

1) - "Is this Data"

Depends on the data.

If I have numbers - casually collected - that show 347 riders were bumped over a 2 week period (I am making that number up but bear with me) then that is in fact meaningful data even if it is incomplete. The actual number in this case is probably *worse*. The plural of anecdotes is not data but if the anecdotes are bad enough they still prove the point.

2) "I'm amazed that there isn't a systematic method for collecting the numbers already."

Caltrain hires a bunch of people who sit on the trains and count how many people get on and off the trains to do their official ridership count. They do this in February. It is very obvious to the people who bring their bikes on board the train why the data collected in February is bunk - it rains (or threatens to rain) everyday in February and less people ride their bikes. Caltrain then leverages this data to understate the magnitude of the problem.

Additionally Caltrain only counts ridership - people who actually board. They do not - or at least not accurately - count the ridership lost due to people denied boarding. The counters sit on the train. At 4th/King people are denied boarding before they even hit the platform. And no method of counting can track how many riders Caltrain has lost completely when they give up on Caltrain due to getting bumped.

georoad said...

Dustin, our data trumps anecdotal information from conductors, because we have records that can be reviewed, averaged, sorted, and analyzed in more ways than an ephemeral verbal telling (and by more people). Multiple people counting bikes in the same trains permits verification, so we encourage more counting.

Murphstahoe has no mention of how casual or not the data collection and reporting are, just that an online form is available for entering the data.

We hope you will participate.

Dustin Jensen said...

Has anyone ever heard of random sampling? Statistics isn't that hard and can be very powerful when preformed correctly.

murphstahoe said...

Dustin, be careful or you will be volunteered.

Caltrain's bike patterns are really tough to measure because there are so many freakonomics like variables to account for. Whether or not you get bumped can even be a factor of what the train preceeding the one you want had 2 bike cars - once the bumps start they can cascade. A real data set would also include the name of the conductor - I bet there is a correlation between number of bumps and conductor, then of course this cascades to the next train.

I think it's easy. There were 3 people bumped off my train this AM at 4th, 4 more at 22nd, and 2 at Millbrae. Unacceptable.

Dustin Jensen said...

I'm sure there is someone in the cycling community with a background in statistics (I'm just a graphics designer at a marketing research firm) who could create a viable methodology (to account for yearly fluctuation and booted cyclists) and some volunteers who could spend a few days a month keeping track of the data for a year.

With proper stats you could apply it to the entire year and over a couple years you can forecast the data into the future.

Go find some stat students ~ they have plenty of motivation and time. This seams like a huge issue. I bet the SFBC could mobilize people to work on this project.

However, you'd have to be careful to keep it independent ~ nobody trusts stats sponsored by interested parties.

Fritz said...

Murph and Conductor Will are great friends ;-)

I've been seeing a lot of people with MUNI vests and clipboards standing in the train foyers. Is Caltrain doing a summer count?

Here's a photo I snapped at Palo Alto last night showing how crowded Caltrain is getting.

murphstahoe said...
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murphstahoe said...

I arrived at 6:32 for train 383 out of Mountain View and was #25 in line. I started policing at this point, sending people back to the end of the line as they passed - "You need to Validate? No sweat, put your bike there and I'll watch it". We ended up with 35. The bikes go all the way to the kiosk in the back of the photo.

Fortunately a gallery consist with 2 bike cars showed up. Of course this meant we had to scramble over/under/around passengers trying to load in the 4 northmost cars.

Fritz said...

I started getting people to queue up in Palo Alto, also. Some of them are all "WTF?" about it.

Fritz said...

Oh, and this morning on #233 (I was running late) a pile of drunks came on board the bike car for obviously the first time ever. All going to the same destination, but they just laid their bikes wherever and on different racks with no regard for destination. One of the drunks was especially belligerent and refused to follow conductor instructions. He should have been thrown off the train.

murphstahoe said...

Absolutely he should have been thrown off the train, preferably at Lawrence where there is no other transit and it's hard to figure out what roads you can get to/from somewhere.

There was a problem rider on a train I was on once, the conductor said "You are off at the next stop" as we left Bayshore. The passenger basically said "I don't care I'm going to 22nd St already so screw you".

The conductor walked away, got on the intercom and said "We'll be making a short unscheduled stop at Paul Avenue".

Fritz said...

That's pretty cool.

But aren't all the crossings in San Francisco grade separated?

murphstahoe said...

You must be a newbie. Paul Avenue is a Caltrain station, deprecated with the advent of the new schedules with two different bullet patterns.

It only had one train in each direction stopping there per day since I've been riding starting in 1998. It was kept mostly for political reasons because it's in an underserved neighborhood - read it's in a very sketchy area.

I use 22nd St, I once almost got off at Paul Ave by mistake on a rare day where I was on the train that actually stopped there.

Paul Ave

Fritz said...
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Fritz said...

I just never go north of Menlo Park, and when I do visit the city I never pay attention to intervening stops since I'm going to the end of the line.

georoad said...

the other word on the street from a conducter was that paul avenue was closed shortly after the automated ticket machines were installed. Shortly after (an hour, a day?) the machines was taken away, literally presumably by near by residents.

georoad said...

Dustin, perhaps you misunderstand.

We started collecting data using our present system in less than a month from my joining the project. That includes about 20 iterations with the form.

Given all the costs and resources, I can't conceive of a better outcome.

Perhaps you know a stat student or professor with some extra time?

BTW- do you know anyone at

Emily Hunter said...

Everybody, please come to a Joint Powers Board meeting on Thursday, August 7 from 10am to noon at the Caltrain Admin Offices in San Carlos, if you can. SFBC and several riders who have been bumped recently will be presenting SFBC's letter responding to Caltrain's Draft Master Bike (parking) Plan.

The more folks we can get out there, the better!

Read more here: Bikes on Board General Info

This is the letter containing San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's comments on Caltrain's Draft Bicycle Master Plan (PDF)

Please tell as many people as you can about this meeting! (an especially good time to mention it is that lull in between trains right after being bumped...)

Fritz said...

Emily, the plan has been renamed the Caltrain Access and Parking Plan, probably to head off criticism at the board meeting that the plan doesn't address bikes on board. Be prepared to deflect that possible "defense" of the position that the plan is not intended to address Bikes on Board.