Saturday, July 19, 2008

This is the first installment in a story that will chronicle my daily adventures commuting by public transit, and bicycle. I start by going off on a tangent. My usual commute takes me from Carlsbad to Old Town San Diego by Coaster; From Old Town to El Cajon via San Diego Trolley; then the last two miles to work by bicycle.

I heard a couple of weeks ago that there was a flap about bikes on the North County Sprinter. Today was the first chance I had to ride the Sprinter, and I took my Bike. It was not a pleasant experience.

NCTD had moved to restrict bicycle access to the trains, but rescinded it later, according to a report in the San Diego Union. I decided to find out what it was about.

I arrived at the Melrose station in Vista, got the bike out of the car and pedaled over to the platform. I was harangued over a loud speaker to not ride my bike on the platform. Looking around I saw an array of cameras that would make George Orwell shudder. (The only other person there was smoking a cigarette at the other end of the platform-Big Brother seemed to be O.K. with that).

There were minimal instructions on the platform, and none pertaining to bikes. The train pulled into the station to the forward two of four platforms. I moved from the middle of the platform to the rearmost platform serving the train to find three bikes already shoehorned into the narrow space at the door.

I must mention now I flaw I noticed the first time I ever saw the Sprinter, and what I suspected may be a fundamental cause of the bicycle problems. This suspicion was confirmed on the unpleasant ordeal that the trip to the Palomar College Transit center would become.

NCTD, it would seem, blew almost half a billion dollars on a set of trains that has too few doors. A double car unit of the San Diego Trolley, that is about the came size as a double unit Sprinter train has four five foot doors per side, as opposed to the Sprinters two. (I will measure the doors and post the exact measurements within a week)

As you can see from the pictures,( ) the vestibule was packed with our four bikes. God help anyone trying to get out in an emergency. The four of us wound up doing, what I would come to call, the “Sprinter/Bike Shuffle”. This was a little exercise necessitated by another of the Sprinters design flaws. Instead of a double track for almost all of its length, as on the Trolley, the Sprinter is on a single track for most of its length. On the Trolley you can place the bike against the door opposite the platform and leave it because the platform is on the same side of the car for the entire length of the route until it reaches the end.

On the Sprinter, the door to the platform changes sides depending on the station, requiring the bikers to shuffle the bikes from one side of the cramped vestibule to the other, while dodging pedestrian passengers trying to enter and exit the car. I talked to the other guys, and one of them thought there was more room at the other end of the train. I doubted it, since I was very familiar with the SD Trolleys, and they were symmetrical; the front unit being a mirror image of the back unit.

I was wrong.

When I boarded the train at Palomar College for the return trip, I once again boarded the aft car, which had been the lead car going the other way. There was plenty of room for bikes at this end. There was even a bicycle access placard on this end of the train. (This was the end that had sped past to quickly at Melrose for me to have seen it.)

Why can the NCTD not put placards on the platform that say “Bikes go to that end”?


Thom said...

Hi Vince, you certainly get around! I wanted to let you know that I've linked to your blog at my Old Bike Blog, and that I'm also in San Diego and occasionally post about local bike/transit topics as well. Glad to see there's someone else in town writing about similar issues! Keep it up!


IgorTheCat said...

Thanks for the reply, You seem to have some cool old stuff. I'm not a collecter myself, but since I havent been able to sell the old KHS on Craigs list, it just may become a project bike.