Friday, November 7, 2008

This return to my Blog starts with an apology. My wife was concerned about my publishing my real name over the internet, so I have been using a pseudonym, Vince Higgins. Since I am not a vulnerable twelve year old looking for love on my space, and since I am about to take this Blog political, I now publish under my real name.

Recent increases in gas prices are driving more and more people to bikes, and public transit. Many of those with long commutes are being driven to bikes on by public transit. This is creating a situation where the interests of those using public transit to achieve reasonable cycling distance, threatens to collide with those of pedestrian transit users.

I intend to address, and hopefully diffuse, some potential problem that I have seen start to emerge on the San Diego trolley. Currently, the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, (SDMTS) publishes a colorful brochure on taking bikes on transit. Unfortunately, the only real specific instruction it gives is that only two bikes per car (one during rush hour) are permitted on the trolleys. There are no real specifics given on basic etiquette for people taking bikes aboard.


The occupancy limit is generally ignored by most people. I ignore it. I am not just a cyclist, I am a commuter also. I submit the following recommended techniques that would allow more bikes on the trolley without displacing non-cyclists.*


If there is more than one cyclist boarding at a stop, they should exchange destinations so they can load first on / last off.

If you only need to go one or two stops, ride the bike.

On more than one instance, I have seen a young person board at one stop, and get off at the next. I consider this a waste of space. I will bike a short distance like this, unless there is a serious hill involved.

Don’t block the aisles.

Last Wednesday I saw something that made me cringe.

What got me about this scene, and what the picture doesn’t show, is the elderly gentleman on crutches who was unable to use the priority seating because two bikes were taking up all six seats. He had to move forward to the interior seats, and nearly fell when the train started moving.

I am sure that these guys have their hearts in the right place. One of them asked me if I was doing a piece on “Green Transit”. I did not lie. I told him I was doing a piece on inter-modal transit. I hope he does not mind if he sees this that I am using him as an example of “how not to.”

You can see in the collection of photos how I stow my bike to be as unobtrusive as possible

My next post will explain my reasoning for doing this, and other methods I have developed.

* I do not intend to dictate to any one. I hope my observations and suggestions start a dialog on these issues, leading to a consensus on what proper etiquette should be.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Adopt a Big Box.

Class consciousness is alive and well in America. One manifestation of this that many bicycle commuters are familiar with is some one shouting out the window of their car “get that thing on the side walk”. There are class divides within the bicycling community as well. It seems to me that the biggest gap is between those that view a sixty dollar bike from a big box store as “just as good” as one costing much more, and those of us willing to pay more. I have lately been trying to bridge that gap.

I admit that I was one such snob, who looked down on the guys on the Big Box Bikes. You could tell them from a distance because the bike always seems to be ill fitting. The reason for this, as many know, is that Wal-Mart and Target sell bikes . . . period. The seat height is “adjusted” during assembly by sliding it all the way down, and tightening the nut. There is no attempt to fit the bike, as there would be at a good bike shop.

Last Monday on my ride to the trolley I passed a guy that I had seen on the trolley before. He is about my age, (fiftyish) but not fat like me. I passed him like he was standing still. When he got to the station he approached me and asked me if I could explain to him how the gears worked. It was then that I got the idea of adopt a Big Boxer. Over the last week I have explained cadence to him, and how to select the correct gear. I also recommended that he keep the tires fully pumped, and to raise the seat. I explained how to determine the correct height. By Wednesday he was so appreciative, and I made another friend.

His story seems to be pretty typical. He hadn’t owned a bike since he was a kid, and gas prices made him to decide to try bicycle commuting. Put off by the prices at specialty bike shops, he goes to the big box and gets a dual shock bike, mistakenly equating a full suspension with overall quality. This is an intuitive conclusion that the marketing people at the big boxes count on.

For commuting, I prefer a hybrid, and think that full suspension adds weight, and absorbs energy that I desperately need. I am still faster that my new found friend, but he tells me his speed has improved, and he is working less hard thanks to my suggestions. The biggest difference, I have told him, is that my hybrid, with it’s 720mm, 90psi tires, has less rolling resistance than his fat, 65psi tires do. But, the bottom line is that it gets him to the train on time.

There are many good sites that deal with bike setup, including this one.

On another note.

I met a couple of British tourists on the train last week. Thomas and Mel were vacationing from their small town near Cornwall, and had ridden a tandem all the way from Vancouver B.C. to San Diego. We had boarded the trolley together at old town. I had introduced myself to them with a piece of cyclist-train rider etiquette that is becoming common place; we exchanged destinations. With this information the bikes could be loaded in a first on, last off sequence.

I was impressed with the ease that they had loading their behemoth. They obviously had practice. They were taking the train all the way to the end of the line in Santee, and from there were planning to ride to the mountain village of Julian (close to a four thousand foot climb in 50 miles) to spend the last days of their vacation.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Trolley-Coaster Dash

I missed the coaster twice this week. On Monday, the trolley I catch in El Cajon left the station almost two minutes early, so i missed it. On Tuesday, some harried woman with two young kids hit the emergency button because she left her back pack at the last station. The trolley driver came back to talk to her for five minutes, which did no more good than if she had just told the woman to get off the trolley and catch the next one back, which she eventually did.

My afternoon commute involves catching a San Diego MTS trolley that is scheduled to get into the Old Town Station three minutes before the Coaster is scheduled to arrive. If I miss this connection, the next Coaster train comes forty seven minutes later.

Commuting by public transportation over the last two years has been good for me over all. The benefits have outweighed the downside. The advantages are;

• $ - When I started doing this, a $154 monthly rail pass saved me about $50/mo over the cost of gasoline alone. And my Pontiac Vibe gets 32mpg on the highway. At current gas prices, and even with a fare increase, my savings are about $80/mo.
• Time – It takes longer than driving, but I can make better use of that time by reading, working, or writing this. The Coaster is laptop friendly. I read, or talk to some of the regulars on the Trolley.
• Health – It is a two mile walk, or bike ride, to work. If I bike, I get in early and sit at Starbucks across the street and work on the laptop (I don’t use the WiFi. At four bucks a cup, it should be free AND no strings attached), or get off a station earlier so I will have a longer ride.

The main disadvantage is time also. I get up an hour earlier than I would if I drove, and get home forty minutes later. If I miss the connection at Old Town, I get home over an hour and a half later.

Here in lies a problem, and the source of numerous complaints by many of us who ride the Green Line Trolley that is scheduled to pull in just before the 5:28 Coaster. The Coaster operates on a “Get ‘em off-Get ‘em on, and lets get the hell outta here” model. If the train starts its route two minutes early, as I have seen it do, it gets into Old Town only a minute before the Green Line is supposed to. If the Green line pulls into the station a minute late, and the Coaster is shutting its doors, there are a lot of irate people on the Trolley.

The problem seems to be that the two trains are operated by two different agencies, and have no regard for us “intermodals” who regard it as a single system. The Coaster WILL NOT wait for an inbound Trolley, even if the Coaster is running early.

If this has happened to you, please leave a comment, and I will try to bring this blog to the attention of the San Diego MTS, and the North County Transit District, NCTD.

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”?