Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Caltrain commute: by foot or by bike?

Until last fall, I would ride my bike to the Caltrain station, take the train to Mountain View, and ride from there to work. Since then, however, I've been leaving the bike at home.

This is because in August I started training for early December's California International Marathon, then after that redirected my focus to the Napa Marathon. Napa is looking extremely grim due to extended training lost from post-holiday-travel sickness, but I prefer to not dwell on that. I've continued to go by foot to the train.

It's interesting to compare the relative times, using the 314 train which departs San Francisco @ 7:14 am.

Another day on the Caltrain bike car (StreetsBlog)


  1. Leave home at 7:02 with bike.
  2. Ride to 4th and King station. 22nd Street station is closer (0.8 miles versus 1.3 miles), but if I go there I risk the bike spaces filling up before I arrive.
  3. It takes me around 7 minutes to ride to the 4th and King. However, if I leave any later than 7:02, I risk the bike spots filling before I arrive.
  4. The train is scheduled for Mountain View at 7:58 am. I must close my laptop 4 minutes earlier, since I need to unstack my bike from the 4-deep racks.
  5. The ride from there to work is 2.4 miles and takes me approximately 15 minutes, getting me to work at approximately 8:13 am. This is the worst part of the trip, since the ride crosses several major freeways and freeway-like roads.


  1. Leave home at 7:08.
  2. It takes me approximately 1 minute to leave, and 7.5 minutes to run to the train station @ 22nd Street, getting me to the train by 7:17 am.
  3. The train is scheduled for 22nd Street @ 7:19 am, but there is no issue with available seats without a bicycle.
  4. The train is scheduled for Mountain View at 7:58 am. I close my laptop when the train arrives.
  5. At Mountain View, I got the VTA Light Rail train waiting at the adjacent platform. I log into wireless there.
  6. The light rail leaves at 8:03 am.
  7. The light rail deposits me at my nearby stop at approximately 8:08 am.
  8. I walk 0.5 miles to work. This is the worst part of the trip, as the roads here are pedestrian-unfriendly, and I spend my time waiting for long-period, low-duty-cycle pedestrian walk signals, and dodging second-hand-smoke from fellow commuters. It takes approximately 8 minutes.
  9. I arrive at work at 8:16 am.

So for the morning commute, I estimate walking is three minutes faster and includes an extra 4 minutes of productivity on the train. Additionally I trade time riding for time logged into the light rail wireless. I enjoy this time, since the rail is comfortable, and while riding is always fun, crossing freeway ramps isn't my favorite.

The return is somewhat similar. However, there are two primary differences. One is the ride back home from 22nd Street Station involves a 26% grade, and is painful. The other is that the light rail is poorly synchronized with the Caltrain in that direction and I often need to wait up to 15 minutes at the Caltrain platform. Fortunately if I wait on the light rail platform instead I get wireless. I prefer walking home from the 22nd Street station to riding it, although I lose the flexibility of extending the trip to stop at stores not directly on the route. Bus options (MUNI) are very limited and slow.

The clincher is I don't need to deal with storing my bike in my cube at work. I could store it in a locker outside, but that would add more time to my bike commute.

So walking/running gets the win, unless I plan to do a ride at lunch, or unless I need to go somewhere else either during my morning or evening commute.

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