Monday, October 12, 2009

Limited Bike Space on the Pacific Surfliner

Saturday night provided a perfect opportunity for me to show Bobby my commute in Irvine; there was to be an anthropology department party near the university. We took our bikes to Union Station and made sure to arrive about twenty minutes before our train was scheduled to leave so that we had ample time to get our bikes situated.

Then it became clear that, despite the five passenger cars forming this particular southbound
Pacific Surfliner, there were only three bike parking spots on the whole train, and they were full.

Well, I thought, shoot. We could give up our plan, or we could wait an hour for the next train, or we could just hang around on the platform talking to different crew members about our dilemma. I was all set to go complain at the Amtrak ticket office about this inconvenience, but then I figured that if we just played it cool we might get somewhere after all.

I learned from one crew member that this particular train was a continuation of the Coast Starlight that travels all the way from Seattle to San Diego, and these continuation trains tend to be more crowded. It was a shame, I mused, that there is no way to reserve a bike spot online, and he told me that Amtrak actually is working on developing something like this. Let's hope so.

Sigh, too bad I would be missing my department's party, I said. What about taking the train down without the bikes? he asked. Well, that wouldn't work, because there are no direct transit connections between the Irvine train station and UC Irvine, so we'd be stranded once we got to the station.

At the last minute they did let us put our bikes in the mostly empty baggage car, though the attendant for that car made it clear that this was not her preference. The orders came from some higher up on the train. It's like we got visited by some kind of anti-bureaucracy fairy!

I don't object to the idea that trains and buses can only accommodate a certain number of bikes at any given time, but when you have a train put together from older model cars, and only one of those cars has regulation bike racks, but there is a baggage car sitting empty, it's downright silly to bar passengers from using available space.

I've already documented my commute through Irvine pretty extensively on this blog, but we did find a new bike path to use that's really swell. It starts at Turtle Rock Community Park and roughly follows Bonita Canyon Drive, then Shady Canyon, winding through the scrub hills until you crest and see all of central Orange County spread out below you, from the fireworks of Disneyland to the subdivisions creeping up the side of Saddleback Mountain. The crickets and dampness of the marine layered air made this an exceptional night ride, with a simulacrum of Tuscany off to one side and chaparral on the other. I'm sure it's a nice ride during the day, too. It ends at Sand Canyon Avenue and the 405.

View South Orange County by Bike and Transit in a larger map