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CycloTouring in California

 

For promoting cycling touring, information on closed sections of interstate and state highways needs to be easily accessible on the Internet.  Adventure Cycling maps do provide routes through the state and are useful, if you are going in the direction set out and if you have the time and energy for the defined routes.

CycloTouring in California, at this time, tends to be more for long distance cyclists who are either confident in cycling in fast moving traffic, are competent cyclists, or lean towards risk-taking. Cycling of families with children, as is frequently seen in Europe, would, most likely, be more restricted to some regions in the state that have good cycling infrastructure and multi-kilometres of bike trails. CycloTouring as a combined mobility trip with the Californian and Amtrak train systems is simple and provides opportunities for regional touring. Just take a train to a designation and start the trip from there and then take the train back. Train one way and return by cycling provides another opportunity to extend the trip in different parts of the state. With the trains providing bike space without the need for boxing bikes expands the opportunities for cyclotouring. The only exception is Amtrak’s Coastal Starlight train, which still requires boxing of bicycles. Hope this changes in the near future. How Amtrak’s bus system fits into this type of touring is uncertain to me as I have received different information when the question was asked. Also, it seems uncertain if a bike would be taken when you show up for a bus. Would suggest that bike racks on front and on the back of these buses, i.e. the Swiss method, would increase cyclotourists using these buses. (Combined mobility cyclotouring trips will be the subject of a future blog article)

Realistically, the only provincial / state entity in North America that has comparable European style cyclotouring capacity, which appeals to families and children is the Province of Quebec with its famous La Route Verté network and the province’s capacity for combined mobility with the intercity transportation providers (trains, buses).

California is a frustrating state to cycle in.  Actually, there was enough frustration during the trip where I did not want to cycle to another city and just wanted to get out of the state.  Discouraging was the number of occurrences where interstate and other highways were closed to cyclists along my desired route path.   This did not happen in other western states.

Yes, one could go way out of the desired direction to find highways to cycle on.  Many times these highway routings were not direct to the desired target city for that night.  It would have taken much longer to reach my final destination this way.

Replacing maps with GPS-based cycling computer.
Garmin Edge 800
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Trip planning for the next day, setting up the day course on my Garmin BaseCamp computer mapping software, and then downloading the information onto the Garmin 800 GPS took much longer than it did in other states.  Sometimes it took an extra hour.

The lack of readily availability of information on which section of interstate and state highways were closed to cyclists caused trip planning to be time consuming.

 

The dreaded sign on interstate and state highways. Time to get off. The highway not designed for cycling as a mode of transportation.
Redding CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

On one day, an unexpected cycling prohibited sign on a state highway forced rerouting and change of destination for the night half way through that day’s trip when uncancellable motel reservations were already made in another city 30 kilometres farther away.  This happened on a Saturday of a busy weekend, which drew many tourists to this area.  Hotels and motels were filled up.  Finally, an accommodation was found late in the day at the edge of that city.  As it turned out, it was the last room available in the motel.  A bit of luck, at least.

 

There was no advance warning signs that this would occur.  There were no cycling bypass route or signs.  The only alternative was to cycle 20 kilometres north and then another 20 kilometres west to meet up with a highway that would take me to my intended destination.  Now, the question became “Is the highway to the motel open for cycling?”  Not wanting to take that risk, the decision was to stay in the city with the prohibition sign and do a major reroute of the trip bypassing some places that I really wanted to cycle through.

A few days later I was cycling on a state highway when that highway split into two highways.  There was one of those cycling prohibited signs for the highway that I wanted to take.  Joyfully, I noticed a bike route sign leading to the other highway.  So I took it expecting that at some point I wild be directed back to the highway that I wanted to take.  After an hour of cycling I realized that would not happen.  Fortunately, a person at a service station could direct me back to the highway that I wanted to be on by using some local roads.  Confidence was now lost that I could depend on highways to be open for cycling along my intended route.

So, this is cycling in California!

 
 

Trip Planning, Finding Information on Highway Cycling

 

The Internet was a frustrating place to find the needed information.  Maps to identify open roads for cycling did not seem to exist.  There was conflicting and sometimes incorrect information on blogs.

CDOT District 2 Cycling Guide providing information on interstate and state highways open and closed to cyclists.
State of California

There was an exception and that was District 2 of the Californian Department of Transportation, a northern district. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

This district had produced a very effective and informative document for cycling there (http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist2/pdf/bikeguide.pdf).  Open and closed highways to cyclists were identified on maps.  For closed sections, alternate routings were mapped out.  Other useful information was provided.   Internet search did not reveal the existence of such a document for the other districts in California.  It certainly is needed.

 

Bike Routes Parallel to Highways.

 

Sometimes by chance, parallel bike trails were come upon through Internet searches, by chance, or avoiding restricted sections of highways.   Some of these trails were well marked with direction and destination signs.  Others were not.  Sometimes these routes used local and rural roads.  Some sections would have bike lanes and paved cycleable shoulders.  Some of the roads were shared roads, usually with a low amount of motorized traffic.  For the most part, bike lanes or cycleable paved shoulders were available on these roads.

Pacific Coast Bike Trail between Santa Cruz and Monterey CA. The well signed trail travels along county roads with sections of bike lanes, paved cycleable shoulders, and trails.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Pacific Coast Bike Trail between Santa Cruz and Monterey CA. The well signed trail travels along county roads with sections of bike lanes, paved cycleable shoulders, and trails.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Bike paths next to a highway were frequently encountered as an entry to cities, while some started before city limits, up to 20 and 30 kilometres.  Some examples included Monterey with a path starting 30 kilometres before the city limit and Santa Cruz with a bike path starting at city limit.

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable as bike trails branch of state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Entering Santa Barbara CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable as bike trails branch of state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Entering Santa Maria CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable as bike trails branch of state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Entering Monterey CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable as bike trails branch of state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Entering Monterey CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable with bike trails branching off state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Leaving Fairfield CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Cycling Facilities in Urban and Rural Environment

 

As mentioned in a previous blog, the positive effects can be continuously seen while cycling in California of federal road programs which requires cycling facilities as part of the funding for new and rebuilt roads.  One continuously comes on these facilities in municipalities from the smallest to larger cities as well as on rural roads from county roads to state highways.  It is rare to cycle in any municipality that is without any bike lanes or trails.

Rural California, cycling made more pleasant with bike lanes or cycle able paved shoulders.
Half Moon Bay CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Rural California, cycling made more pleasant with bike lanes or cycle able paved shoulders.
Corning CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Cities with a Network of Cycling Facilities

 

Cycling cities. Separated bike lanes in downtown waterfront area supporting retail.
San Francisco CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

When discussion turns to cycling cities in the US, normally Portland, as a US large cycling city leader, Seattle (3.5%), and San Francisco (3.5%) as an upcoming cycling city, are mentioned.  Sometimes the City of Davis is mentioned with its 22% cycling mode share. There the discussion tends to end.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

On this trip there were other medium size cities that should be recognized for their work towards building of a cycling network and for developing a sizeable cycling mode share. Municipalities passed through that have made an effort towards providing cycling facilities include Fairfield (0.2%), Vallejo (0.2%), Monterey, Avila Beach, and Santa Maria (0.5%).

Special mention goes to the efforts put out by the following cities: Santa Cruz (cycling mode share 9%, many innovative cycling features), San Luis Obispo (7%), and Santa Barbara (6.4%).

Cycling cities. Separated bike lanes making the commute more pleasant.
Santa Cruz CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Cycling cities. Downtown bike parking on streets. Cyclists are good customers for retailers.
Santa Cruz CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Cycling cities. Mass bicycle parking contributing to attainability of higher education. An indicator of the attraction of cycling for transportation when the environment is supportive.
Santa Barbara CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Cycling cities. Cyclists are good customers for retailers.
San Luis Obispo CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Cycling cities. Cyclists are good customers for retailers.
San Luis Obispo CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Source of cycling mode share to work: League of American Cyclists, 2010 data on bicycle commute mode share (based on the US Census American Community Survey with data on 375 cities over 60,000 population).

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Cyclist in Copenhagen. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Cyclist in Copenhagen. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

People have shown their enthusiasm for moving towards environmentally sustainability in our urban and rural places while attacking causes which are affecting our personal health more and more each day.  Breathing disorders are on the rise along with obesity increasing the provincial health care costs and affecting the time span we can expect to live.

It is argued that for this province to move towards a sustainable greenest province with greenest cities, its transportation capacity must be environmentally friendly.  Each mode of transportation must do its part.  It is also argued that at this time, the transportation system is not in balance. 

All local buses with bike racks. Vancouver, BC 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

All local buses have bike racks. Vancouver, BC 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Infrastructure with Cars as a New Consumer Product
Looking back to the first half-century of the 1900’s, city streets were filled with people walking to their destinations, taking streetcars and buses, using interurban trams, and cycling.  There were a few cars and trucks about.  Post-war governments needed to create jobs for people. So they turned to the automobile as a 

Bikes and rapid transit as part of multi-modal transportation. Vancouver, BC 2005. Photo by HJEH Becker

Bikes and rapid transit as part of multi-modal transportation. Vancouver, BC 2005. Photo by HJEH Becker

saviour. Governments were willing to quickly jump on this bandwagon by looking to the car industry and the oil companies for post-war jobs.  Streetcar transit disappeared to make a market for gasoline and diesel-powered buses.  For the sake of personal freedom and to explore our cities and countryside, the populous happily embraced this trend. 

Streetcar in Strasbourg, France 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Streetcar adjacent to bike lane. Strasbourg, France 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Car-Based Evolution of the Transportation Infrastructure
Over the last 50 to 60 years, the infrastructure for movement by cars, has been well funded.  In fact, it could be argued that funding has exceeded the needs of the infrastructure for movement of freight.  During this time, pedestrian infrastructure has reasonably kept up with its role in the system.  Over the last 20 years, transit has seen growth in investment.  Much still needs to be done, especially in semi and real rapid transit as well as intercity fast train infrastructures.  The bus systems have moved towards maturity from a network perspective but still needs much funding for improvement of service levels to where it really is a competitor to car travel.

Heavily used bike parking lots are outdoor and also indoor with automated security system. Outside local and interurban train station. Karlsruhe, Germany June 2010.

Well-used bike parking lots at main commuter and long-distance train station. Indoor bike parking secured with an automated security system. Karlsruhe, Germany June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Currently, cycling as a serious competitor to car travel, is well behind where it should be.  Cycling needs a large infusion of capital within this province.  Infrastructure design toolkits needs to be revitalized, based on European thinking to draw people to cycling.  Cycling has an important place as a mode of transportation both for taking people to their end destination, as well as, bringing people to high-frequency service, faster transit, or rapid transit lines.

Bikes allowed on all B.C. Ferries. British Columbia Jul. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Bikes allowed on all B.C. Ferries. Some ferries have bike racks. British Columbia Jul. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Cycling as part of Greenest Cities
Looking at transportation mode share for a province such as British Columbia, some cities should have a cycling mode share of 20% while others should be in the 10% to 15% range.  Technology and climate is  now there for such mode shares.  E-bikes can now effectively tackle hills which may be deterrents to cycling for some people.  What we lack, are an infrastructure which appeals to people to make personal changes in mode of travel, infrastructure design toolkits which appeals to people who do not cycle today, and social marketing programs which would encourage people to make that change.

Rebuilding the Cycling Environment as a Transportation Option
Over the past 10 to 20 years some progress in the cycling environment has been done by all levels of governments within the province.  Modest amounts of moneys have been invested in infrastructure.  It has allowed cycling mode share to increase to the 3.7% and 5.5% levels in Vancouver and Victoria. 

Downtown Vancouver, BC Apr. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Downtown Vancouver, BC Apr. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Unfortunately, there are no other municipalities achieving that type of growth.  Transit buses in the province all have bike racks.  Bike racks are a support tool for people to make the shift to cycling as racks provide people with an option to cycling by taking the bus when they need it.  Rapid transit systems allow a modest and insufficient number of bicycles on board.   Ferries accommodate cycling.  It may be observed that this is a start and that is all it is.

From people’s feedback much more needs to be done and now is the time.  There is a change in people’s priorities and commitment to a sustainable, healthy, and environmental province.  Timing may be right for more focus and investments by governments for cycling.

Further Reading:
Teschke, Kay Dr.  Cycling in Cities Survey. Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 2005 and 2006.

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Photo by HJEH Becker June 2010.

Growth of cycling could see a real spike when people can effortlessly get out of their urban environment and into the countryside to do their recreational cycling.  A European-style train system composed of suburban, regional, and fast trains provides a real boost for cycling with readily-accessible escape opportunities to the country.  Beneficiaries would be the local retail economy of small cities and towns along rail routes.

One of my morning activities includes planning my day ride(s).  I want to get in about 40 kms. of cycling for exercise and also do my daily shopping along the way.  In addition, meetings and business engagements are planned into the daily cycle.

Hamburg train station, Germany June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Hamburg train station, Germany June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker. Station serves suburban to high speed trains.

 Just back in Vancouver from over a month in Europe, my daily cycle felt different.  It is urban-based again.  As I was cycling along, my mind drifted on how my habits would be different if I lived in Europe again, a place where suburban, regional, inter-city, and high speed trains are just like using a streetcar.  The drawback to cycling in North American cities is that trips tend to be cycled out and then cycled back to the starting point which means one does not normally leave the urban environment when one wants to cycle 60 or 100 kilometres on a day.

Germany's train system, Deutsch Bahn offers a rail bike storage car. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Germany's train system, Deutsch Bahn offers a rail bike storage car for many of its scheduled trains. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

 In Europe, with a mature network of electrified regional and inter-city trains and hourly service at a minimum, a cyclist can select their distance for any day, look at the network of villages, towns, and cities served, and pick a destination to cycle there.  The return can be by train using bike-friendly train cars.  In fact, one can decide to take a train for an hour or two, then continue on by cycling .  For us, being in Europe meant that we could cycle the 100 km from Freiburg, Germany to Basel in Switzerland and then take a train back.  No doubling back on the route which we tend do back in Vancouver, when we cycle out to the Golden Ears Bridge –a 100 km. round trip cycle for us.

The region and the countryside is opened up to cyclists. They can conveniently cycle in rural landscape and then return home without the tediousness of seeing the landscape all over again while cycling on the way back.

Bike parking for restaurant patrons by Rhine River, Germany. Less than 5 kms. from Basel, Switzerland June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Bike parking for restaurant patrons by Rhine River, Germany. Less than 5 kms. from Basel, Switzerland June 2010. France was just across the river. Photo by HJEH Becker. This was a busy place.

One might ask:  So what?  Why should the public care if cyclists can conveniently and frequently interlink with rail?  It is all about local retail economy and retail health in smaller cities, towns, and villages.  Trips of 50 to over 100 kilometres a day, tend to result in cyclists visiting local establishments 

Cyclists enjoying lunch. Summerhill Winery, Kelowna. Okanagan Valley, British Columbia 2008. Photo by J. Chong

Cyclists enjoying lunch. Summerhill Winery, Kelowna. Okanagan Valley, British Columbia 2008. Photo by J. Chong

 and leaving some money behind.  With an average spending in the $10 range per cyclist, the local effect builds up as the cycling trip volumes grow.  On top of that, the rail provider also sees its revenue grow, especially on off-business, quieter traffic volume days from its equipment utilization perspective.

If the same rail capability were available in Vancouver, I could cycle out to Mission, Chilliwack, or Hope and then catch a train home on the same day.  No boxing of bicycles for the trip if the train’s bike cars also have bike racks.  Just an easy roll on and off the train car.

Okanagan Valley, BC. One of the few wine-producing regions in Canada. Photo by J. Chong

  I could also take a train out to the same locations and then do rides out from there.  From Hope, I could cycle out into the Fraser Canyon and return in the same day.  With a fast train, a day trip in the Okanagan Valley would be feasible along with a meal at a vineyard, some wine tasting and shopping.

Right now, I am starting to plan my next trip to the East Coast.  I will not fly.  Instead I will be making use of trains and cycling.  Options are being considered.  First a three day cycle trip to the first station.  Cities along the train route are being considered for stopovers to try out their local cycling infrastructure.  Later on, cycling trips of 2 to 7 days are being considered for segments on the trip.  All doable since it is easy take a bike on the train.  Options are limited since there are only a handful of routes

Quail's Gate Winery. West Kelowna.  Okanagan Valley, BC. Photo by J. Chong

Quail's Gate Winery. West Kelowna. Okanagan Valley, BC. Photo by J. Chong

 to select.  Bike boxes are unfortunately needed but on stop-overs, train stations will keep your box for several days.  For local retail and hospitality businesses, monies being spent at local establishments that would not happen if I would fly instead.

In the Province of British Columbia, the British Columbia Cycling Coalition has been promoting a cycling touring network throughout the province, named the Soaring Eagle Cycling Routes.  If this network were built and if a network of efficient, fast, frequent passenger rail system were implemented for movement of people as an option to car travel, then local economies in small cities and towns would see a real boost.

 

Jack is a touring cyclist who has logged well over 80,000 kilometres on trips ranging from four days and up to ten and a half months in three continents.  In addition, he has logged thousands of kilometres on two and three day trips.    He has also spent much time in researching the economics of cycle touring; studying networks and facilities; and the needs of touring cyclists.  He is also a lead promoter of the Soaring Eagle Cycling Routes concept for the province. 

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Bike rack storage on Amtrak Cascadia train that runs along the Northwest Pacific Coast. Sept. 2009.

Bike rack storage on Amtrak Cascadia train along the Northwest Pacific Coast. Sept. 2009. Photo by HJEH Becker. Bike and luggage storage train car is only on certain scheduled trains across the rest of the US.

In British Columbia, why is it important to keep the Canadian Pacific’s Armstrong Subdivision  in rail operations and prevent CP from selling it off for non-transportation use?  Why is it important that all abandoned rail lines be turned into bike trails?  Why is it important that all operational rail lines also have bike trails within their right-of-way where mountain cliffs are not a hindrance?  Look at what is happening in Toronto and Ontario into Québec. ( www.biketrain/ca ).  For rail-trails and rail with trails, Québec’s La Route Verte touring cycling routes and findings in an economic report prepared by a Montréal university, has shown a clear, positive impact on local retail economies.

How inspiring, a bike train operating out of Toronto.  A bit of Europe brought into our land.  It is the work of Justine Lafontaine and Transportation Options.  In the first year, Justin had to put a bike rack on a VIA train luggage car and then personally loaded the bikes.  In 2009, I had finished putting my folding bike into 

Cyclist tying up bike in bike storage rail car. Cesky Krumlov June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Tying up bike to rail in bike storage train car. Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker. Aging, rusty but clean Czech trains usually provided a bike storage car per train.

its soft case and went to the VIA check-in agent in Toronto on my way to Montréal.  He looked at the bag and told me that they had a bike rack on the train I was going on.  What a surprise. 

Germany's Deutsch Bahn train system in Germany. June 2010.

Germany's Deutsch Bahn trains often provide at least 1 bike storage car per train. June 2010. Reservations are recommended since cyclists use them often.

 In 2010, Transportation Options and its partners, VIA Rail, Ontario Northlands, Go Transit and others, have a suite of routes that are serviced with capacity to carry bikes on train.   Some of these services take cyclists and their bicycles 500 kms and more to their Ontario destinations.  Also pilot trains are being run to destinations such as Huntsville, Bracebridge, and South River north of Toronto.

Imagine if the bike train concept were brought to British Columbia. It would open up such destinations as Whistler and farther north municipalities, the Fraser Valley to Salmon Arms and south to Kelowna, Osoyoos and east, Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, and other destinations.  Already we have capacity to travel south to Seattle, Portland, and Eugene, Oregon with the two train services each day on Amtrak that have bike racks.

Bike secured to metal bracket on Swedish train. June 2010

Bike secured to metal bracket in rail bike storage car on Swedish train. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

 Imagine the flexibility that would be provided for touring cycling for a day, for a weekend, or for longer trips, not only from Vancouver outward but also by bringing people from the B.C. interior to the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.  Image the new business and revenue that smaller centres in BC would enjoy from the cycling touring trade.  Now if this were Europe, Kelowna would only be 2 hours or less from Vancouver with high-speed trains.  One could leave Vancouver in the morning, cycle the wine country of the Okanagan, and return home the same day.  A dream or a reality someday?  Time will tell.

Loading up bikes onto Amtrak's Cascadia train with a bike and storage car. Fall 2009. Photo by HJEH Becker

Loading up bikes onto Amtrak's Cascadia train with a bike and storage car. Fall 2009. Photo by HJEH Becker

  A bike train — is it something Vancouverites and British Columbians would use?  Well for me, the answer is yes.  I have just returned from a bike and train trip in Europe.  What a joy to push a bike loaded with panniers and too much stuff onto train cars.  Just remember to make bike rack reservations for the bike on trains or you may be disappointed.  By the end of August, I will be off on my next bike and train trip.  This time the trip will be to the eastern part of North America.  This time it will not be as convenient as 

Bike storage rail car inside Germany's Deutsch Bahn trains June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Inside bike storage rail car for Germany's Deutsch Bahn trains June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

 pushing a bike on a train.  At each stop, the folding bike will be taken out or put back into its soft bag.

When we lived in Toronto, we made good use of the GO Transit trains to get out of the city for a day, a weekend, or longer.  Train stops such as Kingston, Cobourg, and Cornwall were frequent destinations.  The VIA Rail station staff would thoughtfully keep our bike boxes until we returned.

Czech national train car --with roll-on bike storage June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Czech national train car --with roll-on bike storage June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

 So, we should rally our governments to ensure that rail lines stay for transportation uses, either singularly for cycling or for bike trails and operational trackage within the same right-of-way.

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Frequent service , Easy loading of bicycles onto public transportation vehicles, Bicycles go with the passenger, Guaranteed space on the vehicles, Reserving the space.

Bikes on DB train from Karlsruhe, Germany to Prague. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Bikes on DB train from Karlsruhe, Germany to Prague. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

I have a keen interest in seeing the capacity for people to tour British Columbia by bicycle, be developed so that we can all take advantage of the magnificent scenery in this province. Just like cycling on the La Route Verte cycling touring network in Quebec.

Czech countryside from within a bike storage rail car which accommodates some passenger seats. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Czech countryside from within a bike storage rail car which accommodated a few passenger seats. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Over the last two weeks in Europe, we have been reminded of how the cycling experience can be expanded by an effective train transportation system, which conveniently carries bicycles.  Also, we saw how such a system expands its ridership when carrying bicycles is as simple as rolling  bicycles onto a train car, with panniers and all.

In North America, when we go for a day ride on a weekend, some of us need to plan for a round trip and sometimes that includes doubling back the way we went out.  Our cycling distance is thus limited to 50 kilometres or so from our starting point.  For large city dwellers that means much of the time is spent within an urban environment, not the rural landscape that we seek.  In Europe that is a bit different, with hourly or at least bi-hourly train service.

Lifting off our bikes at train switch, Cesky Budejovice, Czech Republic before continuing to destination town of Cesky Krumlov on a different train, southwest of Prague. June 2010. Photo by J.Chong. Though Czech trains were abit aged, they did offer a rail car with bike storage per trip.

Lifting off our bikes at train switch, Cesky Budejovice, Czech Republic before continuing to destination town of Cesky Krumlov on a different train, southwest of Prague. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong. Though Czech trains were abit aged, they did offer a rail car with bike storage per trip.

In the last few days we were reminded of the importance of booking bicycle space on trains.  A few days ago we were forced to catch a very early train to Cesky Budejovice rather than choose other two more convenient, but later trains.  Then we had to sit in a train station for an hour waiting for our connecting train rather than continue straight on.  Why?  Well, all the bicycle spots on the convenient trains were already reserved.  On

Basic bike storage rail car with some passenger seating. On older Czech rail cars June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becke

Basic bike storage rail car with some passenger seating. On older Czech rail cars June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

the way to and then back to Prague we saw cyclists in their spandex gear get on and off.  They had done their day ride to a more distant place and returned home by train.  What a more rewarding cycle than having to loop back.  More cycling is done in the rural landscape than in the city.

We took advantage of this way of cycling a week ago.  On a Sunday, we cycled 97 kms. along the Rhine from Freiburg, Germany to Basel in Switzerland.  Then we caught a train back.  Good thing we got early onto the train.  The train held approximately 38  bicycles in two cars.  As the train pulled out of the station, the bike sections were full.  When someone wanted to get out, then 10 cyclists had to get off the train first, to make room for the departing cyclist.  On the way back, at almost every train stop some cyclists could not get on.  Pass byes were frequent.  It certainly was a reminder that bike reservations were needed.

On our segment from Karlsruhe, Germany to Prague, we did make reservations. 

Germany's Deutsch Bahn Rail have their bike storage rail cars clearly marked. Czech and Swiss Rail also mark their bike storage rail cars. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Germany's Deutsch Bahn Rail have their bike storage rail cars clearly marked. Czech and Swiss Rail also mark their bike storage rail cars. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Good thing, there was just room for two more bicycles in the car.  At the same time, I tried to make reservations for the bikes  from Nuremburg, Germany to Copenhagen.  Forget that.  We have reservations for ourselves, but not the bikes.  Good thing we have folding bikes with us so they can go as luggage.  However, that means the effort of packing all our panniers into one bag and folding the bikes.  We also need to carry bike bags as well.  Then, there is the matter of finding space on the train to store the bike luggage. 

Bikes in a designated bike storage area on a Swedish train from Copenhagen to Malmo, Sweden June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Bikes in a designated bike storage area on a Swedish train from Copenhagen to Malmo, Sweden June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker. Train ride is only 30 min. one way.

 Much more convenient when one can roll the bikes on the train with the panniers attached, especially when there is only a 2 or 3 minutes station stop for the train.

The convenience of travelling with folding bicycles in Europe certainly has proved out over the past three years.  Small hotel rooms, smaller elevators, and trains that

Folding bikes in designated bike train car on Swiss Rail June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Folding bikes in designated bike train car on Swiss Rail June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker. The square metal hold was used later to strap bikes securely with our own cords.

either do not allow bikes on board or have insufficient space due to  high demand, have not been an issue.  Well maybe except for one hotel in Paris where I nearly had to send the folding bike up on the elevator to the room floor as there was almost not enough space for me.

Most of the trains we have used, had racks for the bikes.  Two days ago, we went on a local train that had a few cars with railing along one and centre posts for leaning bikes.  Convenient way to go.

Some North American Experiences
While living in Toronto, we frequently took advantage of the hourly GO commuter train service to cycle out of town and then come back by train or the reverse.  Four bikes on a car with 10 or so cars, usually there was sufficient space for all.  Now this train service has been much expanded and bike racks are on GO buses as well, servicing points 100 km plus from Toronto.

We also used to use the friendly VIA Rail service cycling to a destination for a day or a two-day weekend trip and then returning by train.  Although boxing of the bicycles is required, one could deliver the bicycles to the departing station a day or two in advance and pick them up within two days afterwards.  In 2009, VIA Rail also experimented with a bike rack on its daily train that had baggage service between Toronto to Montreal.

On the west coast, there is the Amtrak service between Vancouver and Portland with ongoing connection to Eugene, Oregon.  It is easy to reserve a spot on the bike racks on a train.  If the racks are fully booked, then there is more room in the luggage section of the trains for bicycles.

Then there is British Columbia.  The VIA Rail system has a limited bi-daily service on one route.  Unfortunately, the route does not service the most popular destinations or allow one to return within a weekend time frame.  The train service on Vancouver Island does not accommodate bicycles.  The West Coast Express commuter train services are too limited in service and operate in one direction only to be of any use, except for commuting to work.  The provincial bus service does not guarantee that your bicycle will go on the same bus with you or the same day.  Boxing is required and it will be shipped as packaged freight, not as luggage with package freight charges.  Then there is the real situation where not all Greyhound bus stops have bike boxes nor are all bus stations open when the buses are schedule to stop.  We have encountered this situation.  Fortunately, I was leaving day later and could take the bike to the station.  Coincidentally the station happened to have a bike box in almost complete condition.

Taking a folding bike on Greyhound buses has not been an issue for me with the drivers handling the bike carefully in its soft bag.  Every now and then, one of the drivers would tell me that he or she takes along a folding bike to use at their layover destination.

The current situation in BC does not attract local cyclists or global visitors to plan touring trips in the province for short or longer periods.  The bus companies could significantly help by improving their capability to carry bicycles, especially more than two, and for providing reservation capability by bus.  Techniques for carrying bicycles could include bus racks, bike racks in the luggage area, bike rack on the back of the bus (capacity could be up to 6 or 8 bicycle), bike capacity inside bus trailers, and bike racks on top of trailers (capacity of 6 to 8 is feasible).

For the train service, the E&N’s Vancouver Island train service could add one car designed for cyclists.  For VIA Rail, they could add bike racks in the baggage car.

Adopting European train techniques could lead to more cycling flexibility and increased traffic for train and bus companies that travel inter-city.  For people, it means more transportation options.  For liveabilty of a city, it is a step forward.  It is just another technique to moving towards a Greener City, a Healthier City, a People City.

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