Results tagged “Caltrain” from kwc blog

Caltrain Bike Survey

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caltrainCaltrain has a survey up for bikers that is worth taking the time to fill out. The survey fills me with a bit of dread because it ignores the #1 reason why biking and Caltrain has hit a snag: Baby Bullets reduced the number of bike spaces by 50% on trains. Just about everyone I talk to shares the opinion that they could design the Baby Bullet bike car better.

Rather than address the source of the problem, Caltrain seems focused on bike deterrence: charging extra for bringing bikes on and adding more/better bike parking. The latter is a good thing but does little for people who need their bike at both ends.

There is an additional tangential proposal to move the bike car to the southernmost car, which is more related to San Francisco bike congestion.

Thanks for the heads up, Cyclelicious.

Wireless Caltrain in September

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It looks like September is the target date for wireless on Caltrain. This isn't as tempting as it once was as my Caltrain commute is a lot shorter nowadays, but there does appear to be a benefit for even those that don't crack open their laptops:

One side benefit is the technology may help Caltrain and commuters track trains using Global Positioning System, Caltrain spokesman Jonah Weinberg said.

I've always been annoyed that the digital announcement boards at Caltrain rarely tell you anything useful about the train schedule. Most often they show ads for Caltrain service; rarely they tell you when Caltrain will be late. If this would allow Caltrain to more frequently provide time estimates for trains, or if it would allow me to have an online tracker that could tell me when I needed to leave the office, that'd be fantastic.

Caltrain aims to bring the office on board - Examiner.com

Wireless Caltrain?

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Caltrain has successfully tested a proof of concept for wireless Internet on its trains. I'm a bit torn over this, but not too much. In the past I've felt that I'm much more productive while programming on Caltrain because I don't have Internet connectivity -- I can focus on programming instead of answering e-mail or surfing the Web; however, my Caltrain trips are pretty short now, so I don't work on the train anymore.

Instead, I treat the train as my 15 minutes of morning entertainment and 15 minutes of cooldown after work, long enough for a podcast or a chapter of a relatively easy book. Without wireless, I would have to make sure that I 'sync' anything that I might want, i.e. plugin the iPod/PSP or get the right book off the bookshelf. But sometimes I get on the train and find that I'm too tired to read the book I selected or I forgot to put the latest Daily Show on my PSP. Wireless on the train would allow for "just in time entertainment": go straight to the train station and stream whatever content I want directly to my laptop or PSP. I imagine I could even try and figure out how to play some multiplayer Nintendo DS on the train. Hopefully others will find this announcement exciting, as Caltrain could use some stronger ridership -- but not too strong, because I don't want a bunch of people hogging my bandwidth ;).

Caltrain Wireless FAQ

Almost useful Caltrain site

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iamcaltrain is an attractive mashup of Yahoo maps, Flickr, and the Caltrain schedule. I've posted my own Caltrain hacks before (Caltrain vis, Caltrain tags), so anything that makes my commute easier is bound to catch my attention. iamcaltrain almost did it, but it needs a couple of tweaks:

  • I can get a station-to-station schedule, but I can't bookmark it
  • Reloading clears the schedule I'm looking at
  • Bug: To get from Mountain View to Menlo Park leaving right now it gave me the option of taking the next train to Menlo Park (15 minutes) or taking the same train all the way to San Bruno and catch a train back (1 hour 24 minutes).
  • Bug: If I type the name of a station in the start or end boxes, it assumes I'm typing an address

SF bike ride

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On Sunday, bp, d, joy, ota and I went on a ride from the 4th and King Caltrain station in San Francisco to Sausalito. Along the way we passed by the Folsom Street Fair (heralded by naked man on bike), the new de Young museum building, and the Golden Gate Bridge. We ate lunch in Sausalito, drank wine, got ice cream, and then took the ferry past Alcatraz back to the Market St terminal. The weather was oddly terrific -- it was the weather I had been waiting for all summer.

I highly recommend the ride -- the more adventurous can do an additional leg from Sausalito to Tiburon and catch the ferry there. Make sure you know the bike lanes in SF: I failed to print out a map and we had some additional adventurous path finding as a result.

The photos from the trip were a bit of sadness to go through -- I had my camera set on ISO 800 by accident, so they are all pretty noisy. I can always take similar photos on later trips, but having to wait for such great weather again might take awhile.

San Francisco-07 de Young Alcatraz San Francisco-01 Alcatraz San Francisco-06

San Francisco-11

Caltrain vis take 1

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I believe a fair assessment of the new Caltrain schedule is that there are a lot more opportunities for shorter commutes, but those opportunities come at the cost of increased complexity. In addition to all the problems of what train stops where and which train is which, there's one more bit of complexity in my commute: the gaps between trains during rush hour have been increased to 50 minutes at my closest station.

The larger time gap presents a new choice: do I walk five minutes to my closest station, Menlo Park, or do I walk 15 minutes to the next closest station, Palo Alto.1 It takes a bit of calculation to answer this question with the variety of schedules. I could slice and dice and annotate my paper schedule to answer all these questions, but that's no fun.

I decided instead to write a little Python program to visualize my options, borrowing extensively from my understanding of Visual Display of Quantitative Information. The end result reads chronologically from left to right with each red line representing a commute option:

pampy4.gif

I have grander visions for this little program, but for now I have a something that I can glance over at the end of my workday. Some potential next directions: * nicer fonts, higher resolution for printing on paper * hooking this up to a Web server so others can get schedules * go one step further and try to do a combined Caltrain, BART, N Judah visualization (Caltrain -> BART Millbrae -> Embarcadero vs. Caltrain -> 4th and King Muni -> Embarcadero)

1I could bike to Palo Alto, but the Baby Bullet that stop there has less room for bikes, which means I might to be able to board there. More complexity that I haven't modeled here..

F--- Atherton!

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... well, their Caltrain stop at least. Caltrain has put up a proposed service schedule that is, IMHO, pretty awesome, though it will require a lot more planning to make sure I catch the right train. The major improvements are: * you can now sleep in an hour or two later and still catch a Bullet train * for half-peninsula commutes, the Limiteds are now very similar in speed to the Bullets there is a new-style of Limited that is designed to shot you from San Jose to the mid-Peninsula quickly and vice versa * They got rid of the Atherton, Broadway, College Park, and Paul stations.

For my particular BART-Millbrae-Caltrain commute, where my Caltrain stop is a second tier stop (Hillsdale, SM, MP, SC) the philosophy appears to be that they stack two Caltrains for your stop within 15 minutes of each other -- i.e. if you miss the first train, then another, similarly fast train will be along in 12-15 minutes -- but if you miss the second train, you will have a long wait (~50 minutes). In my experience, BART will be more than 15 minutes late on a regular basis, so I will have to figure out how to properly buffer my schedule and yet still take advantage of the faster service.

Of course, just as happened last time, there will be long, drawn-out community meetings in which this schedule will get modified; in particular, Atherton and Broadway might be able to get themselves back on the schedule.

Caltrain tags

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This little lifehack has saved me a bit of time and kept me on the right Caltrain. Caltrain gives out yellow tags to put on your bike that you label with the station that you are getting on/off. An unintended use is that they are also handy for writing down the Caltrain schedule as they are small, waterproof, durable, and easy-to-read. They also attach as easily to a bag as they do a bike -- if I'm not using my bike I keep the tag on my work bag so that I always have it with me.

caltrain_tags.jpg

Caltrain bot

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After all my previous whining about the horrid online Web pages for getting access to Caltrain's schedule, I've now found a way of quickly accessing the schedule that I like (and no, it's not offered by Caltrain or transit511). Apparently someone on orkut is hosting an AIM chatbot called 'caltrainbot' that responds to simple requests. It's faster than the transit511 site, and it lets me get arbitrary station-to-station schedules based on the current time much faster. It's also a lot easier to access using my cellphone.

Here's a chat log:

me: next menlo park to mountain view
caltrainbot: Next train leaves menlo park at 4:04p and arrives mountain view at 4:18p
me: help
caltrainbot: Actions:
next (station) to (station): show the next train from station to station
remaining (station) to (station): show today's remaining trains from station to station
all (station) to (station): show all trains from station to station stations: show 'official' station names
fortune: display your fortune
about: show info about this bot
help: this message
me: remaining menlo park to mountain view
caltrainbot: Remaining trains from menlo park to mountain view:
Leaves 4:04p, arrives 4:18p
Leaves 4:34p, arrives 4:48p
Leaves 4:57p, arrives 5:11p
Leaves 5:18p, arrives 5:31p
Leaves 5:43p, arrives 5:57p
Leaves 5:55p, arrives 6:08p
Leaves 6:09p, arrives 6:23p
Leaves 6:41p, arrives 6:54p
Leaves 7:04p, arrives 7:18p
Leaves 7:35p, arrives 7:49p
Leaves 8:04p, arrives 8:18p
Leaves 8:34p, arrives 8:48p
Leaves 9:04p, arrives 9:18p
Leaves 10:04p, arrives 10:18p
Leaves 11:04p, arrives 11:18p

(via John R Chang: Blog: caltrainbot)

Why the Millbrae station is failing

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I read an article in the Palo Alto Daily News awhile back about how the Millbrae BART/Caltrain station isn't doing as well as planned. Let me elucidate my reasons for why I think it sucks with an example. I have aligned the schedules for the two systems side-by-side for riding into San Francisco in the afternoon/evening. As a reminder, you ride the Caltrain to the Millbrae station, and then switch over to the BART to ride into the city.

BART 5:18 Caltrain 5:20
BART 5:33
BART 5:48 Caltrain 5:50
BART 6:03 Caltrain 6:06
BART 6:18 Caltrain 6:35
BART 6:48 Caltrain 6:45 <- We have a winner!
BART 7:03 Caltrain 7:04

Does anyone else see this as downright malicious?

Updated to my transit511 rant

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After my previous rant about how Transit 511 took over Caltrain's schedule and made it completely unusable, there's finally been some improvements. I claim no causality between my rant and the change, but I would like to believe that a chorus of similarly peeved individuals led to the change.

You can once again select and start and end station and view the schedule for just those two stations, a feature that existed on the Caltrain site before Transit 511 took over.
[Here's an example with Mountain View and San Mateo][sched].

<newrant>From the example, you can see that they are still really stupid and stick the schedule inside of an embedded frame, which makes it really hard to print. Interestingly enough, if you click on "accessible version" or "printable version," it gets rid of this stupid embedded frame. It's not that they don't have a usable version, it's just that you have to request it specially.

They also don't have the old feature that allowed you to select a start/end time so that you don't have to view the schedule for the 5am trains you'll be sleeping during.</newrant> [sched]: http://transit.511.org/schedules/detail.asp?cid=CT&rte=5081&day=1&dir=NO&fst=12%2CCALTRAIN STATION - MOUNTAIN VIEW&mc=stops&tst=23%2CCALTRAIN STATION - SAN MATEO&image1.x=15&image1.y=9

Nooooo!

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I was really excited today to get my free Caltrain train and parking pass from work. My excitement quickly disappeared when I clicked on my bookmark for the Caltrain schedule and got a 404 not found page from a site called 511 Transit Info. I thought this was odd so I went to the Caltrain site and clicked on their schedule link, only to discover they've transferred all the schedule information to the 511 site, which sucks!

<rant>
Here's what it used to be like to get the Caltrain schedule:
1. Click on interactive schedule
2. Click on Mountain View
3. Click on Menlo Park
Result: a nice listing of the departure and arrival times for the train. It was so nice and succinct that I could have it load in the sidebar of my browser and stay open while I surfed other sites.

Here's what it's like to use the 511 site:
(version 1)
1. Click on Trip Planner
2. Type in address that you are leaving from. If you click on "map" you get a zoomed out map of the entire Bay Area that it expects you to navigate by repeated zooming (which is very slow to load).
3. Repeat step 2 for the address you are going to.
4. Enter in specific time that you are leaving
Result: it tells me the time of the next two Caltrains, nothing more. After all that effort it didn't even tell me anything about the bus route to get to the station.

(version 2)
1. Click on Schedules
2. Select Caltrain
3. Select Northbound/Southbound
4. Click on Weekdays (the only option listed)
Result: table embedded inside of another Web page. You have to click on scrollbars to find the appropriate column. If you are travelling far it is unlikely that you can see the station you are leaving from and the station you are arriving at on the same page. (If you click on printable version you get a Web page that is wider than my 20" LCD monitor).
</rant>