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three perfect days in silicon valley
: introduction
: the six MPO's
: caltrain service
: what are walking audits
: why MPO's are involved
: what makes for a good walking audit
: what makes for a community walkable
: what happens next

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Features & Articles : Three Perfect Days in Silicon Valley

Caltrain Service
page 3

Cyclists aboard the Caltrain service.
Even though this was primarily a walking visit, I had heard so much about the Caltrain service for bikes that I couldn't resist the chance to see it in operation for myself. So I climbed aboard a free Valley Transportation Authority shuttle to Caltrain, paid a whopping $2.00 for my peak-hour, 30-minute ride from to Palo Alto, and joined two cyclists and about 20 passengers at the Santa Clara station. When the 8.02am train pulled up, the two cyclists waited for other cyclists and passengers to get off the train before climbing aboard and strapping their bikes to the 20 or so already inside the purpose-built cars (check out bicyclinginfo.org's transit section for more).

Most of the bikes are tagged with their origin and destination to help fellow riders stack their bikes alongside those with a similar or later destination, and as the train rolled through the Silicon Valley an increasing volume of riders got on and off. At each station, a well-rehearsed dance was played out:

As the train nears a station, riders gather to unhook their bikes; fellow passengers helpfully hold one or more bikes while others are maneuvered into place to disembark. Riders wait for other passengers to get on and off before exchanging places with the cyclists waiting on the platform, and the bikes are hooked into the appropriate stack of bikes.

Always, riders are helping each other to make the system work. At the Mountain View Station the conductor announced that the car was full (24 bikes) while at least one rider remained on the platform. A woman on board quickly counted the bikes and argued that there were only 22 bikes and thus space was still available…but the train hade moved on, leaving the stranded rider with a 20-minute wait for the next train.

Riders boarding the Caltrain Bicycle car.
While I was riding the rails, my fellow trainees and instructors were gathering at the San Jose Airport Doubletree hotel, site of many common walking problems (missing sidewalks and crosswalks, wide roads, fast traffic, and airport and hotel staff who denied it was possible to walk the ¾-mile between the two places) that we were to leave behind for a few days.

A quick round of introductions revealed wide geographic and organizational diversity, but a remarkably similar list of questions, concerns and desires from the training. In an MPO covering dozens of jurisdictions, how would we choose just eight to get one of the workshops? What was the appropriate role for regional planning agency in something as local and detailed as improving conditions for walking? How did these "audits" work and who was it most critical to get to attend? What if an agency wanted to do more than eight? And what makes an environment walkable anyway?

Two and half days later, instructors Peter Lagerwey and Dan Burden (with the help of encyclopedic local color commentator, Patrick Siegman) had answered all these questions and many more that the enthusiastic MPO staff hadn't even thought of. Site visits, a community workshop, a walking audit, a bike ride, and a "survivor"-like test ("we're gonna drop you off here, you have to find your own way to the hotel by 7.00pm") taught us all about in-fill development, "scrapes", the best size for tree-wells, the difference between roundabouts and traffic circles, the pros and cons of angle-parking, the astonishing cost of housing in the region, and why curb-and-gutter is better than rolled-curbs.

next page, What are Walking Audits >>