Martha joined me for the June 29, 2017 Preview Ride on the SMART train from the Rohnert Park station to the Marin Civic Center station and back. The whole thing took two hours — from 10 a.m. to noon. Finding the parking lot was a little dicey — it is not well marked and Google maps did not have pinpoint accuracy. The entrance was in a curve of a small Rohnert Park street, and it was not really wide enough for two way traffic. I was lucky to find a parking spot in the small lot — I wonder how they are going to use it for commuters. It does not seem to be designed for easy access by bus, and is too far away from SSU to walk.
Martha snagged us seats at the table right behind the pilot cabin, so we chatted with the 50-ish driver who let us peer into the “wheelhouse.” It looked like a console for a river ship, something that is mainly designed to go forward in a single plane. There were plenty of security personnel, but they were friendly. A man in his 30’s came onboard with his bicycle and 10-year-old son, also with a bicycle. Even though the man was tall and strong, he had a hard time getting the bike on the gleaming, brushed stainless steel bike hooks that hung from the ceiling right behind where I was sitting.
He hung it handlebars-up and that was clearly wrong — I wouldn’t be able to get past the bike to get out the door. A security guard pointed to the directions, which were on the wall behind where the bike was hung so they were hard to see. The cyclist re-hung the bike handlebars-down, but the front wheel was flopping around.
The instructions were images-only, no words, and did not address where the handlebars should go. The security guard interpreted the images for the cyclist, saying that the bottom cleat first had to be slid up vertically, then folded forward to create a cradle for the bicycle tire. There was a lanyard to secure the wheel to the cradle, but the lanyard was clipped under the assembly. There was no room for the man to squeeze down to the floor between his bicycle and the back of my seat, so his 10-year-old son had to crawl in, release the lanyard, raise and flip forward the cradle, then thread the lanyard through the spokes to secure the tire.
When the boy crawled out backwards, it was clear that there was not enough room for his bike to be hung on the second ceiling hook. They put his bike in a separate bike compartment. Each bike compartment had two hooks but only room for one bike. A uniformed, pretty woman in her 30’s came by handing out literature and I asked if she worked for SMART. Yes, she was in marketing. I explained to her the inadequacy of the signage for securing bicycles. She said they had worked with the bicycle alliance to come up with this design.
Martha and I did not get to chat much because the train sounded its horn three times at each rural grade crossing. It was silent only in Novato and Petaluma but quite noisy everywhere in between. The ride could be a little bouncy when we moved onto a short parallel track. There were toilets in our car and a snack bar in the corresponding section of the back-to-back attached car. It was easy to walk between the two cars, but of course we could not walk to the third car which was attached nose-to-nose.
The SMART train is single-track for much of the trip, with sidings so trains can pass, and one double-platform station (Petaluma). We got on the train, rode to the end, stepped out so they could sweep it, then stepped back into the same seats on the same train and rode back to where we started. It is hard to see the commuter possibilities for this right now, but when they build the spur from San Rafael to the Larkspur Ferry Landing, it will be much more useful.