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BART pilot will test bikes on rush hour trains

WMATA's counterpart in the San Francisco Bay Area, BART, currently restricts bikes on their trains during rush hours. But they've decided to pilot letting cyclists bring their bikes on trains during the peak period.

Video from BART.

Rules for bringing bikes on BART are more nuanced than WMATA's rules, which ban bikes outright during rush hours.

On BART, for example, the printed schedules specifically show which trains do not allow bikes. Essentially, during rush hour (roughly 7-8:30 am and 4:30-6:30pm), bikes are not allowed on inbound trains. Additionally, during peak periods, bikes are not allowed to enter or exit the stations in downtown Oakland or downtown San Francisco (except cyclists can board morning trains bound for the East Bay at Embarcadero and can ride to Embarcadero from the East Bay in the afternoon).

BART requires that cyclists not board crowded trains and give priority to seniors and the disabled. That will continue to be the case under the pilot project.

The pilot will allow cyclists to ride all trains, at all times, during Fridays in August. Depending on what happens, the rules might change—or they might not.

Could the approach work in Washington? Our trains do get crowded, as do stations. But a cyclist going from Brookland to Silver Spring in the morning, would likely be on a very empty train. Could allowing bikes on outbound trains that don't pass through the core work?

The best way to find out might be through a pilot program. I'm glad to see BART is trying to get some experiential data.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. Hes a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer. 


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Definitely in favor of a pilot here. Seems like allowing bikes on outbound trains during the AM peak would be of great benefit to reverse commuters heading to workplaces outside the core, where having a bike would be even more valuable for completing the final leg of their trip.

by Matt T. on Jul 9, 2012 10:52 am • linkreport

The only question I have is how to enforce such a rule. I board at RIA in the morning. Indeed, by that point, the trains headed to Silver Spring and Glenmont are very empty, and a bike would be fine. But the station manager doesn't know where that rider is going when they enter the station, nor would an officer stationed near the gates. So would it be up to the passengers to yell at someone who boarded an inbound train? Seems likely. And since most people who don't follow the rules don't care what others think, then I'm going to end up jabbed by someone's handlebars during a crowded rush hour commute.

Psst...a cyclist could easily, you know, *ride* from Brookland to Silver Spring. I mean, I suppose someone could be riding a long distance *to* Brookland, but you might want to pick a slightly different scenario as an example, since that's only 6 miles and there's a trail (yes, some of it on the road) between the two points.

by Ms. D on Jul 9, 2012 10:57 am • linkreport

How about at least removing the ridiculous bag requirement for using folding bikes during rush hour?

by Mike on Jul 9, 2012 11:01 am • linkreport

Notice in the picture, that the Bart trains only have 2 doors instead of 3. This design allows more seats, also BART allows you to walk through the cars through the middle door where the cars are connected. I like both these design features.

by Davin Peterson on Jul 9, 2012 11:18 am • linkreport

I'd love to see them allow bikes on reverse-commute trains during rush hour. Enforcement would be tough if they do things the way they do now, but if they would just occasionally put someone on a train to enforce the rules, it would be easy. Plus if they did that, they could actually enforce other rules -- which would prevent the aggressive panhandling, eating and drinking, music playing, etc. which I routinely see on trains.

by Rob on Jul 9, 2012 11:18 am • linkreport

Davin Peterson: Fewer doors also slows down boarding, though, which slows down everyone's ride and cuts down on how many trains you can run per hour. We had encouraged WMATA to actually consider 4 doors instead of 3 on the new cars; New York's cars of the same size have 4 doors. It means fewer seats but is much easier for people to get on and off quickly.

by David Alpert on Jul 9, 2012 11:24 am • linkreport

@Davin Peterson

An easier way to get more space is to only use side seating, again like NYC. It would make more room for bikes and more room for standees, actually increasing train capacity. All of BART's new cars will be 3 door, and the system's trains will slowly start to look more like DC's.

by OctaviusIII on Jul 9, 2012 11:31 am • linkreport

I've noticed some station managers stop bicyclists at rush hour and ask them where they're heading. The managers have let them through if they're going in the reverse rush direction.

by Adam L on Jul 9, 2012 11:33 am • linkreport

@OctaviusIII @David Alpert

I emailed WMATA suggesting having only side seating when they were designing the newest cars to increase standing capacity for rush hour. I received a reply stating that their surveys have shown "customers prefer sitting forward and backward." I thought it odd that metro would care more about customer preference than rush hour capacity. What do you think?

Perhaps if more of us speak up next time they purchase new cars WMATA will get the point. Perhaps not.

by Sam on Jul 9, 2012 12:00 pm • linkreport

@ Adam L:I've noticed some station managers stop bicyclists at rush hour and ask them where they're heading.

Wow. I have often been yelled at for having the audacity of entering a station one minute early...

Friendliness is rare among station managers.

by Jasper on Jul 9, 2012 12:05 pm • linkreport

@ Jasper

My experience has been more like yours. I've been scolded even in cases where there is almost no one on the platform.

by Sam on Jul 9, 2012 12:13 pm • linkreport

Caltrain is still far ahead of BART and WMATA. Granted, it's heavy rial and has more extensive network, but Caltrain has dedicated storage space for bikes and can accommodate up to 100 bicycles per train.

by Jack Love on Jul 9, 2012 12:32 pm • linkreport

@Jack Love
Caltrain is really a different beast. It's comparable to a better MARC or VRE and travels roughly the same distance as DC to Baltimore. Despite its bike cars, the Warm Planet bike storage facility up in San Francisco is totally at capacity. People store their bikes in the City because getting them on the train is too much of a hassle.

by OctaviusIII on Jul 9, 2012 12:39 pm • linkreport

Mrs. D, one way to enforce it would be to not allow cyclists to exit stations downtown in the morning or in the suburbs in the afternoon. I suppose some cyclists could get on in Greenbelt in the morning and get off at Vienna, but they wouldn't be able to get all the way back in the afternoon.

by David C on Jul 9, 2012 12:59 pm • linkreport

Okay, David. I'd be willing to see if that works on a pilot basis. Of course, we'd have to account for any rule-breakers who slipped through with a well-designed survey, to see if station managers are actually enforcing. I know I see people getting on and off occasionally at RIA at rush hours, and they're not stopped as others have been. Of course, the station managers there have told me they generally don't interfere with a certain type of customer, and the customers I'm referring to are generally not work-bound commuters. I can't blame the station managers...I wouldn't want to get hurt on my job, either, and quite frankly, I'm happy if this group of riders even bother paying a fare, refrain from smoking and drinking alcohol on the trains and platforms, refrain from fighting, and use headphones (even if I can still hear the music with the headphones deployed), so there's always going to be some rule-breaking. We just need to make sure it doesn't increase to include people who should know better and should have a sense of shame.

by Ms. D on Jul 9, 2012 1:26 pm • linkreport

Mrs. D, one way to enforce it would be to not allow cyclists to exit stations downtown in the morning or in the suburbs in the afternoon.

That's not really enforcing it, however. If they get on and travel in the peak direction, in crowded cars, then the damage is done. Not letting them exit doesn't prevent what the policy aims to prevent in the first place - it might even exacerbate it by forcing the cyclist to make another trip on another crowded car, since many stations downtown are busy and crowded during rush hours in both directions.

Not allowing cyclists to exit downtown might be a policy goal, but it is not an enforcement mechanism.

by Alex B. on Jul 9, 2012 1:27 pm • linkreport

Alex, but it is. We often use enforcement after the fact. For example, there is nothing to stop you from filing a false tax return. Except that long after you do, you could be caught and arrested etc...Same thing here, you can break the rule, but afterward you'll find you have gained nothing and are probably worse off than before.

If people get on, try to get downtown, can't and have to get back on and ride somewhere far away, then they'll only do that once before they realize it doesn't work. I think the impact of having a handful of people try this once and fail would be very small. The real goal is to keep people from doing this daily and that's what it would do.

Ideally we could stop people from making that one attempt. But we can't. Not without a high cost. It isn't the ideal method of enforcement from an efficacy standpoint, but it is from an efficacy/cost standpoint.

by David C on Jul 9, 2012 1:39 pm • linkreport

Alex, but it is. We often use enforcement after the fact.

Yes, we do. And that enforcement is often woefully inefficient at implementing the policies we like.

My point is this: Structuring policies in a way that is easily enforceable is just as important as the idea of 'enforcement' in the abstract.

The easiest to enforce are the bright line rules.

by Alex B. on Jul 9, 2012 1:58 pm • linkreport

I ride my bike so I can avoid Metro.

Metro is a big enough pain already. Why would anyone want to be burdened with a bike on the train?

I can see the rationale for BART because there is no convenient way to ride across the bay. The Potomac river crossings allow bikes, so I don't get it.

by Tom on Jul 9, 2012 2:03 pm • linkreport

@Ms. D: What general group are you referring to?

by selxic on Jul 9, 2012 2:09 pm • linkreport

The easiest to enforce are the bright line rules.

Fair enough. This will not be the easiest rule to enforce. If easiest rules are the goals than I have a lot of other modifications to recommend. For example, you can't board a train with a bike at the center doors. There is no way to enforce this. So, if that's a problem with you, then we should probably just ban bikes at all hours of the day - which would be the easiest rule to enforce with the brightest line - no bikes ever.

Despite this not being the easiest it rule, it will, nonetheless, be enforceable and pretty easily so and with a pretty bright line.

And it will almost surely bring gains that exceed its costs.

by David C on Jul 9, 2012 2:09 pm • linkreport

Tom. I work in Greenbelt and live in DC. Most days I have to drive because the time between when I can drop my kid off at daycare and when I have to be at work is too short for my slow cycling style to cover the distance between the two. But I could make it with a Metro-assisted bike commute.

For the longest time I couldn't get a locker at New Carrolton either. So that wasn't an option. Leaving only a folding bike.

So, to answer your question as to why anyone would want to be burdened by a bike on a train I will say that it is faster and this.

by David C on Jul 9, 2012 2:16 pm • linkreport

I think PILOTING the concept is a great idea. If it doesn't work, we can always go back to the old way. Of course, we should wait a little while to see how it works on BART but there's not much downside to a temporary pilot.

My guess is that the biggest resistance will be from the WMATA Union because any kind of change means some work for them.

by Falls Church on Jul 9, 2012 4:46 pm • linkreport

You're welcome to come by and see them anytime, selxic. There seem to be a concentration of law-breakers who enter and exit at the RIA station. I don't know as many of them live exactly in the neighborhood, as it is a major bus hub and I see many of them take the bus away from the station, but it just happens to be particularly bad there. The station needs substantially more and more frequent police presence, as fare-jumping, fighting, drinking alcohol, smoking, littering, and defacing property (ads, shelters) is rather common.

Mostly teenage males, but I've seen older and younger folks, and girls as well. The youngest I've ever seen jump a fare was probably a girl of around 8 or 9 (who knew exactly what she was doing as she waited for the station manager to turn his back and then raced through the emergency exit). I've also had the displeasure of riding in with a group of youths (male and female) who I'd guess to be between 13 and 15 who were openly drinking in the rail car, lit up cigarettes as soon as they got off the train, and then just blew through the emergency gate in full view of the station manager. He just shrugged at me and said "I don't need to get jumped." I don't necessarily blame him. Those are just a few memorable incidents. Only good policing will solve the problem, and I have little faith in Metro to execute that.

by Ms. D on Jul 9, 2012 5:00 pm • linkreport

I see BART doesn't have smelly/moldy carpeting like we have.

by Capt. Hilts on Jul 9, 2012 5:32 pm • linkreport

Some train car doors should be labeled 'in' and others 'exit' to speed up boarding.

by Capt. Hilts on Jul 9, 2012 5:34 pm • linkreport

@Capt Hilts
I think older BART cars do have carpeting. They also have these awesome cloth seats:
(Video contains drunk Giants fans. Don't say I didn't warn you.)

by MLD on Jul 9, 2012 5:41 pm • linkreport

Great article! Would love to see DC implementing something similar.

On an unrelated note, I noticed one sentence that inadvertently referred to people with disabilities as "the disabled." Might I suggest using "person first" language (a person with a disability) instead? Person first language is more commonly accepted and respectful. I sometimes find this guide to be helpful when I'm writing:

Many thanks for a great piece!

by Emily S on Jul 9, 2012 10:23 pm • linkreport

I don't think it would work here - my (limited) experience on BART at rush hour tells me trains there are a lot less crowded than here. As it is, crowding starts on Orange Line trains as early as 3:30 - I've had to go past my stop because it was impossible to get to the door with a bike before they closed.

by Ken on Jul 10, 2012 7:10 am • linkreport

Perhaps they could experiment with allowing bikes in certain cars on a limited number of trains - like the far forward and far rear cars, which often tend to be the least crowded anyway.

The status monitors could use a 'B' in parentheses next to the trains that allow bikes: Vienna (B) 12min

Just an idea

by Schwotty on Jul 10, 2012 9:38 am • linkreport

Most Caltrain trains *don't* accommodate 100 bikes. The minimum on some trains ("bullet trains") is 24 bikes. And, particularly on those trains, Caltrain has a problem with "bumping" -- there are no more bike spots available, so the conductor won't let you on the train. In fact, the problem was so severe that the local advocacy group set up an email address for people to report that they had been bumped. (Happened to me once during rush hour heading into SF from the valley, and had to bicycle 2 miles to the next station to try to get on the next train, which didn't stop at the station where I was bumped.) But the number of bikes allowed per train is being increased.

I need to get to New Carrolton from Arlington VA during rush hour in three weeks. I need a bicycle on the other end, since the office is 4 miles away. As it is now, I plan to ride my folding bike to some station beyond l'Enfant Plaza and then smuggle it on an outbound train. Hmm, do any stations on the Orange Line have an elevator that gets you onto the outbound train platform out of sight of the attendant? (Ballston works great for going out to Vienna.)

by LeslieT on Jul 10, 2012 10:31 am • linkreport

Leslie, no need to smuggle. Folding bikes are legal - as long as they're folded.

by David C on Jul 10, 2012 11:00 am • linkreport

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