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Metro needn't ban bikes all day on the 4th

As usual, bikes will be banned on Metrorail all day on the Fourth of July. As usual, it will be a totally unnecessary, and even counterproductive, precaution except around the fireworks.

Photo on Flickr by neverminddtheend.

Metro's policy is:

Bicycles are not permitted on Metrorail on July 4th or other special events or holidays when large crowds use the system.

Large crowds, huh?

Last year 631,206 people used Metrorail on the Fourth of July, making it the 5th busiest Saturday in Metro history. Not bad. But on an average weekday in 2008 Metrorail had 727,684 trips. So, the Fourth isn't actually that busy. Not busy enough to ban bikes all day.

Of the twenty-three busiest days* in Metrorail history, not a one is a Fourth of July. Of those 23 days, bikes were only banned for #1, #5 and #16. Busiest Day #2 was on April 2nd of this year when Metro recorded 890,000+ rides. Metro banned bikes only during the morning and afternoon rush and yet no one seemed to have a problem with it. How come we can allow bikes on for most of a nearly 900,000 rider day, but not on a 650,000 rider day?

It might be reasonable to ban bikes on for some time around the fireworks, when Metro is crazy, but why at 9 am? It's complete overkill. Considering how much financial trouble Metro is having, it doesn't really make sense to turn away paying customers.

* To get 23 you have to combine this list of 20 from after the inauguration with this top 5 from April, which has three new ones. There may be more between five and twenty-three that weren't captured in these lists.

Cross-posted at The Washcycle.

David Cranor is an operations engineer. A former Peace Corps Volunteer and former Texan (where he wrote for the Daily Texan), he's lived in the DC area since 1997. David is a cycling advocate who serves on the Bicycle Advisory Council for DC.  


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The ridership patterns are different on the 4th than on a normal day. We would need hourly data to tell for sure, but my guess is that it's fairly busy all day, instead of very busy during two periods.

by jcm on Jul 2, 2010 10:10 am • linkreport

The problem is the tourist factor on the 4th. They gum up the works enough as it is. Seeing bikes on the train would probably freak them out even more.

by Lou on Jul 2, 2010 10:12 am • linkreport

I've been wondering about this myself. I'm taking an out-of-town friend for a bike ride around DC on Sunday morning/afternoon. Rather than climb all the way back up the hill in Rosslyn, it would be easier for us to catch a ride back. I guess we'll have to catch a bus instead.

by Rob Pitingolo on Jul 2, 2010 10:19 am • linkreport

Given WMATA's problems, I think we should start charging bikers $1 extra to take their bike on the train or bus.

On the train, it takes a considerable amount of room to accommodate a bike.

On the bus, it slows down the bus as you load/unload a bike.

You could allow them during rush hour but charge maybe $3 for the privilege.

by charlie on Jul 2, 2010 10:25 am • linkreport

jcm beat me to it... I suspect 4 July has some greater surges around mid/late afternoon, and then again immediately after the fireworks. I could see those restrictive toward bikes, but I'll concede that much of the rest of the day may be heavy for a Saturday; but comparable to an off-peak weekday.

by Bossi on Jul 2, 2010 10:31 am • linkreport

For a long time after Metro opened, the 4th of July was by far the busiest day. Ridership far exceeded weekdays and strained the system. I think this rule is just a holdover and should be rethought. The problem of interactions with people who don't usually use the system is real, though. It might be necessary to ban bikes all day in stations near the Mall.

by Ben Ross on Jul 2, 2010 10:35 am • linkreport

You didn't mention that bikes are not allowed on Metro during rush hour. It's not a fair comparison. Even a tiny number of bikes would cause serious problems when a metro car is anywhere near rush-hour filled.

I don't see that charging extra for a bike would solve anything, either - given the rarity of bikes on the metro what good would a few extra dollars do? It's not like it's something that needs a financial disincentive, or would earn Metro any noticeable amount of money.

The existing policy seems fine to me. Don't ride your bike if you don't plan to ride it home...

by Jamie on Jul 2, 2010 10:38 am • linkreport

Given WMATA's problems, I think we should start charging fat peopple $1 extra to take their butt on the train or bus.
On the train, it takes a considerable amount of room to accommodate a large butt.

On the bus, it slows down the bus as you load/unload a large butt.

You could allow them during rush hour but charge maybe $3 for the privilege.

by charlie revised on Jul 2, 2010 10:43 am • linkreport

Jamie, trips to and from the Mall do not constitute 100% of all trips, so this ban prevents all others from taking bikes on Metro as well. In addition, some people might want to take their bike on Metro to the Mall (when it is hot) but ride back afterward (when it has cooled down and there's a line for Metro). I have a friend who always did this for Screen on the Green, because she didn't want to covered in sweat when she got there, but didn't care when she got home.

+1 charlie revised (same goes for luggage)

by David C on Jul 2, 2010 10:48 am • linkreport

And while they're at it, how about getting rid of the ridiculous bag requirement for folding bikes. Whoever came up with that rule has never ridden a folding bicycle. Furthermore, Marc and VRE both do not have such a rule.

by Mike on Jul 2, 2010 10:52 am • linkreport


Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't MARC & VRE both ticketed? If so, I think it's a bit of an apples/oranges comparison given that usage can be easily metered.

by Bossi on Jul 2, 2010 10:55 am • linkreport

@David C - that is a fair point, but I can't think of a practical way to implement it. A ban on certain stations would not achieve the desired effect, because the metro will still be very crowded throughout the system for much of the day. While it's true that certain segments might be OK at certain times, that is impossible to predict.

It might be reasonable to allow them before and after certain times, but at some point you have to consider the practicalities of implementing the rule to benefit a very small number of people. If they aren't simply banned then people will end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think on days like July 4 it makes sense to keep it simple.

Frankly, bikes and big crowds don't mix in the first place. I don't see any reason to make special dispensations so that people can have their bike on the mall on July 4. I'm not in any way saying that they should be banned or anything, but if you want it there, I see no reason to inconvenience many others so you can avoid getting sweaty.

by Jamie on Jul 2, 2010 10:57 am • linkreport

If you allow bikes during this day, you must have bike police during the night to ensure that they don't get on and gum up the system. I think the cost of policing the bikes far outweighs any potential revenue gain.

by RJ on Jul 2, 2010 10:59 am • linkreport

By the way, the person the Flickr photo is doing it wrong. Metro policy is that you use only elevators with bikes, no escalators or stairs.

Just sayin'.

by Tim on Jul 2, 2010 11:01 am • linkreport

What about wheelchairs? Can we ban wheelchairs too?

by M.V. Jantzen on Jul 2, 2010 11:02 am • linkreport

And strollers! ...And luggage to/from the airports! :P

...actually I'm not sure if I'm joking or not on that last one.

by Bossi on Jul 2, 2010 11:09 am • linkreport

Look, Metro, this is a capacity problem. If your concern is that people with bikes will add to the congestion, then you need to increase capacity or manage demand. You can increase capacity by having longer trains, or by having more frequent service, or having longer hours, or planning for additional routes. It's generally a good thing to have so many customers that you have to increase capacity, so don't be grumpy. You can also try to manage demand, by offering incentives to ride during slow periods, or disincentives (like your rush hour surcharge) to ride during busy periods.

But don't pick on cyclists. It's funny at first to compare the amount of space taken by a cyclist to that of a fat person, or wheelchair, or lots of luggage, but in the end the best policy is to treat everyone equally. If the platform becomes hazardously crowded, just pause the flow of ALL people into the station. And then get to work on that capacity issue.

by M.V. Jantzen on Jul 2, 2010 11:19 am • linkreport

Glad you are all having fun with the charging bike comments. Luggage is a good suggestion too. Strollers, definitely.

Fat people would get you sued, and that pesky ADA probably covers wheelchairs.

So I'm glad to see one interest group (bikers) is more privileged than another (fat people). Although that doesn't explain the phenomenon of fat bikers.

by charlie on Jul 2, 2010 11:21 am • linkreport

I'm half with MV Jantzen & half against... Looking at crush loads during weekday peaks & disregarding the 4 July stuff: for every bike one could fit perhaps 3-4 more people in its space. To that end, I do agree that cutting out one user in order to provide for several more is a more ideal system benefit; though not an individual benefit.

Though what I agree on is that when there's a congested system: either increase supply or reduce demand. Of course, ever-lacking funds limit the former and the latter is where the customers go up in arms.

by Bossi on Jul 2, 2010 11:31 am • linkreport

It's not just about the amount of space needed by a bike. You can't walk through a bike. A bike can't go down the aisle in a crowded metro. A bike can't turn around in a crowded metro.

Individuals can easily move around to get where they need to go, a bike creates a far more significant obstacle than a few people do. The burden placed on a crowded train by a bike is far greater than that placed by 3-4 people.

by Jamie on Jul 2, 2010 11:35 am • linkreport

Don't ride your bike if you don't plan to ride it home...

This is the same attitude that people cite for "needing" to drive everywhere. If you're taking a bike on Metro, it probably means you're traveling a long distance. For people who don't live right next to Metro, having a bike helps solve the last mile problem.

by Rob Pitingolo on Jul 2, 2010 11:53 am • linkreport

@Rob Pitingolo:
Also it helps solve the problem for people whose bike routes close at dusk.

I have no problem riding from Downtown to Greenbelt. I bike over 100 miles a week. However, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission closes their parks and bike trails as soon as the sun dips below the horizon. And their friendly police department makes sure that cyclists and everyone else stay out.

So after dark, the Northeast Branch Trail is not an option, and 6-lane Queens Chapel Road must suffice.

So, Metro provides a nice link when biking isn't the best option.

Metro should take the approach that BART takes, which is to prohibit bikes on certain trains and in certain areas.

For instance, I ride the Metro from Greenbelt to Silver Spring. Many days, I'm the only person in my car on a rush hour train from Fort Totten to Silver Spring. Sure, trying to pack a cyclist onto an already full train at Farragut Square is probably a bad idea, but many parts of the system have plenty of left-over capacity.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 2, 2010 11:58 am • linkreport

"The ridership patterns are different on the 4th than on a normal day. We would need hourly data to tell for sure, but my guess is that it's fairly busy all day, instead of very busy during two periods."

Right, and I also suspect that on the 4th, the majority of those on Metro will all be headed to 3-4 stops, at least on the initial trip. On other days with more trips, the destinations likely will be distributed more evenly. And in the evening, I'd guess there will be a crush of people getting on an a few stops. All of that makes the ban perfectly sensible.

by dcd on Jul 2, 2010 12:01 pm • linkreport

"treat everyone equally"; you do have a choice whether you bring luggage or a stroller or a bike.

We charge you extra when you ride rush hour. We charge you more for late night service. Why shouldn't WMATA charge you more when you take up the room for 2-3 people?

And I've never seen a fat person who took up as much room as bike. Doesn't the 'car-free" diet prevent that?

(and if you have so much spare capacity in non-rush hour, why don't you cut fares to bring more people on?)

Is WMATA about maximizing yield or moving as many people as possible?

by charlie on Jul 2, 2010 12:08 pm • linkreport

@Matt Johnson - yes to both your observations.
1) Ridiculous that M-NCPC closes the trails and actually blocks them with police cars and tells bikers "its for your own safety". I've had this experience 1/4 mile from the West Hyattsville metro stop. How the hell is riding, as you say e.g on Queens Chapel safer? ahrrrggg.
2) What you said about bikes on metro and what Rob P. said about "last mile". C'mon WMATA!

by Bianchi on Jul 2, 2010 12:14 pm • linkreport

No argument about the VALUE of taking bikes on the metro, but if that value is more than offset by a detriment to other metro users, then it's not fair.

You can use metro like this when it's reasonable, and you shouldn't be able to when it's not.

by Jamie on Jul 2, 2010 12:31 pm • linkreport

@Jamie - Matt Johnsons' suggestion is a very resonable compromise to the flat out rush hour/holiday restriction. What do you see unfair about MJ's proposed compromise?

by Bianchi on Jul 2, 2010 12:49 pm • linkreport

I don't have a problem with that, I thought we were talking about July 4.

Allowing bikes on trains at all times for certain segments would seem fine, but I kind of doubt that would benefit very many people. The fact that there are few people on a train at a given time (which is the prerequisite for bikes being OK) pretty much defines that it's not a segment that's traveled much at that time.

So I guess I don't have a problem with it in theory, but I also don't think it would be a benefit to more than a handful of people.

by Jamie on Jul 2, 2010 12:54 pm • linkreport

By the way, the person the Flickr photo is doing it wrong. Metro policy is that you use only elevators with bikes, no escalators or stairs.

What are the chances the elevators are actually working at that station?

by ah on Jul 2, 2010 12:58 pm • linkreport

I completely agree w/ Matt's suggestion... but how would it be implemented & enforced? What's to stop a person from riding reverse flow one segment but then transfering onto a packed peak flow?

Checking bikes through a gate w/ SmartTrip could be one option... perhaps free for the low ridership segments but some fee if the route takes a path which includes a congested segment?

by Bossi on Jul 2, 2010 1:00 pm • linkreport

@Bossi: @Jamie:
Here's one example of how it might work.

Currently, someone traveling from Greenbelt to Archives with a bike either has to take several buses or bike all the way. Despite the fact that there are usually still seats available at West Hyattsville and standing room south of there on inbound trains.

So someone could bike to Greenbelt, take the train to West Hyattsville, and then bike again from there. That would save them a good bit of distance.

In BART's case, the train schedule shows trains which allow bikes. After a certain time, on some segments of the line, bikers must exit. For instance, patrons with bikes in the AM rush can take trains through the Transbay Tube but must exit at Embarcadero. They might only be going one stop further or all the way to Daly City, but they can't stay on the train with their bikes.

As for Bossi's question, the way you stop someone transferring from a reverse commute train to a packed one could be simply with a restriction like, "no bikes on inbound trains between 6a and 10a. No bikes in the downtown core period during that time."

Some cities, like Atlanta and Los Angeles, just have restrictions saying that cyclists must not attempt to board full or crowded trains and must alight if the train becomes crowded or full.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 2, 2010 1:11 pm • linkreport


What are your thoughts on how well those honor systems work? I'd feel confident that most bicyclists would tend to be respectful of such rules, but I'd wager it wouldn't take too many bad apples to drive up enough backlash to send WMATA right back to full peak bans again. And those bad apples are certainly out there... the same folks that windshield perspectives tend to point to when arguing their case.

by Bossi on Jul 2, 2010 1:28 pm • linkreport

How would it differ from the current honor system?

I mean, the system is dependent on the station manager enforcing entry, sure. But I could very easily enter a station at 3p and ride across town and still be on when lockout starts.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 2, 2010 1:36 pm • linkreport

I guess BART has the added flexibility that if your car gets too crowded you and your bike can move easily to the next car if you're at the ends.

It would be nice if Metro had that option, but our cars are probably way to narrow to encourage that type of movement. At least during the rush.

by Lou on Jul 2, 2010 1:38 pm • linkreport

I agree w/ Matt Johnson that the honor system already works pretty well and there's no reason to think it wouldn't continue to work pretty well if rules were changed.

by Bianchi on Jul 2, 2010 2:48 pm • linkreport

Since the subjects of both bikes and elevators came up - can we ban able bodied non-stroller-pushing people from using the elevators? Its a real pain in the a** to wait for the elevator with your bike at Woodley when there are hundreds of people who for no reason are getting on the elevator when they could walk 30 feet to the escalator. At times its been so bad that I left the line and took my bike down the escalator.

by Bianchi on Jul 2, 2010 2:52 pm • linkreport

And if we're going to talk about escalators and such, I think Metro should suspend the "no bikes on escalators" rule at any station where the elevator is out of service.

For instance, yesterday after alighting from the Green Line at Fort Totten, I discovered that there was no recourse for me to get to the Red Line short of waiting 6 minutes for the next Green or Yellow train and traveling all the way to Gallery Place - to head in the direction of Silver Spring.

After all, Metro only offers shuttle service for "senior citizens and persons with disabilities." Bikers have to ride to Rhode Island Avenue or Takoma. Unacceptable.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 2, 2010 2:56 pm • linkreport

I definitely agree w/ suspending the bikes on escalators, especially if elevators are out. And I also agree w/ the complaint about able-bodied folks using the elevator, though the station Bianchi highlights is the one station where I can actually see why people do it... it's not a huge distance to the escalators, but at 380' to the escalators and then 380' back -- I can certainly understand why the zoo-going masses take this shortcut.

by Bossi on Jul 2, 2010 3:04 pm • linkreport

...and to continue: I'd say either higher capacity elevator(s), or alternately: bring the zoo's critters to the Metro station. 380' of panda viewing!

by Bossi on Jul 2, 2010 3:05 pm • linkreport

@Matt, your point is completely valid. If a biker can not leave the platform because the elevators are out, some flexibility in the rules has to be implemented. Common sense. But for someone to suggest a ban on "non-encumbered" people using any elevator is absurd on its face.

I use the elevators any time they are quicker than the route to the escalator. That's a good thing; it gets me in or out of the station quicker and keeps the flow going. Being fit and ambulatory, I'll defer to anybody in a wheelchair or with a stroller before I get on, but there's no way to justify banning walking people from them.

by Lou on Jul 2, 2010 3:09 pm • linkreport

@Bossi - I'm incredulous it's 380' from the elevator to the escalator at Woodley.

by Bianchi on Jul 2, 2010 3:21 pm • linkreport

Measured it in Google Earth... and the day Google lies to me is the day I no longer no what to believe.

by Bossi on Jul 2, 2010 3:23 pm • linkreport

Gah... *know*

by Bossi on Jul 2, 2010 3:24 pm • linkreport

-Ok! still, it's only ~100yards. 9 seconds! (for some Olympians) but really - when there's all those people w/ strollers and some bikes all waiting for the elevator - and the line is dominated by the unencumbered able bodied - how lazy and rude and selfish! Other people don't have the same choice to go on to the faster escalator.

by Bianchi on Jul 2, 2010 4:41 pm • linkreport

Oh I'm not disagreeing with you on that :) But then again much of my own family is comprised of the type that would scoff at the distance to the escalator... and what amuses me is that I'd wager the lot of them are headed to the zoo, where they'll spend the next couple of hours *walking*.

by Bossi on Jul 2, 2010 4:46 pm • linkreport

@ Matt

Which way is inbound; as I recall greenlines from Branch Ave & Greenbelt are both going inbound to DC and the same can be said for all lines except the yellow.

Unless WMATA put what is the definition to inbound to them at all stations it wont work.

Inbound and outbound crap failed WMATA once with bus transfers I doubt they would want to try it again without laying down idiot proof instructions.

by kk on Jul 2, 2010 5:04 pm • linkreport

@Jaime, if the rule only benefits "a very small number of people" then it can't be much of an inconvenience to allow them on. I agree that bikes on crowded metro don't make sense, my point is that Metro isn't crowded - by their own admission - until 6pm, when it will operate at "near rush-hour service" - not actual rush-hour mind you. So that's when the ban should kick in. So allowing bikes before 6pm doesn't "inconvenience" anyone.

I'm not advocating allowing bikes on crowded trains. I'm saying these trains aren't crowded, and there is absolutely no way a bike takes up the space of 3-4 people - unless you're laying it down on its side.

@RJ, do we need bike police during rush hour every work day?

@charlie "We charge you extra when you ride rush hour." But Metro is charging more on July 4th. Metro would be more consistent if it charged a rush hour fee anytime they banned bikes. In this case they do not.

@Matt, I absolutely agree. Metro thinks their employees are too dumb to handle such a "complex system" (I was once told that by a Metro employee. The union must be so proud).

@Lou, you are not helping when you use the elevator. You are making someone who needs it wait longer. I won't go into the math, but an elevator always in use is twice as far away as one that is never in use. Able-bodied people should not use the elevator as a short cut.

@Many, when the elevator is out, I carefully take my bike on the least busy escalator. I've never been confronted by a Metro employee for this. BTW, NYC only has stairs in and out of the system. I asked someone who works for them how often someone has been injured by cyclists carrying their bikes up and down the stairs and the answer was "zero".

by David C on Jul 2, 2010 5:22 pm • linkreport

Should be Metro "Isn't" charging more on July 4th.

by David C on Jul 2, 2010 5:24 pm • linkreport

@ Bianchi

I can give one reason why people use the elevators instead of escalators at some locations

Some of the escalators and elevators are blocks apart and people are going the other way. Take many of the Red Line stations the escalators and elevators are facing opposite ways.

Examples would be Bethesda, Medical Center, Van Ness, Takoma, where the distance between the escalator entrance and elevator entrance are 1-3 blocks apart and might be in different directions up/down hills etc.

Takoma & Bethesda escalators are quite far from the elevators and if you're closer to the elevator which would you use. At Takoma the escalators are on Cedar ST while the elevator is closer to Eastern Ave & the parking lot and for Bethesda you would have to walk all the way around a building.

The placement of the Bethesda elevator really just seems like your f**king with the disabled no info on where to catch metrobuses at no info on where the other part of the station is and you cant even see it from the elevator that should just really be another damn entrance.

How do you determine able bodied people; all disabilities are not visible and when you kick someone off who has a disability that is not visible is the moment you get sued.

by kk on Jul 2, 2010 5:36 pm • linkreport

The rush and holiday bans are inefficient at keeping the optimal load of bicycles aboard Metro.

Some theoretically-ideal solutions are out of reach. Metro cannot charge bicyclists extra, nor throw them all onto MetroAccess.

As a compromise, Metro could classify bicycles as snacks. In practice, this would allow bicycles to travel at any time, but it would leave room for the occasional extraordinary enforcement action.

by Turnip on Jul 2, 2010 8:12 pm • linkreport

The other day, during rush hour, at Union Station, a guy got on with his bike. Three people pointed out that he was not supposed to board using the center doors. He said he didn't care. "Is it your bike? Does it matter to you?" Actually it did matter, because some people people need access to the seats for disabled at the center doors. He was using the wrong doors, at the wrong time and he just didn't care.

Add more of this on the 4th of July when we have a few hundred thousand tourists using the Metro system, and it won't be a pretty sight.

by lake destiny on Jul 2, 2010 8:33 pm • linkreport

David, we're talking about two-stop elevators. Take Foggy Bottom for instance. You can plainly see the platform elevator as you enter the station. If it's just sitting idle at the top level, or on it's way up, I usually hop on. There's no math that says I'm wasting anybody else's time.

by Lou on Jul 3, 2010 9:59 am • linkreport

Lou. Sure you are. You hop on at the top, and just as the doors close someone in a wheelchair comes along and misses it. So they wait. Meanwhile, you ride the elevator to the bottom, unload and then the elevator pauses, closes its doors and goes back up to the top. The person in the wheelchair had to wait the full elevator cycle so that you could save a few seconds or walk six fewer steps.

by David C on Jul 3, 2010 6:11 pm • linkreport

@Lou, @David C.:
I agree with David's math. There have been times that I have gotten to the elevator just in time to see the people from the closer cars descending or ascending. People who could very easily stand on or walk down the escalator. But because the elevator was closer to them than the escalator and because they were in a railcar that stopped closer to it, I have to wait.

Of course, I always cede the elevator to elderly and handicapped users. I once had to wait 4 elevator cycles at Clarendon because of wheelchair users who stacked up while waiting on it. That, I didn't mind. But to be forced to wait by people who have no reason not to use an escalator is a bit annoying.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 3, 2010 6:17 pm • linkreport

I just tried to get on the metro and they said no coolers! WTF! Thanks for informing the public of that, idiots.

by Link47 on Jul 4, 2010 2:04 pm • linkreport

I really enjoyed watching all the empty Blue and Yellow line trains pass me while I was riding back to Woodbridge. Thanks WMATA..

by Matt on Jul 6, 2010 10:16 am • linkreport

3 years (or so) ago I volunteered to give tours to tourists in Old Town Alexandria at a musuem. I then proceeded to bicycle home. Thunder and lightening started so I raced to King St, planning to take the metro to the Pentagon. I forgot about not being able to take my bicycle on, but was loudly reminded by station employees screaming at me to get out, with lightning everywhere.

I know that on that portion of the blue line at that time of day, my bicycle would not have been a problem. The incident really left a bad taste in my mouth.

by Ren on Jul 6, 2010 1:25 pm • linkreport

I forgot to make clear that this happened on July 4.

by Ren on Jul 6, 2010 1:26 pm • linkreport

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