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Posts about Bikes On Trains


Should Metro change its rules to allow bikes during rush hour?

Today, Metro does not allow standard bikes on its trains during rush hour. But one of the ideas that came through MetroGreater was to reverse that policy and allow bikes at all times of day. Some of our contributors (as well as some well-known members of the local media...) think it's a good idea, while others don't.

Photo by anokarina on Flickr.

According to WMATA spokesman Richard Jordan, Metro doesn't allow bikes on trains during weekday morning and afternoon rush (defined as the hours between 7-10 am and 4-7 pm) "for the safety of all riders... allowing for unobstructed entries on and exits off the train." He also added that "bicycles are not allowed inside railcars on July 4th or Inauguration Day."

David Cranor thinks the arguments for the ban don't hold much water:

There's no evidence that taking bikes on Metro is dangerous. The argument about space is valid but a folding bike doesn't really take up that much less space than a full-size bike, and how often are passengers really left on the platform because they can't get anyone else on?

[Also,] there is excess capacity in the reverse direction, why not monetize that and create better service at the same time? I've always done a reverse commute and when I used a folding bike it felt silly taking it on an empty train.

There is already a rule against bikes on crowded trains and platforms outside of rush hour, and definitely times when trains are crowded outside of rush hour. Is there any evidence that the system isn't working at those times?

Chris Slatt agrees:
There are clear mobility benefits to allowing bikes on MetroRail all the time, and as Metro has been pointing out - ridership is down, so there must be some "excess" capacity that could be used by people with their bikes. At a time when MetroRail is hurting for money and ridership, we shouldn't be turning people away without a clear and compelling reason to do so. I really think this is one of those problems that doesn't require a regulatory solution. People will naturally balance their need to take their bike on Metro vs. social pressure against doing so in a crowded direction at a crowded time. In general, people don't want to be "that idiot" who is getting in everyone else's way. Will it happen sometimes? Yes. Frequently enough to be more of a problem than tourists in general? I doubt it.
Jacob Mason says they are able to figure this out in New York:
The NYC subway does not ban bikes at any time, and there is certainly greater crowding there than in DC. It is often not physically possible to bring a bike on board a packed train, and you risk a LOT of people being very angry at you if you try. Same goes for strollers and any other large piece of equipment. There are some lines and some directions that are lightly used during rush hour, and this policy allows people to use bikes for these trips.
But Graham Jenkins, a MetroGreater jury member can see why it'd be hard to safely allow bikes on the Metro during rush hour:
It's impossible for personnel to tell whether a cyclist entering a station intends to ride in an off-peak direction.
1. Regardless of which direction the cyclist intends to travel, it's still difficult to maneuver with/around a bike during peak hours in almost any station (and if it's not bad at the origin, what about the destination?).
2. Even if under normal circumstances there is technically room for bikes, if anything goes wrong and results in crush loading, so much the worse.
3.Travel through the core is typically crowded in either direction, particularly during peak hours, leaving no room for bicycles on trains or in stations.
Lessie Henderson, another jury member, agrees with Graham that "if a dedicated car isn't available, then the bikes could get in the way; especially with rush and other events combined." She thinks a reasonable alternative would be to "encourage use of the bike lockers at the stations," maybe even connecting the bike lockers to a discounted Metro fare.

And when this conversation first came up, WAMU transportation reporter and Metropocalypse host Martin DiCaro is pretty against the idea:

So did NBC transportation reporter Adam Tuss and WMATA Board Member Corbett Price, as well as WAMU reporter and Metropocalypse host Martin Di Caro.

Tom Sherwood, another media icon in our region, is a fan:

Kelli Raboy points out that there are compelling reasons people want to bring bikes on:

It's not so much about the merits of the proposal (I don't really have an opinion on that), but more about the perception of WHY people would want to bring bikes on Metro during rush hour. It seems like all the arguments against this are entrenched in the idea that people who want to bring bikes on Metro want to do it out of convenience, or for a "fun" alternative. In reality, people will opt to navigate busy platforms and trains with a bike if it's their only reasonable option.
Alex Baca looks to California to give us some guidance:
BART in San Francisco has designated areas for bikes. BART is slammed regularly and people move around the bikes, which can really only be stacked about five deep before they seriously block the aisle between the seats. It's super-annoying as a rider without a bike and as a rider with a bike to navigate this, but it's far less annoying than not being able to bring your bike on the train for a few hours. Keep in mind that it is not possible to bike across the Bay Bridge, so putting your bike on BART (or an AC Transit bus) is the only way to get it between San Francisco and Oakland.
Svet Neov thinks even without a ban, there should probably be some restrictions:
Does it make sense for Metro to ban bikes at particular times of the day or in particular stations? Yes, it probably does.

It's just a matter of bicyclists not boarding a crowded train. Trains become crowded at some point during their journey. So a cyclist bound for, say, Woodley Park, may board a perfectly empty train at Forest Glen, and then suddenly find himself unable to get out of the way when a horde of passengers board at Union Station or when the train becomes even more crowded at Gallery Place.

On the other hand, does it make sense for Metro to completely ban bikes? Probably not.

If someone is reverse commuting on a Red Line train outbound towards Grosvenor in the morning, chances are there's plenty of room on the train. A similar situation could occur on any line in the middle of the day when ridership is low.

So, some trains may be perfectly able to accept bikes. Especially those that are outside of the core and headed away from it.

Before BART relaxed its ban on bicycles, they actually noted in the schedule (and on the digital signs on station platforms) specific trains that bikes were allowed on. And that works much better than a blanket ban based on time.

For example, let's imagine a Green Line train that is scheduled to depart Greenbelt at 9:58 am. Since the bike ban goes until 10:00 am, bicyclists are not allowed to be on that train. However, when that same train arrives at College Park at 10:03 am, where it becomes more crowded, bicycles are allowed. What is the point of banning cyclists from that train between Greenbelt and College Park? There is none and the goal of the ban becomes obsolete.

What do you think? Should the ban go or should Metro keep it?


Memorial Bridge fixes could help more than just cars

Arlington Memorial Bridge needs serious repairs, or perhaps even a full replacement, in the next five years. As the National Park Service works to make that happen, there's also a chance to address some surrounding conditions that are hazardous for people on foot and on bike.

Photo by Bernt Rostad on Flickr.

NPS first sounded the alarm about the bridge last year after an inspection forced emergency repairs that partially closed the bridge, and started a ban on heavy vehicles, like buses, that's still in place today. Now, NPS says those repairs didn't do enough, and that it's inevitable that without $250 million in repairs, the bridge will be too dangerous for automobile travel by 2021.

Northern Virginia's Congressional delegation is on board with funding the effort to fix it, citing the fact that 68,000 people cross the bridge daily. Hopefully, they can convince their colleagues to join them.

Rust underneath the Memorial Bridge. Image from NPS.

The bridge is unsafe for more than just cars

Memorial Bridge bridge itself has wide sidewalks that usually allow enough room for most cyclists and pedestrians to share space. But the routes that connect to the bridge aren't safe for people on foot or bike.

In Virginia, the bridge connects to the George Washington Parkway and its accompanying trail, which is one of the region's most popular. Despite its popularity the trail has some particular challenges, namely that it intersects with the parkway—a limited access, high speed highway—in several places. Drivers are supposed to yield or stop for anyone trying to use the crosswalks, but there have been a number of crashes thanks to people rear-ending cars that were stopped to allow people to cross.

Image from Google Maps.

Issues on the DC side of the bridge stem from a confusing web of roads that force cyclists on their way to the Mall or downtown to either ride in very busy car traffic or on a narrow sidewalk.

One of the crosswalks where few drivers slow down. Image from Google Maps.

NPS has actually known about these issues longer than they have known about the bridge being in disrepair. But the agency has been resistant to do anything to fix them except in small ways where the first priority was not to slow down cars using the parkway.

Here are some ideas for fixing the bridge

NPS is straightening out some parts of the trail near Washington National Airport, where curves snake around a large tree and make it hard to see. The agency is also working to make it so cyclists don't have to travel through a busy parking lot near Teddy Roosevelt Island. But closer to the bridge itself, the trail could still get a lot safer.

One option is to create separate paths for cyclists and pedestrians on popular parts of the trail. NPS could also keep working to remove some of sharp curves and blind corners that are on the trail beyond what is being fixed at the airport. Finally, NPS needs to decide what to do about the crosswalks. If the GW Parkway is going to remain a high speed highway, then crosswalks more appropriate for a city street just won't work. Solutions might include rerouting the trail, slowing down speed limits, or even adding trail overpasses.

For the bridge itself, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) put forth its own idea for removing two car lanes and creating protected bike lanes a while back:

Diagram of a redesigned memorial bridge. Image from WABA.

Cutting the number of car lanes on the bridge would work since congestion there is pretty low. Average speeds at rush hour are higher than the speed limit, and a new bridge wouldn't need six car lanes.

The crux of the Memorial Bridge issue is safety, and that of cyclists and pedestrians shouldn't go ignored. But a safe bridge and surrounding area for them would also mean a safer place for drivers, as deciding to follow the law and share the road would become far less dangerous. Both NPS and leaders in Congress should be concerned about all bridge users.

If a concern for safety is a big reason why NPS is sounding the alarm now then they should also be using this opportunity to fix the persistent hazards that cyclists and pedestrians have faced on the trails around the bridge.


Topic of the week: Our favorite projects (from other places)

There's a lot to admire when you travel, and it's fun to observe how other cities achieve function and beauty. This week, we asked our contributors "What city planning or transit projects have caught your eye while traveling, and why?"

View from a hill overlooking Guanajuato, Mexico. Photo by Elina Bravve.

As might be expected, many contributors were inspired by other cities' transit systems, primarily overseas and mostly in Europe. Places with lots of active public space and bike infrastructure were popular as well. First, transit:

Jacques Arsenault was wowed by Istanbul's transit network:

I enjoyed Istanbul's streetcar system that goes up hills at least as steep as Wisconsin and Connecticut Avenues, changing my perception of what is (at least, technically) possible for streetcars. Most of the streetcars run on dedicated track in the middle of the road.

Neil Flanagan was impressed with the way Vienna has worked its transit infrastructure into the city:

Even the elevated portions of the U-Bahn were great. They were attractive, they fit in to the city fabric, and they were actually really quiet. These aren't the loud, dark 'Ls' in Chicago and they didn't create useless highway underpass spaces like in Tysons. Some arches have been adapted to host stores and the bridges over major streets feel like gateways. It's possible to make elevateds good for cities.
Agnes Artemel talked about Munich, another city with an impressive streetcar network:
There's a wonderful streetcar system in Munich that makes it easy to get to the entire downtown, museum areas, and a number of parks. The streetcars run in both mixed traffic and on dedicated lanes, and the cars are modern and easy to get on. There are one day and multi-day passes available, and fare collection doesn't slow down boarding because everyone is on the honor system to have previously bought a pass. I spent a half day just riding the streetcars wherever they went and taking pictures out the window or at a station.
Artemel also gave shout outs to pedestrian-only streets in many French downtowns, Paris's Berges de Seine project which activates spaces along the river banks, and easy bike rentals at European train stations.

Ned Russell touted two ongoing rail transit improvement projects, Denver's FasTracks and London's Crossrail:

I like FasTracks because the city has really coupled urban development with the massive build out of the system, especially around Union Station in downtown. I remember the area being empty in 2006, and now it's a hopping neighborhood with a lot of people going there.

I think the airport line, which is a fully electrified commuter rail connecting Union Station to Denver International Airport, could signal a change in the way a lot of Denver residents view the region's burgeoning rail system.

As for Crossrail, I love the fact that a city the size and scope of London is willing to spend about 15 billion (more than $20 billion) on a new rail system that acts as an express subway in town and a commuter rail outside town, all while not running down the median of freeways as so many of our systems do. This is what New York, DC and Boston all need: commuter rail systems that really run end-to-end across the region and not just into downtown.

Russell also likes that the Chicago Transit Authority puts secure bike parking inside of subway and 'L' stations, and wishes WMATA would do the same. "If Metro added bike parking inside, say, the massive and empty mezzanine at Mt Vernon Square, I'd be much more likely to lock my bike there and leave it," he says.

Accommodating bikes on transit means doing more than simply allowing them, noted Jonathan Krall. He cited San Francisco's BART, which has no restrictions on the time of day bikes can be carried onto trains, as an example. Steve Seelig agreed: "There's a huge gap in Metro policy with the rush hour bike ban. Seriously, I would ditch my car if I could use the system during rush hour."

Tracey Johnstone noted another positive subway innovation, this one from north of the border:

Toronto is introducing subway trains where there are no divisions between cars. Passengers who worry about crime feel safer, as do those who suffer from claustrophobia. And there are no seats lost to driving stations in every car.
"I liked the way each stop in the Seoul subway had a name and a three-digit number," David Cranor said. "The first digit told you which line you were on, and the next two which station. It eliminated the need to count how many stops you had to go, and put things in a language everyone understands." Matt Johnson noted that MARTA in Atlanta tried something similar.

Portland, Oregon's aerial tram is "a great example of a unique transit mode," said Kelli Raboy. "Yes, it's a tourist attraction, but it also seems surprisingly effective at serving the nearby university, hospitals, and residential areas. My favorite part of the tram is actually the free and well-used bicycle valet next to the station."

Portland's aerial tram. Photo by Kelli Raboy.

Our region's next new rail transit line could learn a lot from a similar line that just opened in Minnesota, said Adam Froehlig:

I look at the new Green Line in Minneapolis/St. Paul and see a lot of potential lessons to be learned for the Purple Line, especially with regards to the College Park campus and along University Boulevard. They include the design going through campus, what to do regarding pedestrians crossing the tracks on campus, and the streetscape.
Moving on to examples of public spaces, Mitch Wander cited a European model:
The street markets throughout Valencia, Spain provide an amazing alternate use of street space, a great place to shop, and an entertaining walking experience. Many neighborhoods have a designated day of the week on which blocks are closed to vehicular traffic. For several hours on that day, people of all ages wander around shopping, browsing and socializing.
Paris has created engaging public spaces for kids, noted Abigail Zenner:
When I visited Place de la Republique, there was a kiosk that had toys and games for kids. There were also little movable chairs. The other thing they rolled out last summer was bikeshare for children. It was limited to recreation areas but was such a cool idea.
Another country whose cities have great public gathering spots is Mexico. Elina Bravve explained:
In Mexico City, they close one of the main roads in the city, Paseo de la Reforma, to vehicle traffic on Sundays. The street fills up with bicyclists, joggers, roller bladers, dance activities, dog walking groups, and lots of family-friendly activities. There are also bikeshare bikes (Eco Bici) available for rent.

Also in Mexico City, I noticed some very cool architecture in Chapultepac Park. One of the best spots was Libreria Porrua, an indoor/outdoor bookshop overlooking the park lake, where folks were renting paddle boats for the afternoon.

Finally, Guanajuato is a very pedestrian-friendly city. It's full of green plazas connected by very narrow streets, which aren't ideal for driving. Instead, there's a series of underground tunnels throughout the city that moderates traffic, diverting it from the historic center of town. I learned post-trip that these tunnels were created to stop flooding from a nearby River, then converted to roads at a later date.

Mexico City's Paseo de la Reforma. Photo by Elina Bravve.

On the bike front, Portland—the city with the highest rate of bicycle commuting in the country—impressed a lot of people. "Where most cities end shared paths at intersections, dumping cyclists into crosswalks, this ramp in Portland delivers cyclists into a bike lane in advance of the intersection," wrote Jonathan Krall. "For a cyclist planning to turn left at the intersection, this is a big help. For a cyclist proceeding straight, it is much more visible to other traffic and much safer."

Ending of a bike lane with a ramp in Portland. Photo by Jonathan Krall.

Peyton Chung's shared observations on a more general planning theme:

Cities like Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Montreal, and San Francisco have vast areas of three- to five-story walk-up residential buildings, with many miles of walkable retail streets connecting them. Even in cities without a long tradition of flats, many of the livelier neighborhoods (like Ghent in Norfolk and University City in west Philadelphia) tend to be those where flats, rather than rowhouses, predominate. Now, some New Urbanist architects are talking about these housing types as the "Missing Middle" of density.

But thanks to the recent "pop-up" controversy, there will probably never be any in DC. Columbia Pike was intended to have mostly four- to six-story buildings, but without a streetcar that won't happen, either.

Have you noticed great planning and design in other cities? Tell us about your favorites in the comments!


Here's what keeps people from riding a bike

For 10 years, urban policymakers have been talking more and more about the so-called "interested but concerned"—people who would like to bike more but who are, for some reason, held back.

Photo by Christopher Porter on Flickr.

Make biking attractive to those people, the thinking goes, and great things can happen to a city: road capacity rises, parking shortages ease, auto dependence declines, development costs fall, public health improves.

Since then, several local studies have explored the opinions of these people, usually within cities that were already fairly bike-friendly. But since the "interested but concerned" concept was popularized, there's never been a study of these people at the national level.

Until now, that is.

Photo by 10 10 on Flickr.

A new national survey interviewed 9,376 adults who want to bike more

As part of its new national survey about bicycling participation, PeopleForBikes hired a public research firm to anonymously ask thousands of U.S. adults a series of questions. One of them: whether they would like to ride a bicycle more often.

To make sure people weren't lying to make us happy, we also asked whether they'd ever visited an imaginary website, and then disregarded all answers from people who claimed they had. After that, to ensure a representative sample, we weighted the remaining answers by age, gender, region, ethnicity, and income to make the sample look like the United States.

As we shared earlier this month, 53 percent of American adults answered that yes, they want to bike more.

But that question also gave us an opportunity to do something else: to look more closely at the situations of the people who answered "yes" to this question. By comparing their answers to different questions, we can explore one of the holy grails of bicycling advocacy: what the most important obstacles to biking might be.

After a week of looking closely at the numbers, here are our six most interesting discoveries.

Chicago's Milwaukee Avenue. Photo by John Greenfield on Flickr.

1. One third of people who want to bike more are dissatisfied with existing bike infrastructure

Among people who would like to ride more, 34 percent disagree with the statement below, 26 percent are neutral and 38 percent agree.

All graphs from People for Bikes.

This is actually slightly better than the population at large (31 percent of all adults agree with the statement), which probably reflects the fact that people who like to bike tend to live in bike-friendlier areas. But it still leaves a huge share of adults who disagree—and speaks to the fact that in the United States, we simply haven't built enough bike-friendly neighborhoods to serve even the people who currently wish they could live in them.

Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo from People for Bikes.

2. Bicycle ownership is a major barrier to riding, especially among poorer households

It's pretty hard to ride a bike regularly if you don't own one—or, even more frustrating, if your tire went flat or your brake cable snapped and you've never gotten around to fixing it.

The good news is that adults who know they want to ride more are about 25 percent likelier than the population at large to have at least one working adult bike in their home. But even among these interested adults, 35 percent still have no bike. This problem is dramatically higher for low-income families:

This is actually a powerful argument for (among other things) affordable, accessible bike sharing. Because bike-share systems essentially pool bike purchase and maintenance costs among many different people, they can be even cheaper than bike ownership as a way to get around.

Photo by waltarrrrr on Flickr via People for Bikes.

3. Fear of being personally targeted is a major barrier to riders of color

Traffic collisions aren't the only physical threat that keeps people off bicycles. Depending on what you look like and where you live, you might be biking less than you'd like because you're afraid of being targeted by a criminal—or maybe, sad to say, by law enforcement. On average, 41 percent of people who want to bike more agree with the statement below, but there's a lot of variation by race—more than the variation by gender, region or income.

According to this survey, white adults who want to bike more are least likely to have this concern; 38 percent do. But the concern is shared by more than half of Hispanic adults who want to bike more: 52 percent.

Photo by radworld on Flickr.

4. The western United States is much better at the bike + transit combo

Bicycles are the "secret weapon of suburban sustainable transport," says Ben Plowden of Transport for London. By designing all-ages bikeways that connect to public transit routes and hubs, U.S. suburbs can dramatically reduce car dependence and start increasing transit quality.

But to do that, you've got to be able to ride your bike to the rail station, load it onto a bus rack, park it securely while you're away, and so on. Our survey found that 35 percent of U.S. adults disagree with the statement below, compared to 26 percent who are neutral and 38 perent who agree. Intriguingly, the answer to this question varies widely by region. "Interested but concerned" bikers in the western United States are far more likely to be satisfied with bike-transit integration. Cities and transit agencies east of the Great Plains should look to Asia and Europe for ideas, but they can also look west.

Monroe, Washington. Photo by papahazama on Flickr.

5. Every group worries a lot about getting hit by cars, but some more than others

There wasn't much divide on this issue among men and women or among people of different incomes. There was a bigger difference by race and ethnicity. Black adults were the least likely to agree with this statement (though still 57 percent) and Hispanic adults the most likely (a whopping 66 percent).

But the biggest divide of all was actually by region, with 65 percent of adults in the South agreeing with this worry and only 54 percent of adults in the Midwest.

This brings us to our final observation...

Schenley Drive, Pittsburgh. Photo from People for Bikes.

6. Every single demographic group wants protected bike lanes

Not much ambiguity here.

Compared to 46 percent of the general population, an overwhelming 64 percent of people who would like to bike more say that protected bike lanes would make a difference to their transportation choices. Of this "interested but concerned" group—which, to reiterate, consists of half the U.S. adult population—only 13 percent disagreed with the statement above.

As with the other questions, we broke this finding out by gender, region, income and race to look for trends within the data. We found exactly one trend: everyone feels more or less the same way.

And that's all we have to say about that.

This post originally appeared on the blog of The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps US cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.


You can now bring your bike to Baltimore on weekend MARC trains

Starting this weekend, you can take your bike on select MARC trains running between Baltimore and DC on the Penn Line. MARC outfitted two rehabilitated passenger cars to carry passengers and their full-size bicycles. The bike cars will run on weekends between DC and Baltimore, for now.

Inside the bike train car. Photo by MARC.

Bike cars will be easy to spot: they'll have bike themed graphics on the outside of the train, including "THE BIKE CAR" in big letters. The train car provides roll-on / roll-off service: there is no need to box up or fold your bike.

At some train stations the platforms are level, which makes rolling your bike on fairly easy. At non-level stations, you will need to be able to carry your bike and personal belongings up the stairs to load your bike. No reservations are available—it's first come, first served. If the bike car is full, folding bikes are still allowed per MARC's current policy. Bike trailers are not allowed.

The exterior of the bike train car. Photo by MARC.

With additional state resources, MARC is purchasing new double-decker train cars to increase passenger capacity to meet the demand. With new cars going into service, MARC is rehabilitating their old rolling stock to provide the new bike service.

The bike cars can currently carry 16 full-size bicycle, but can be modified to accommodate up to 26 bikes. The first two bike train cars are pilot designs. Launching weekend service allows MARC officials to evaluate the design and operation of the service with lighter passenger traffic.

With a refined train car design and operation kinks worked out, MARC will look to expand bike service to weekdays and other lines. Depending on customer demand, MARC might add a second bike car to service in 2015 (read: go use the service!). There is no definite timeline for expansion to weekday service at this point.

Transporation officials and other stakeholder discussing the prototype racks. Photo by WABA.

You can view the schedule here.

An early prototype design. Photo by WABA.

A great big thank you to MARC for expanding service to passengers with their bikes. We would especially like to recognize Chief Engineer Eric Ekolig and his team for thoughtfully engaging with bicycling community. We look forward to a successful roll out of weekend bike service and future expansion.

A version of this article orginally appeared on the WABA blog.


MARC's chief engineer wants to allow bikes on some weekend trains

The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) is seriously looking at how to let passengers bring ordinary bicycles aboard MARC trains. A background briefing by top MARC officials last week left bicycle advocates with the distinct impression that they want to allow bikes on some weekend trains within the next year or so.

A cyclist boarding a train in Germany (not Maryland). Photo by Steven Vance on Flickr.

MTA officials have long said that the combination of high speeds and full trains prevented allowing bikes. At a meeting three years ago, advocates pressed the matter with Simon Taylor, the Assistant Administrator of MTA, and John Hovatter, Director of MARC and Maryland Commuter Bus Operations.

Taylor and Hovatter made it clear that there was no real prospect for bikes on trains anytime soon. But they also said that MARC was planning for weekend service, and that bikes "should" be allowed if that service started.

At the time, weekend trains seemed like a remote possibility. Now they are a reality, and MARC officials are evaluating options for allowing bikes aboard some weekend trains.

Why MARC does not allow bikes on trains

Taylor and Hovatter explained their reluctance to allow bikes on trains to several advocates at the 2011 meeting. Federal safety rules require bicycles to be securely tied down on trains running faster than 70 mph, lest they become projectiles in a crash, the officials said.

On the Penn Line, trains exceed 70 mph along most segments except in Baltimore. On some stretches, the trains exceed 110 mph when pulled by electric locomotives. MTA engineers have been unable to devise a way to quickly secure bikes without permanently removing 3 to 5 seats from the car for every pair of bikes. With full trains, that is not a tradeoff that MARC is willing to make.

The Camden and Brunswick Line trains are not so full, so removing a few seats in favor of bike racks might be reasonable for those trains. But MARC rotates all train sets (except for the electric locomotives) between the three lines, so modifying cars for those two CSX lines would make Penn Line trains even more crowded.

Could MARC allow bikes on the Camden and Brunswick lines with the existing train configuration? Given that WMATA allows bikes on off-peak Metrorail trains, it might seem safe to do so. But Taylor and Hovatter countered that the CSX track is much poorer, generating side-to-side jostling which can cause bikes to slip out of the hands of the owner and strike another passenger. The low platforms at almost every station are another obstacle.

None of these problems is insurmountable, but in MTA officials' minds, they seemed to all add up to make bikes more trouble than they are worth.

A possible breakthrough emerges

Last year's gas tax increase provided additional funds for transportation, making it possible to finally add weekend service. Last summer, I reminded Hovatter that he had said "bikes should be allowed" when weekend service starts, because the trains will not be crowded. I asked if he could provide us with an update of his thinking.

He responded:

I would suggest we wait a few months to see how it is working and how many passengers we will be hauling. We are only running 3 car train sets to start off. If the trains are packed, and we hope they are, I doubt we will be able to handle any bikes, except the folding ones that we allow right now. Check back with us when it starts.
I was not encouraged by that response, but other members of Maryland's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (MBPAC) were more optimistic. Greg Hinchliffe, who represents Baltimore on the committee, pressed MDOT's Michael Jackson to set up a meeting with MARC officials and MBPAC.

As soon as the meeting began, it was clear that something had changed. Rather than listen to cyclist pleas for better service, the MDOT officials decided to have Erich Kolig, MARC's Chief Mechanical Officer, start the meeting with a presentation that gently lampooned MARC's existing policy. With a perfect deadpan, Kolig showed the MARC website:

Here is our bicycle policy: "Due to safety concerns, MARC's bicycle policy allows for the transportation of folding bicycles only... However, folding bikes are no longer restricted to those carried in a case." You see, we do have a bicycle policy.
All the advocates, and Jackson, laughed loudly.

Kolig then explained that he thinks the weekend service and MARC's capital equipment upgrades provide an opportunity to start carrying bikes on some trains. While the trains have attracted more passengers than expected, they still carry fewer people than the weekday trains. His presentation included illustrations depicting how bikes can be safely stored aboard the trains. He had clearly thought through how to do it, and how to keep the cost low enough to make it economically feasible.

Kolig and Hovatter asked the advocates to not reveal any details of the proposal.

Hovatter seemed favorably disposed to the proposal, although he did not promise that MARC will actually implement it. The decision to go forward is a few steps above his pay grade. And some unanticipated problems may arise, since railroads are highly regulated and MARC owns neither the track nor the largest stations on the Penn Line.

Hopefully, the Maryland Department of Transportation will approve Kolig's recommendation and at least start a pilot project with bikes on weekend trains, as soon as practicable. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) has offered to help MTA officials get cyclist feedback on any draft plan.

Cross-posted at WABA Quick Release.


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.


Ask Metro: Broken PIDs, bus fareboxes, and bikes

As Metro's infrastructure continues to age, broken elements have become a fact of life for riders. We asked Metro about a few of the issues cropping up from maintenance headaches.

Photo by the author.

Many riders have noticed that the PIDs (the signs showing train arrivals) are increasingly out of sync with trains, often showing "BRD" for a few minutes after a train leaves, or 3 minutes until the next train as one pulls in.

Last week, I encountered an even bigger problem. The PIDs at Gallery Place showed trains 1, 4, and 6 minutes from now, a rush hour arrangement, even at 9:54 pm, and the numbers never changed. I was able to get correct information on my phone (thanks to wireless working down in the station), at least.

Spokesperson Ron Holzer said,

We are aware of the latency problem with the PIDS and are working to find a solution. It appears the issue is with messages backing up in the PIDS server. The prediction model is still accurate and it seems the API programs are not experiencing the latency that the actual signs are.

Fortunately, this isn't a safety issue; the signaling system knows where the trains are, it's just the PIDs system that's having trouble. Unfortunately, that's not making things very convenient for riders.

Metro had originally hoped to replace the PIDs with new screens, called "The Metro Channel" that would have shown arrival times and other information including advertising. The ads would have paid for the new system. Unfortunately, the ad market collapsed with the economy, and Metro can no longer fund such a system through ad revenues.

Reader Jamie S. writes:

After reading the post about improving the 90s bus line, I visited the Metrobus Studies sites and read the improvements on some of the lines. It got me thinking about the bus fare machines and what happens when those machines aren't working, and the driver simply waves the riders on. Does he communicate with supervisors as soon as the problem is identified? Does Metro take the bus out of service? Is it repaired? It seems that in the wake of fare increases and the potential elimination of negative SmarTrip balances, this should be a problem Metro should address to avoid losing fares.
Doug Karas says:
When the bus operator realizes the farebox is broken, they radio to [control] who gives direction on what to do. Typically, the bus is instructed to continue the route where it is then switched out with another bus with a working farebox.

No repairs are made in the field due to safety issues and customer perception that workers are handling cash. Farebox techs do all repairs at the divisions. ... Our goal is that all fare boxes are repaired within 24 hours. Most are repaired in 8-12 hours.

Finally, Jonathan Z. asks:
I was getting on the College Park metro yesterday (Labor Day) with my bike. After getting yelled at immediately upon entry by the station manager because my wheels weren't on the ground, I was yelled at again (and threatened with a $50 ticket no less) because the station manager thought I was going to use the escalator. I was planning on using the stairs, since waiting for the elevator seemed pointless when there was no one else around, but of course the station manager was having none of that and demanded that I use the elevator.

Besides the arbitrary enforcement of the rules (I do concede they are the rules, but completely unnecessary to enforce them with such rigor in a sparsely inhabited station on Labor Day), it got me thinking: what if there was an elevator outage? Hypothetically, are bikers expected to call for the shuttle service? Are they even equipped with bike racks? I wonder how many more disgruntled Metro employees I would have had to deal with if that were the case.

Doug replied that the station manager could have let the cyclist use the escalator or stairs if the elevator were out and it were safe. The rules are designed for safety. If its wheels are on the ground and the owner is holding it, it's not much of a risk to other riders, whereas if it's on an elevator or escalator, the owner could drop it and it could fall onto others.

Doug added,

If the someone is on a bike, the elevator is out, and the station manager determines they shouldn't use the escalator or stairs, it would make more sense for them to ride their bike to the next station, than to wait for a shuttle. If, in fact, a person couldn't ride to the next station, all of our Metrobuses have bike racks.
It might be nice if Metro gave station managers some more discretion to let people use the escalators if nobody else is on them, for example, though that might also lead to more people trying to argue with the station manager. I've brought my bike on short escalators, like mezzanine to platform ones, at low traffic times and never been hassled, maybe just because the station manager didn't see.


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.

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