Photo by anokarina on Flickr.
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.
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:
Given platform and railcar crowding, bikes aren't a good fit for trains during rush hour. https://t.co/ZgKoN2GyS7— Martin Di Caro (@MartinDiCaro) June 24, 2016
Tom Sherwood, another media icon in our region, is a fan:
Respect Mr. Price - but growing # of bikes isn't the platform/rail car problem. It's better crowd mgt. https://t.co/viL6sSMpUs— Tom Sherwood (@tomsherwood) June 25, 2016
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?