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April 21, 2008

Bicycles on Trains ?

Much has been written in recent weeks about allowing bicyclists to bring their vehicles on board Metro North commuter trains, and I wanted to add my two cents just as a commuter and not as Chairman of the Commuter Council. (Never be confused when I write here as I am always and only speaking for myself and not the many groups on which I serve.)

What is it about “bikers” that they feel their rights trump those of other commuters? How can such a well organized and vocal lobby be so blind to the sad realities of commuting on Metro-North that they would ask commuters to straddle their two-wheelers in standee-filled vestibules in the name of personal liberties and “being green”?

Bikers have no more “right” to bring bicycles on crowded rush-hour trains than I have to haul aboard a steamer trunk. (At least you could sit on a steamer trunk). Yet, they rant against everyone in their personal strivings for two-wheeled freedom.

In the interest of personal disclosure: I do not ride a bike, but I do commute and often must stand for an hour or more due to lack of seats.

Bikers… here are the facts of life:

Fact #1, there’s no room for bikes at rush hours. Heck, we don’t have seats for paying passengers, let alone space for bicycles. And the new M8 cars that are coming won’t change that crowding for many, many years given annual ridership increases averaging 5%.

Fact #2, bikes are already allowed on non-rush hour trains. And they’re carried for free. So quit your whining.

Fact #3, if you’re heading for New York City, you don’t need a bike. Mass transit is plentiful in the city, so leave your Cannondale in Cannondale.

Fact #4… or maybe an opinion… I don’t think there’s any demand for bikes among city-bound commuters.

The pro-bike lobby is well organized, very vocal and relentless. But they’re also unreasonable in their demands that every Metro-North train accommodate a special car filled with bike racks.

They point to such services in the San Francisco bay area, but Caltrain has only 37,000 daily riders carried on 100 double-decker passenger cars compared to Metro-North’s Connecticut ridership of 110,000 each day crammed into cars with much less space. If Caltrain’s ridership continues to climb, I predict they’ll rip out the bike racks and add seats.

If bikers really wanted to build support for their cause, I have a suggestion. Rather than rant against those who reasonably argue against bikes on trains, the bikers should instead lobby for bike racks and lockers at rail stations. Attract more people to two-wheeled transportation to catch the train by persuading local towns which operate those stations that this would be a great way to cut parking permit waiting lists. Towns like Westport do a great job with bike racks. Why can’t the other towns use parking revenue to similarly serve their residents?

The bottom line: until every paying passenger gets a seat for their Metro-North ticket, let’s allocate room on the trains to people, not their bikes.


Jim Cameron said...

On Mon, Apr 21, 2008 at 7:01 PM,

6:04 out of GCT...that bike in the vestibule would be taking the space of 4 paying customers. I would say charge $80 each way during rush hour for a bike...and have the biker explain to those standing on the platform in Stamford hoping to board an already standing room only train, why his bike is good for the environment.

By the way, I am a biker and am in favor of a more bike friendly commute.

More bike racks/lockers would be helpful.

Cheers...anxiously awaiting the new trains.

lhoza said...

Jim, I think it is unrealistic, to say the least, to make transportation related comments of any kind (but especially negative ones)and expect readers to separate them from your official positions when you are making these comments on your "Transportation" Blog.

As for bikes on trains, the biking community was promised that the new cars would have bike facilities so they are, understandably, a wee bit upset to find they were lied to.

As for priority, of course, every paying passenger deserves a seat. But shouldn't THAT be your priority -- campaigning for increased capacity of both trains and scheduling of trains rather than attacking and ridiculing a group of commuters who also happen to be bicyclists with a legitimate complaint?

And how could you possibly know the number of commuters who would like to train/bike commute to bike to NY city? They are not allowed on the train with bikes during rush hour so that is impossible to calculate.

We are, all of us, fighting for a better transportation system, one that addresses the needs of all users equally. If we are divided and throw snide remarks at each other we will accomplish nothing; if we work together in a civil manor we can achieve success. Linda Hoza, President, Connecticut Bicycle Coalition

Captain Kickstand said...

Hello Jim,

We met at one of the Commuter Rail Council meetings in New Haven last year. At that time, you seemed sympathetic to the idea of including space for bicycles on commuter train cars, so these dismissive comments ("whining" for example) are disappointing.

Having said that, I certainly understand that Metro-North has to put the needs of riders first, and that making room for commuters to carry bicycles on a train is a secondary consideration. But these objectives don't necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. A more effective car design would allow for a limited number of bicycles to be carried on a car, it seems. Surely with the millions of dollars being spend over the next several years, this goal isn't unreasonable. After all, as they say, "if we can put a man on the moon . . . " you know the rest.

You're right that better bike storage facilities at stations would be a fantastic first step. I know some commuters who keep a bicycle at each end of their daily ride. While this solution has its merits, improved access to multi-modal transportation should be a goal in and of itself to rail planners.

Thanks for encouraging dialog on this matter.


William Kurtz

David Streever said...


Unfortunately, your very rude sentiments regarding bikes that you post here make me wonder if you are able to do your job adequately. I don't believe that you are able to keep the two as seperate as you seem to imply: especially when I read the same sentiments (no one wants to bring their bike on the train) that I hear from you at meetings, in which you serve in your official capacity.

What about the bar cars, Jim? They cost more money to run than bike parking, and are virtually unused.

I think until you address that, you really need to stop the "bikes are a waste of space" argument... it's a bit hypocritical when you consider the issue of bar cars.

I also think, being in an appointed position, you would do well to seperate your personal feeling (no one will bring bikes on board) from your professional position. We've been meeting with you for over a year now, and if you have failed to research what type of demand really exists, then I would hope you'd rectify that rather than post whiny blog posts in which you advance a personal theory as a known fact.

Ultimately, we are "whining" because we were lied to, in writing, as to the situation. We were told that bike parking was going to be on the trains. Now that you've signed the deal, you reveal it was a lie. That's pretty awful, and I sincerely doubt your statements about seperating your personal feelings (whiny bikers! How dare they be unhappy that I lied to them!) from your professional capacity....

Heather said...

As a daily commuter on Metro North, I thought I should weigh in with a couple of corrections and notes: First of all, bringing a bike on MNR is not free--it requires a paid-for permit. Secondly, trains going to NYC don't just stop there, you know. As a cyclist, I can't even take a bike from New Haven to Stamford in the morning, because you cannot take a bike on an NYC-bound train during peak hours. Thirdly, I've seen many people bringing more luggage on board and occupying more space than any bicycle could. Large, heavy luggage can't even be place on an overhead rack, and creates quite a hazard in the aisles/vestibules. Bikes could be placed in an overhead rack system that would leave the floors/seats area free! Thanks,

Margaret said...

I commute from Stratford to Stamford every week day. If people were told they would be able to bring thier bikes on the train at peak times and now are told they cannot, I can understand their anger. The bottom line, I'm afraid is this: Until such time as there is room for PEOPLE on the peak trains it will NEVER be acceptable for bikes to be on these trains. It is that simple. The people that want to bring bikes on board will just have to face that reality. Just as we all have to face the reality that our representatives in Hartford are clueless about the situation here and will remain so unless and until and unless we join effort with Mr. Cameron and the Metro North Commuter Council to make our voice heard by both the government in Hartford and Metro-North Railroad.

linda said...

Allowing bike on trains at rush hour is something that is common in other locations. But it has never been allowed in CT nor was it promised, though that is something the bicycle community certainty hopes will be allowed in the future. What was promised is that the new trains would be designed to carry bikes safely. The governor has since requested that the ConnDOT revisit the issue and redesign the M-8 cars to accommodate bikes.

Anonymous said...

Don't rule out putting Bikes on the train but take a wait and see. If the crowding stops with the new cars then run a pilot program to have bikes in the vestibule.

Also as a metro north commuter there have been times I have tripped over suit cases in the vestibule when I get off at 125 street and almost fall into the gap. I also slip when some Einstein put's their coffee cup on the floor and it spills. Talk about trashing a train car.

Truth be told the reason we really should not have bikes in the vestibule is the same reason we don't have bike lanes on I-95


David Bedell said...

More bike racks and lockers would certainly be helpful. I've taken to leaving an extra bicycle locked at my destination station--I've done this for extended periods in Bridgeport, New Haven, and New Canaan.

As far as I know, Metro-North has no ban on steamer trunks or other large luggage, but common sense etiquette is enough to govern such situations.

We could let cyclists hang bikes on hooks only when the seats below are not needed by passengers. When all other seats are full, cyclists must remove bikes and yield the seats to passengers. This is the same etiquette we follow for people placing bags and briefcases on seats.

In the case of bikes, since they cannot be placed on luggage racks, they should be kept in the vestibules when seats are full, and parked on the side away from the platform so as not to obstruct the opening doors.

The same etiquette should apply to peak and off-peak trains. Even on off-peak trains, bikes should be suspended from hooks when possible, since this would be less obstructive than the current practice of parking them in the vestibules.

David Bedell