A look at BART's bike pilot, halfway through and entering busy season
The post-summer crunch -- when vacations are over and schools are back in session -- is underway, on BART trains already experiencing record ridership. BART's five-month extended commute period bike pilot is in its third month, the first with autumn-level ridership, and officials are taking the opportunity for more education on successful coexistence of cyclists and non-cyclists.
"For many people, this pilot is really helping their day, because they can ride the trains when they couldn't before," said Steve Beroldo, BART's bike program manager. "We have heard concerns from others, however, about some trains being just too crowded to accommodate bikes, so we are working to get the word out about ways to minimize those kinds of problems."
On a recent Monday morning, Beroldo and the East Bay Bicycle Coalition's Anna Szendrenyi brought their bikes to the Rockridge Station platform in Oakland to spot-check which trains were too crowded -- and which not -- for taking bikes aboard.
While previously a bike blackout was in place during peak commute periods, during the extended pilot running through Dec. 1, bikes are allowed at all times, with some restrictions and subject to the other bike rules. One of the existing rules still in place is that bikes are not allowed on trains where they cannot comfortably fit -- a measure, Beroldo explains, that is "a little subjective."
"The big challenge is that some cars are going to be too crowded for bikes to get on them, and we have to ask bicyclists not to board those cars,” Beroldo said. “They have to move toward the back of the train, they may have to wait for another train.”
He walked his bike up to the boarding square, waiting behind the yellow safety strip, as a San Francisco-bound train pulled in, people visible through the window standing closely pressed near the doors. "That one doesn't look good," he said, rolling the bike back so that a lone standee could squeeze on board.
"One rule of thumb might be, if you don't have ask multiple people to move, or if you are not going to be at risk of running into someone, then it's probably OK to bring your bike on board," he suggested. "Cyclists need to be very conscious of not blocking seats and not blocking the doors. Also, they should remember that chains can be oily, tires can have road grit on them, and they don't want to bump into people."
BART is taking other steps to ease the process. Additional secure bike parking is being added at some stations; decals are in place at some stations with narrow platforms to show bikes where to wait; and the BART website has a new crowding feature on its QuickPlanner trip planning tool that can help assess which trains are more likely to have space for bikes.
“You can look ahead of time at different train options that work for you and pick the one that might be less crowded,” Beroldo said. “It’s not real time – it’s built on historical data – but our ridership is pretty consistent from day-to-day and we update it on a quarterly basis. It will give a clue as to which trains are the most crowded.”
Szendrenyi said the Bike Coalition is also spreading the word about bike etiquette to its members and the general public.
"We are reaching out to as many people as possible, both cyclists and non-cyclists, because we really want to make this work," Szendrenyi said.
“Getting on the train seamlessly and not disrupting the folks already on the train – making their ride and my ride equally as good – is really important,” she said. “People are trying to be more accommodating and we’re trying to be more attentive to when we board and make sure we don’t bump into people.”
On a later train with many open seats, Szendrenyi and Beroldo went on board to demonstrate another technique that can help -- "stacking," or leaning bikes against one another, to fit more of them into the bike space against the side of the train by the door. The next generation of BART trains will have bike racks for even better accommodations; read more about the Fleet of the Future at www.bart.gov/cars. Szendrenyi suggested that non-cyclists could help by keeping the areas in front of the bike spaces clear, if possible, so that more bikes could fit there stacked, opening up space for standees elsewhere throughout the train.
It’s important to keep a dialogue going, Beroldo said.
“Sometimes there will be someone standing in the space where it’s best to put your bike, and you have to start a little conversation,” he said. “Say, ‘Excuse me, I’d like to get my bike out of the way, can I lean it up against the wall behind you? ' "
"Ultimately, the decision on what happens after the pilot is going to be up to the Board of Directors," Beroldo said. "It is a Board decision and they are going to listen to the riders."
You can read more about the bike pilot and give feedback at www.bart.gov/bikes.