Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Should Metro allow bikes during rush hour? New petition says yes

March 20, 2012 - 10:50 AM
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The bandit of rush hour. (Photo: flickr/daquella manera)

WMATA forbids bicyclists from bringing their bikes into the Metrorail system from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. The transit agency also forbids bicyclists from transporting their bikes on the stairs or escalators any time, according to the guidelines, for reasons of safety. But not all Metro riders are happy about the way Metro treats the bicycles within the transit system.

In the last week, Kwon Yang of College Park, Maryland began a petition asking the transit agency to remove its rush-hour prohibition on bicycles, and he has received upwards of 90 supporters. Here's the text of Yang's petition letter:

Repeal the ban on bikes/ bicycles on the Metro during rush hour

It discourages people to use bicycles as a form of transportation and contribute to urban congestion. Also it inconveniences many commuters who do commute on their bikes. Not all workplaces are within walking distance of Metro stops. Finally, the citation that bicycles are a safety hazard during rush hour is flawed. If bikes were a safety hazard, why do we allow them on the Metro in the first place? I have seen people get on the Metro with bikes during rush hour because of the inconsistent application of this rule. People are smart enough to avoid tripping on a bike.

The signatories all passionately advocate for new rules. "We allow strollers, oversize luggage, and a host of other space hogs," writes Christian Maimone, "so why not bikes?" John Campanile suggests a better management of Metro space: "WMATA could easily institute 'Bike Zones' on certain train cars; i.e., the first and last section of the first & last cars." Lisa Eaker is simply frustrated and writes, "I'm tired of arbitrary power negatively affecting my life."

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association supports changing the policy.

"We understand Metro's issue of space constraints," WABA executive director Shane Farthing told me by e-mail, "but feel that (1) bikes are inequitably singled out for restriction while other items of similar size or larger are allowed, and (2) the timing restrictions are too broad and not well-tailored to address the spatial constraints that are actually at-issue. During the work week, bicycles are restricted system-wide for over 30% of the system's operating hours."

Dan Stessel, chief spokesperson for WMATA, defended the policy's "balancing act' but notes that Metro will consider a petition if brought before the agency. The Metro Transit Police issue tickets "very, very rarely" to anyone violating the system's biking guidelines, he told me, and says that when necessary, transit police and station managers might alert bicyclists who do take a bike on during rush hour that it's illegal. Typically, Stessel said, the riders politely acknowledge the WMATA employees and comply.

"No one should doubt we love bikes," Stessel said. "Bikes are a great way for people to complete the last mile [in conjunction with transit in their commutes ... But] full-size bikes do take up a lot of space."

Chocolate strawberries
(Photo: flickr/daquella manera)

New York's MTA allows bikes on the trains at all times but "strongly recommend" bicyclists avoid crowded cars during rush hour. The Long Island Rail Road, however, prohibits bicycles on board during weekday rush hour as well as on weekend rush hours — and requires a $5 permit. The San Francisco BART forbids bikes on certain rush-hour commutes but regulates based on commuting patterns rather than an all-out ban (though notes "bikes are never allowed on crowded cars"), which Stessel suggests would be difficult to implement in D.C. because "there is no inbound/outbound in that sense here." Chicago also bans bikes on its L trains during weekday rush hours.

In 2006, WMATA imagined a future in which they would be welcome bikes during rush hour.

"Bicycles should be part of the transportation system," the transit agency wrote as part of a Q&A on bicycles. "However, on Metrorail there is considerable concern over capacity. Rail cars are being added to the system as quickly as possible. There will be 184 cars added over the next few years, so maybe in time, we can be more receptive to bicycles."

That imagined future, of course, never happened.

WMATA has expended great effort in providing bike parking, however, and other amenities bicyclists may enjoy. In January, WMATA reports adding parking for an additional 140 bikes at seven of its stations. Consider the "stairchannel" installed at the Rhode Island Avenue station this year, which the Metro Office of Long Range Planning says "makes it easier for customers to bring a bicycle as well" (an exception, Stessel notes, to the prohibition on taking bikes on stairs). The College Park Metro station has witnessed the rise of a "Bike and Ride" facility in recent months.

But the rush-hour prohibition on bikes remains, much to the chagrin of 90+ individuals. Farthing says "better approaches" exist and that bicyclists are singled out under current policy. What's your take? Should Metro overturn its ruling or is the ban truly necessary for handling the deluge of commuters who push in during rush hour? You can review the petition here.

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