Update: Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) blogged a new report about this connection. I haven’t read it yet, though. 

I am passionate about the nexus of bicycling and transit, and I’ve written often on Steven Can Plan about how bikes are stored on trains in the United States and around the world. When I travel, I look at this relationship closely.

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Bikes on the subway in Seoul, South Korea. Photographer unknown. 

Recently I’ve had several discussions with people (the latest while volunteering at Pitchfork Festival in early July 2011) about getting bikes on the South Shore Line that goes to Indiana. What I’ve learned is that it will probably take an act of legislation to make this happen, as well as a reconfiguration of the trains. This is what forced Metra to change its policies, but they caved before the legislation passed.

My latest post on the topic of bikes on trains was a “letter” to the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) on modifications they can make to the incoming 5000-series train cars to be more bike-friendly. I never actually composed a letter like the formal one I mailed to the United States Postal Service.

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Bikes need better accommodation on trains that what’s available on the older TRAX cars in the Salt Lake City region, operated by Utah Transit Authority (UTA). 

In the meantime, I’d like to gather a “database” of the best features of bikes on trains policies and facilities you’ve experienced in your travels. For now, I’ll store the database on my wiki. Add your photos to the “Bikes and Transit” Flickr group. Send in links to blogs and articles like this story about riding on Amtrak.

Help out

Please leave your comments about what Chicago and area transit agencies can do to improve the “bikes on trains” experience. While most of the information in my post is about how bikes “fit” into the train’s diverse spaces, share with Grid Chicago and our readers changes in policy and procedures you think Metra, CTA, and their parent organization, the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), should consider. Also, keep your eyes glued on this blog for information about a new transit riders advocacy campaign.

Different ways to carry bikes on trains

Common to light rail trains is the bike hook or hanger. At the bottom is a guide or tray that holds the other wheel. Each of these methods and transit agencies require that you follow different rules and give you unique responsibilities.

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Bike storage on the Hiawatha light rail in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You’ll find this on the VTA in San Jose, MAX in Portland, and in countless other cities. Photo by Payton Chung. 

Found on rapid transit in Vancouver, British Columbia, and BART in San Francisco Bay Area, is the “horizontal set aside” space.

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Canada Line on the SkyTrain in Vancouver, British Columbia. Photo by VeloBusDriver. 

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Bike Space, near the door, without a modesty panel inhibiting access, in the BART train. Photo by Frank Chan. 

And then there’s the diesel commuter trains, like Caltrain on the San Francisco Peninsula, and Metra here. There’s a huge difference between what you see in California and Illinois. Check it out:

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Space for about three bicycles on Metra bilevel cars on the diesel trains. The space is different on Metra Electric trains. Photo by Joshua Koonce. 

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A Caltrain bike car has enough space for 48 bicycles. Photo by Richard Masoner. 

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  • will

    I am for bikes on trains, bike lockers & monitored bike racks @ transit stations. It all depends on the need. Heres an example in San Francisco.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      Thank you, Will.
      I added your suggestions to the database as:
      -Monitored bike parking
      -Bike lockers (secure bike parking)

  • Adam “Cezar” Jenkins

    This discussion is quiet pertinent to me today. So I’m taking my bike on the train (Metra) today. I’m giving a presentation on Chicago’s north side tonight and intended to ride there.

    I’m siting on the train, bike strapped to the opposite side with a few others when the conductor comes asking whose bikes they were. He starts to say that we needed to “get off” because there was a disabled person getting on.

    I understand his position. He must accomodate them first. My heart started to race. The next train was over an hour. Will I be over an hour late for work because of this?

    Luckily that conductor realized that the seat I was sitting in was ADA and the disabled person could sit there.

    Why is this an issue? Without consistence, I can’t trust using Metra. My first reaction would be “screw this, I’m buying a car”.

    What could fix it. One of two things, dedicated bicycle infrastructure on the train, or more frequent trains. Sadly Metra isn’t interested in the infrastructure, and our government is too cheap to do anything more than keep shoving more and more cars into downtown until we drown in them.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      I’ve added your comments to the database.

      Regarding your final sentence, “government is too cheap,” I don’t think cheap is the right word. I think “not ambitious enough” is fine. I think many in our City government, including the commissioner himself, know that shoveling cars into downtown isn’t cheap (for the services we have to provide them, and for the drivers themselves). It may be less expensive to provide transit for 10,000 new people if we know we won’t have to pay for the impacts of 10,000 cars on the road.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure if you only want to discuss Metra trains, or also include CTA trains. I have no experience with Metra. However, I think the very first item that needs to be raised with CTA to make the El/subway trains more bike-friendly is to allow bikes to be brought on at any time of day. Right now, they are not allowed at all during normal commuting times. This effectively makes a statement that bikes on CTA trains are only for recreational riding only. I understand the space issue at peak times, but still. Here’s the CTA policy on this from their website:

    Bike & Ride: On the Train
    Bicycles are permitted on the ‘L’ (CTA trains) every weekday except from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. (except on July 2 or 4, and in cases of extreme crowding).

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      I want to discuss ALL trains in Chicagoland, including the South Shore Line.

      I support CTA’s decision to disallow trains during rush hour, but I think that this rule needs to be looked at. Rush hours change and crowding doesn’t always stay between specific hours. CTA does have to draw the line at some hour, though, but maybe it could be less arbitrary.

      Not all trains are crowded during these times – see the Pink Line. I disagree that this a statement that bikes on CTA trains are only for recreational riding. While a majority of Chicagoans work “standard 8-6 ±1″ hours, there are hundreds who work at different times of the day. CTA and CDOT also provide bike parking at 100% of stations – not even NYC can say that!

  • Anonymous

    I don’t bike, but I ride the CTA just after the official rush hours and see bikes on the trains fairly often. There’s nowhere on the trains as the cars are configured now that you can put a bike that is not in someone’s way. Maybe the new cars with the seats all facing inward will fix that, but for now we need racks, or perhaps even a designated car on each train with most of the seats taken out just for bikes.

  • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

    A modest idea: Reduce the number of Metra bikes-on-trains blackout dates and/or allow for reverse commuting on the blackout days. For example, if they’re worried about crowding on the trains because of people coming downtown during the Taste on a Saturday, there’s no reason they shouldn’t let me put my bike on Metra in the morning to get to the Fox River Trail – the train will not be crowded.

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    Would it hurt to attach some bungee cords or some type of rope or whatever so people don’t need to bring bungee cords? One would think the conductors would be sick of asking people to use bungee cords by now.

  • Lowell Nelson

    Just got back from 10 days in LA and took my bike on the subway line and the Metro suburban rail (during rush hour). There are the beginnings of real mass transit in LA it is good to see bikes are being included as it grows.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.gagnon.chicago Christopher R. Gagnon

    One problem we’re dealing with on Chicago’s CTA trains is that they are significantly smaller than the cars of trains in other cities. It seems to me that either seating must be removed, or additional cars must be added, to accommodate bikes during rush hour. There is barely enough room for people without bikes during those times.

    Meanwhile, if you’ve ever ridden the South Shore Line (and I have, many times), there is no room there either–on some trains it feels like a squeeze just to walk down the center aisle. Again, seating will have to be removed, or additional cars added, or both.

    So, what are the barriers to removing seating, or adding cars, and how can they be overcome? Because it’s hard to imagine any reasonable solution that doesn’t include those options.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.gagnon.chicago Christopher R. Gagnon

    One problem we’re dealing with on Chicago’s CTA trains is that they are significantly smaller than the cars of trains in other cities. It seems to me that either seating must be removed, or additional cars must be added, to accommodate bikes during rush hour. There is barely enough room for people without bikes during those times.

    Meanwhile, if you’ve ever ridden the South Shore Line (and I have, many times), there is no room there either–on some trains it feels like a squeeze just to walk down the center aisle. Again, seating will have to be removed, or additional cars added, or both.

    So, what are the barriers to removing seating, or adding cars, and how can they be overcome? Because it’s hard to imagine any reasonable solution that doesn’t include those options.

  • http://www.cyclelicio.us/ Cyclelicious

    The Caltrain policy was the result of unceasing lobbying by (at first) Palo Alto Vice Mayor Ellen Fletcher, who persuaded Caltrain to pilot bikes on board begining in the 1990s. More recently, it was Dr. Shirley Johnson’s dogged persistence at Caltrain board meetings that got Caltrain to double bike capacity on the trains over the past couple of years. It helps also that the Caltrain board currently has a couple of avid cyclists as members.

    San Francisco and Bay Area cyclists are a noisy bunch. We show up at meetings and local politicians know our opinions and concerns.

  • http://www.cyclelicio.us/ Cyclelicious

    The Caltrain policy was the result of unceasing lobbying by (at first) Palo Alto Vice Mayor Ellen Fletcher, who persuaded Caltrain to pilot bikes on board begining in the 1990s. More recently, it was Dr. Shirley Johnson’s dogged persistence at Caltrain board meetings that got Caltrain to double bike capacity on the trains over the past couple of years. It helps also that the Caltrain board currently has a couple of avid cyclists as members.

    San Francisco and Bay Area cyclists are a noisy bunch. We show up at meetings and local politicians know our opinions and concerns.

  • Jerad

    Please participate in the Metra 2012 Fare & Service Survey!
    http://metrarail.com/metra/en/home/service_updates/2012_fare_servicesurvey.html

    They limits the characters in the other comments section but use it to advocate for bikes.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      I should have linked to this. But I did tweet about it yesterday!

  • Anonymous

    It’s hard to see a “quick fix” in the rail transit system without thinking of redesigning train cars. But, for starters, I have just begun to use the Metra UP Northwest Line to carry my bike and myself into the city—and have not yet seen any helpful signage regarding bike policy. I’ve only (quickly) picked up etiquette from other bikers by mimicking them, and once asking someone about the policies. A conductor has once asked a passenger to forfeit his seat for my bike, but has never said anything other than “First three seats please move.” I would like to see some sort of visible sign near the “bike area” with a few instructions to cyclists and passengers. That’s the only minor thing I can think of. More space for bikes is pretty important, as I’ve learned the necessity of talking to other cyclists about their destinations to avoid being locked in the back of a bike pile. Although this has never been a problem, and honestly a pleasant conversation, it is still added work to get the order of bikes right—and they’re still in a bungey-corded heap in the corner. A single “bike car” would be nice, perhaps converting a current bilevel to bike racks on bottom, seating on top—stick it at the back of the train and all your cyclists are out of the way of other passengers too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=709220121 Taylor Nelsen

    a large part of the problem with bikes and the CTA is the fact that the trains themselves are often overcrowded. There is simply not enough room to squeeze into a car sardine packed with commuters while accompanied by a bicycle. And as stated before, even if you are lucky to fit on with your bike, there is absolutely no convenient spot for a bike with the way the cars are designed now. The walls on either side of the doors creates a neat corral that discourages bikers to move anywhere other than right in front of the doors, which leads to dozens of angry passengers thinking once again, “…fucking bikers…”. We are redesigning our city streets and sidewalks for biking as we speak, it is time to start looking at public transportation overhaul. Either that or just stay off the CTA and ride….

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