On a Red Line Metro train from Union Station to Metro Center on Jan. 11, the end of the first week of Metro allowing bikes on trains during rush hour brought shrugs from riders and a thumbs-up from advocates.
Despite some riders' concerns that bikes would make already crowded trains feel even more packed, and commuters' fears of bicycle grease on their work clothes, the change hasn’t brought many complaints.
“It hasn’t caused chaos and destruction of all things transportation-related in the region,” quipped Robert Gardner, advocacy director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, which had pressed for the change.
Twitter messages to Metro included complaints about broken escalators and cold air blasting on riders trains in the dead of winter, but no horror stories about Metro’s decision to lift its ban on bicycles on trains between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. and between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m on weekdays.
“It’s off to a good start,” Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said.
But Gardner acknowledged the jury is still out on the new policy, which began Jan. 7 — a week when the government shutdown had noticeably thinned the crowd on trains. While Metro hasn’t released ridership data during the shutdown, The Washington Post reported Jan. 11 that ridership last week was down about 50,000 trips per day on average through Wednesday, 6 percent to 11 percent below the same week last year.
Kelly Mack, who commutes to work on the Red Line in a motorized wheelchair, is still unconvinced that the end of the rush-hour bike ban is a good thing.
“Riding the Red Line during rush hour in a wheelchair is next to impossible unless you’re willing to engage in hand-to-hand combat or having riders seated in your lap,” she said in an email after the change was announced Jan. 2. “I can barely fit my wheelchair onto the evening trains during rush hour, so how will bicycles manage?”
On Friday, she said she hadn’t seen any bicyclists on the train. But, she said: "I don’t know what to expect when all those workers come back.”
The week did bring an idea of what the new policy means for cyclists and riders. When sleet started falling on Jan. 9, David Whitehead got a first-hand look at the station platform at Metro Center.
“I realized a bunch of bikes were around me,” he said. "People weren’t going to hang out in the snow” — they were getting on Metro instead.
That’s good news for Metro, which made the change partly in the hopes of attracting more riders. Besides those wanting to get out of the elements, the transit agency is also hoping to attract people who live or work away from stations, who will now be able to bike to trains.
Nationally, transit agencies have taken a variety of approaches to letting bicycles on trains. The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority allows them at all times.
The Chicago Transit Authority doesn’t allow them during the morning and afternoon weekday rush hours, and at other times, allows no more than two bikes in a car because of crowding and safety concerns, a spokesman for the agency said.
San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit lifted its rush-hour ban on bikes in 2013, a spokesman said. It now allows them at all times except in the first car on trains, which share space with the conductor’s area and have less room for passengers. Technically, bikes aren’t allowed on the first three cars of trains in order to give riders a bike-free option, but the rule is rarely enforced, BART spokesman James Allison said.
One person commenting on an Express article about the change said he has had to take a Lyft to get home because Metro’s decision to close stations earlier in 2017 left him stranded after work. Now that he can take his bike on his train to work, he can ride home after work.
Like the people Whitehouse saw during the sleet, cyclist Barb Sheehy plans to take the train home on days when she’s too tired from work, tipsy from happy hour, or wants to avoid the weather, she said.
Sheehy, who rides her bike between her home in Columbia Heights and her job as an attorney at Navy Yard, said that before the change, there were times she’d have to wait until the rush-hour bike ban ended at 7 p.m. so she could bring her bike home on Metro.
“But that means that by the time I get home, I’ve missed dinner,” she said, and her 8- and 10-year-old daughters are already ready for bed. Other times, she’s ridden home in the rain and sleet.
She’s read comments online complaining about how some cyclists ride on the streets. Imagine how rude they’ll be on the train, many of those comments said.
And Sheehy does cop to running stop signs at times and cutting off drivers.
“But if I jump a stop sign, I’m never going to see the driver again,” she said. In contrast, “I’m just not going to push myself on to a train with my bike and be stuck in a car with 200 people giving me the side eye."
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