Following a series of successful pilot days in March, where no one was impaled by a bike on a train, the BART board last night voted to go ahead and let bikes on board during peak commute hours for another five months.
This was not what cyclists were hoping for, nor was it the recommendation from a study which suggested the no-bikes-on-BART rule could be dropped permanently. However, the board decided, not unanimously, to go forward with the trial period, calling from bike blackouts, where cyclists are their bikes are welcome aboard during commute hours. The new trial period will start July 31 and run until December 1. Ultimately, the Board, despite the urging of hundreds of emails and a bevy of advocates (and a couple naysayers) decided that BART and its commuters needed a little more time to get used to cyclists carting their bikes on trains at all times.
Short of completing the new Bay Bridge, this is about the best thing that could happen to cyclists who commute across the bay. Cyclists who attended and spoke at the meeting, which ran until nearly 10 p.m., lamented that it was hard to ride BART, and that lifting the ban on bikes -- permanently -- would obviously improve life.
And of course, riders used this meeting as a chance to blast other passengers who annoy them -- the ones with doublewide strollers, couches (?), bags of cans, etc.
One cyclist I spoke with said "It's about time. I don't commute every day, but when I do, I have to choose between BART, the shuttle, the bus, and the ferry. Sometimes I lock my bike in one of the bike boxes, but most of the time I have to use my bike on the other side. BART should be accessible to cyclists when they need it."
The vote followed a campaign by the Bay Area Bike Coalitions, which were responsible for the roughly 500 emails that came to the board. The packed hearing was filled mostly with speakers who explained how dropping these no-bike-on BART rules would effect the way they schedule their lives.
"To be able to take a bike on BART at any time of day would open my world.," said cyclist Robin Ryan.
Other riders talked about how they would get stranded when they needed to get home to take care of children, or how they felt unsafe when riding home alone after dark, or getting up at 5 a.m. in order to dodge blackout periods.
The previous trials, which took place in August and March were universally referred to as a "non-issue." Despite the lack of incidents and complaints, in the end, the board decided to perform another extended study to get more significant data on bikes on BART during rush hour. No bikes will be allowed in the first three cars, or on escalators, and bikes still won't be allowed on crowded trains.
The board will evaluate the issue again in October when it will decide, finally, whether to enforce the bike blackout permanently. For what it's worth, it does seem like the BART board is on the side of making things easier for cyclists who rely on transit, too (Chairman Tom Blalock even wore a bicycle pin on his tie!).
No doubt, in this era of clamoring to be no. 1, lifting the blackout ban just might bump the Bay Area even higher on all those bikeable city lists. And wouldn't that give us all another reason to pat ourselves on the back.
Leif Haven is a writer and cyclist living in the Bay Area. He's can be spotted dragging himself up a hill -- literally and metaphorically.