Friday, March 15, 2013

Here's Why You Should Love Having Bikes on BART

Posted By on Fri, Mar 15, 2013 at 7:40 AM

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Heads up, BART riders: the cyclists are coming.

Once again, BART has decided to temporarily drop its rush-hour bike blackouts and open its (often dysfunctional) doors to pedalers for the morning and evening crush. As seasoned BART riders already know, bikes of the ungainly, unfoldable variety are usually kept off the trains between 7 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. and again between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m, but starting Monday, it'll a multimodal free-for-all.

Perhaps you don't welcome the prospect of having to cozy up with some stranger's Cannondale during your ride to work. Perhaps you foresee scads of inconsiderate cyclists illegally descending the escalators upon the work weary commuters, helmet-butting their way onto crowded cars and knocking over priority seaters with their angular metal handlebars. Perhaps you've heard that if this pilot is deemed a success, the laissez-faire policy will probably be made permanent and that this dystopian vision of the future -- an oily chain stamping onto the side seam of your pants forever -- fills you with dread.

Stop your worrying, bike-less commuters.

For one, in case you don't remember, it's been done before, and nobody died (well at least not from the co-mingling). Turns out, most cyclists can refrain from acting like assholes in crowded situations just as adeptly as you regular commuters.

But if those results aren't enough to assuage your BART-bike anxiety, take comfort in the fact that BART is making the trains more bike-friendly, which isn't only good news for East Bay cyclists like myself. The transit agency is using this expansion as a chance to make your ride a little more comfortable, too.

You may have already noticed, that as of late, you've not smacked your knee against one of those door-abutting windscreen panels. And perhaps you've been wondering why those extra two seats disappeared, replaced with nothing but an empty patch of composite floor.

These modifications have been made to many BART cars since the last pilot period in August to make room for cyclists and their bikes. But it's not just benefiting cyclists. As it happens, they're also making commuting easier for anyone with a wheelchair, or a stroller, or a service dog, or an excessive amount of luggage.

Not to mention, those of you standing might also appreciate the extra room when your train slows to an abrupt halt halfway to West Oakland.

And more improvements are coming. As BART replaces its current fleet over the next decade (a fleet which has been in operation since the end of the Nixon administration), the new cars will have on-board bike racks and an extra door to better distribute the pushing and shoving as people get on and off the train.

Most discussions over bike-friendly infrastructure take it as a given that cyclists can only be accommodated at the expense of everyone else. A bike lane can only be added if we nix a lane or take away someone's parking space. Thankfully, there is no such zero-sum game in public transit.

But even if these changes do inspire more cyclists to ride BART, that extra crowding notwithstanding, there are some benefits. For those commuters who rely on BART to get them into the city, but who have to drive to a station each morning, a more bike-accessible transit system will mean more cyclists and fewer drivers. Thus, they might be able to start to notice an easier time finding parking and less traffic on the way home. Likewise, for those who drive in-and-out of the city to get to work, more cyclists on BART will mean fewer cars on the bridge.

Of course, more BART trains would be nice, as well as an extension of the "bike path to nowhere" from Treasure Island to the Embarcadero, and a region-wide bike-sharing system. Yes, those would complement ending the bike blackout terrifically.

But a serious-minded reader will note that all would be way too expensive, not to mention a political nightmare. The serious-minded reader might also note that I was being completely facetious.

And so for now, as a bare minimum, allowing bikes on board is a step we should take if expanding bicycle commuting across the Bay Area is a worthy goal.

For bike-toting Transbay commuters like myself -- and maybe for those on BART who come to the station in a car (and will see more parking spaces) and for those on BART who do not come to the station in a car (and will be compensated with more spacious cars) and for those who drive across the bridge (and will see less traffic) and for those who don't commute at all (but might enjoy the environmental, public health, and economic benefits that come with having more cyclists pedaling around their communities) -- I think that it is.

Ben Christopher is an Oakland-based freelance journalist. His favorite pastimes include pretending to work at coffee shops and shaking his fist disapprovingly at errant drivers from atop his baby blue Cannondale.

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