After experiencing nearly a whole week of trying to get to-and-from work without BART, it's likely that commuters have discovered a new appreciation for those trains -- and all the smelly, annoying nuisances that ride along with it.
That includes cyclists and their space-hogging bikes.
Perhaps that's why this past week -- the week after the BART strike -- commuters seemed happy enough to share the trains with cyclists. Starting this week, BART dropped its long-standing ban on bikes for an extended its trial period, allowing cyclists to cart their bikes on the trains during rush hour. The trial period will run through November and unless something God-awful happens, it will probably become permanent.
Curious about how the new rules would change my life (I live in the East Bay, but recreate in San Francisco), I decided to hop BART with my bike in tow during rush hour.
And here's how it went:
I caught BART at the Macarthur stop in Oakland around 5 p.m., just as the herds were coming. I exited the train at 24th St. in the Mission, walked to the other end of the platform, and hopped another train headed back north and across the Bay. It's about a 30- minute ride each way through both downtown Oakland and San Francisco -- two commuter hubs. And despite all the fuss about bikes and BART, I was surprised to find myself actually enjoying my transit ride, rather than feeling like I was stuck in hell. That never happens.
In fact, my one-hour-long ride on BART was more like business as usual; I experienced exactly zero problems, and even when the train did get packed with cranky commuters, they didn't take it out on me. No dirty looks, and no nasty comments. I even had enough room on the train to avoid having that panicky feeling.
And no, my bike didn't inconvenience anyone else.
What happened next was even more unbelievable: When I hit my stop and needed to exit the train, the mobs made room for me.
Apparently, I wasn't the only one who seemed to think my bike's presence was a non-issue at peak commute times. One passenger I chatted up told me that bikes during rush hour had been "no problem at all."
I also noticed that there were probably more cyclists on BART than I'd ever seen before, even if it was only two to a car. But it makes sense that cyclists would also want to hop BART during rush hour -- they are also people with jobs who need to get to-and-from work across the Bay.
Most cyclists I saw were pretty engrossed in phones or tablets, and those who weren't staked out spots by doors. Cyclists also seemed to assiduously follow the rules about "avoiding packed cars", and not piling into the first three cars. I'm sure there are cyclists that are flaunting the rules, but I think the vast majority want the test period to become a permanent thing, and thus are happy to play by the rules for now.
So far BART has reported everything is going swimmingly since the agency ditched the rush-hour bike ban. Steve Beroldo, who works with BART's access department, told me that it was still too early tell how well things were going, but that riders had used the feedback form on BART's website to provide opinions -- and those opinions were going both ways. He also said that, "What we've learned so far is that if cyclists are considerate and don't push their way onto trains, this could definitely work."
It seems like there should be little cause for concern at this point. While the trains I rode may not have been the most crowded, they were smack-dab in the middle of the former black out period. I'm sure that somehow cyclists and non-cyclists on BART can get through this awkward get-to-know-you phase and maybe, just maybe, become friends.
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.