DC Metro Opens Door to Bikes During Rush Hour

Photo:  Lorax/Wikimedia/CC
Photo: Lorax/Wikimedia/CC

Forget kiss and ride — welcome to roll and ride. Beginning Monday, passengers on the Washington Metro will finally be allowed to bring their bikes aboard during the morning and evening rush hours.

The policy change is the result of decades of advocacy by local bike advocates, dating back to a seminal protest at which cyclists carried cardboard bicycles aboard Metro trains to demonstrate that there was enough room, said Robert Gardner of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association.

Taking one’s bike on the Metro means “you don’t necessarily have to rely on your car anymore,” he said. “That’s a huge opportunity.”

Metro, in its announcement, emphasized that the policy change was made with specifically with the benefits to reverse-commuters in mind. Metro had previously allowed bikes on board, but not between 7 and 10 a.m. and 4 and 7 p.m. New, more-spacious 7000 Series traincars and new funding for extended rush hour trains — with eight cars each — helped make the agency comfortable with the changes.

Metro also hopes the new policy will expand ridership at a time when it has been tumbling. About 0.8 percent of Metro riders currently bring their bikes on trains. The agency hopes to increase that to 2.1 percent.

New bike/train riders are expected to include commuters and recreational riders, and all the other cyclists in between, says Gardner. People who live or work within a mile of a Metro station are expected to be some of the biggest beneficiaries. The policy, he believes will also encourage new, less-confident bicyclists, who may be comfortable commuting a short distance by bike, but not 10 or 20 miles. Members of the bicycle group WABA also said they expected roll-on rush-hour service to be helpful when it rains, or for people who work for employers who don’t have on-site showers.

Metrorail had long been resistant to allowing bicycles on board, citing concerns about crowding. But the system has been gradually expanding bike access since ending a complete ban in 1982.

WABA is encouraging bike riders not to crowd onto trains that are too crowded, or in a way that would impair users with special needs. And Metro will still have the right to refuse bikes from over-crowded traincars.

But Gardner said a lot of people’s fears about crowded trains don’t necessarily account for how diverse Metro users are and where they travel. “A lot of people use less-crowded lines, or commute from D.C. to Virginia in the morning. Those trains aren’t necessarily packed.”

Other transit agencies — notably BART in the San Francisco Bay Area — allow bikes any time. But different transit agencies have different policies. Chicago’s CTA, for example, allows bikes, but not at rush hour. In Boston, MBTA only allows two bikes per traincar. New York’s subway system allows them (if you can find room).

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’ve been glad on many occasions that NYC allows bikes on the subway. Occasions when I came out from work and found my tire flat as a result of a slow leak, with no bike shops in the middle of Midtown. I was able to take the bike on the train to a shop, and then ride the rest of the way home.

    As for the DC Metro, one of the most absurd transit stories I heard — before their ridership collapsed — is that they run less than full length trains because they don’t have enough cars. They probably thought they would add cars later as needed, but the system has been cashed cowed since it opened. It’s where the subway was in 1954.

  • FormerMainer13

    Hopefully this will work out. We should keep in mind that trains are for people, not bikes, but if there is enough room for them, then all the better.

  • San Franciscia

    BART does not use special cars. Bikes are never allowed on a crowded train.

  • 94110

    “BART uses special cars.”

    You might be thinking of Caltrain. BART cars are all the same. Bikes are allowed on any car at any time, except the first car of the train.

  • Wanderer

    BART asks bicycle riders not to get on a crowded train. But I have seen very few bike riders forego squeezing onto a train, regardless of its level of crowding. Perhaps they’re fearful that the next train will be just as crowded, which is likely in some circumstances, not so likely in others. But the direction not to get on a crowded train is pretty well a dead letter in my view.

  • Michael

    Metro stations could use about 10X their current level of bike parking, covered, with video surveillance.

  • What you don’t see a lot of is the vast majority of cyclists forgoing riding during busy times because it’s very stressful trying to maneuver bicycle in a crowded train. I’ve done just what you said, waited because of a crowded train only to see the crowds growing with each passing train. It really sucks, because it’s not like ditching my bike is an option. I really really wish every bart station had secure bicycle storage.

    There’s a big difference between “RUSH HOUR” and crowded trains.
    Most of the biggest crowds on Bart trains I’ve experienced are at night when there’s only 20 minute service and lots events all ending at the same time, which happens every evening. Most trains during rush hour aren’t actually that crowded, especially in contraflow directions. But Bart also runs mostly 8-10-car trains, which allows bikes to spread out. It’s usually the shorter Bart trains that run into bike capacity problems, in my experience.

  • You want absurd? Look at the Muni Metro stations built in the 1970s that are equipped to handle 4-car train sets, but you will never, ever see that happen.

  • I used Metro on a daily basis for nearly 7 years. It has its faults, but it is a far better system than either BART or the SF Muni system. Problem with the WMATA is that they deferred maintenance and didn’t add enough cars to the fleet during its rapid expansion in the 80s/90s. With maybe the exception of the yellow line, all lines should be 8 cars during rush.

  • Wanderer

    Ziggy, if bike riders are “peak spreading” their trips on BART into non-peak hours, that’s a win for managing the system for the benefit of the majority, even if annoying to cyclists. It’s analogous to the way car drivers need to forego the Bay Bridge during rush hours, and get reminded of that by a higher toll.

    I partially agree with you. The BART system would function better if bike riders parked their bikes at BART stations, and didn’t feel the need to take them on trains. This is what BART would prefer and they’ve been adding bike parking, though it’s hard to keep up. Greater use of bikesharing (or scooters for that matter) could also help.

    I typically get on BART in Oakland between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. 8-10 car trains coming from San Francisco are typically very crowded. Sometimes people have to get off the train to allow other people on. The 5-6 car Fremont-Richmond trains are generally less crowded. But I agree that there can be late night crowds, crowds from baseball games etc. That’s a tougher situation, because late night passengers don’t have all the San Francisco transit connections that exist earlier in the day. The problem I’m responding to is the peak, because that’s when I’m most likely to be on the train. There was a brief period when BART ran service every 15 minutes in the evenings and weekends, and it was a great thing, but BART didn’t see it as a valuable.

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