For some time now, cycling advocates in Connecticut have been talking about enhancing bicycle access on trains to mirror conditions found in other areas of the country (e.g. California), in Europe and elsewhere overseas.
Currently access for bicycles is restricted to off-peak hours on Metro-North trains and nonexistent on Amtrak trains serving this region. Shoreline East is the only train in Connecticut to provide virtually unrestricted access for bicycles (limited to the run between New Haven and Old Saybrook with advance notice required for groups of five or more).
Recently, however, the practice of allowing folding bicycles onto Metro-North trains at any time became official MTA Metro-North policy. Folding bikes are now allowed on trains at any time without the bicycle permit required for other bikes.
It will be some time before bike hooks will be installed on new M-8 trains coming into service and the prospects for changing the bicycle access policy for on-peak trains (even on a trial basis for select trains) are slim before 2012 at the earliest according to rail administrators.
Therefore I think we should take advantage of the more lenient policy applicable on Metro-North trains to folding bikes by making these bikes more accessible to cyclists wishing to take bikes on peak trains.
I would like to see such a program tested in New Haven and after an opportunity for evaluation and improvement, roll it out on the Metro-North main and branch lines in Connecticut.
In launching such an initiative, cycling advocates would expressly not be conceding the point that bicycle access should be enhanced on trains, but simply recognizing the facts on the ground and providing a means for taking bikes on peak trains while long-range plans for better access are being developed.
Elements of a trial program I have in mind include the following:
(1) A survey of cyclists and train riders to evaluate whether they would take folding bikes on peak (and off-peak) trains and in what numbers.
(2) Design of a bike share or rental program at New Haven’s Union Station in cooperation with the New Haven Parking Authority (which has agreed in principle to provide space for these bikes); determining which types of folding bikes are best suited for this purpose (I favor the full-sized folding bikes whose performance characteristics are closest to sport/touring and hybrid bikes used for commuting).
(3) Making folding bikes available cheaply by (a) establishing a fund to underwrite the purchase of these bikes for the share/rental program (b) securing these bikes at the best possible price and (b) making folding bikes available to consumers who purchase them as individuals and take them on trains at the best possible price.
I invite those of you who wish to join me in this endeavor and set up an ad hoc committee to design and implement this program to contact pauldhammer at yahoo dot com.
Whether or not you can actively participate in this endeavor, your questions, comments and suggestions would be most welcome.
May the road rise to meet you! May the wind be always at your back!
Paul D. Hammer
Paul Hammer will explain the issue of bikes on trains at the next CT Rail Commuter Council meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 17, at the CT DOT Office of Rail Operations, 4th Floor West, Union Station in New Haven.