Bike cars on weekend trains a 'big first step' for cyclists

Bike car service was expanded to every MARC train between Baltimore and Washington on the weekends on Oct. 31.

For its monthly meeting, the Maryland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee convened in a car Friday morning.

It sounds contradictory, but the committee did not pick just any car. The group met in a retrofitted bike car on a MARC train running between Penn Station in Baltimore and Union Station in Washington, D.C.


Six members pushed their bicycles onto the last car of the Penn Line that left Penn Station at 9:25 a.m., two more members with bikes hopped on at the Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport stop, and two more joined the committee of about 25 at the Seabrook Station.

"Instead of sitting in a board room talking about monthly things, we're on a train," said Caitlin Doolin, a member of the committee and a Bicycle & Pedestrian Planner for the Baltimore City Department of Transportation's Bike Baltimore program. "We bike geeks like to do fun stuff, too."


Since Dec. 6, 2014, MARC has been running a bike car on weekends between Baltimore and Washington, but passengers with bicycles could only use the car on the first and last trains of Saturday and Sunday.

In late August, bike cars were added to six of nine Saturday round-trip trains and all six Sunday round-trip trains before the service was expanded to every MARC train on the weekends on Oct. 31.

"It adds to the convenience, it adds to the ease of the bike-riding public," Maryland Transit Administration public information officer Paul Shepard said. "Now if you get on the 10:41 a.m. train going to Baltimore or coming back from Baltimore, you don't have to worry about thumbing through a schedule and finding the corresponding bike car to get you back. You know that if you take a weekend train, the car is going to be equipped with a bike car. That's been a real boon to service."

Bike advocacy groups have appealed to transit agencies to accommodate bicyclists for the past decade, and Shepard said MTA's decision to purchase 54 multi-level commuter cars freed up older cars that were converted into bike cars.

The bike cars are similar to regular commuter cars except that seats on one side of the car have been replaced with racks that allow the bicycles to stand without tipping.

Gregory W. Hinchliffe of Baltimore, a member of the advisory committee who has used the bike car three times thus far, said the racks inside the train provide bicyclists with a sense of assurance.

"Look at how convenient it is," he said Friday after loading his bicycle inside the bike car. "You can sit and keep an eye on your bike. You can even lock it if you want to."

Prior to the bike cars, bicyclists were permitted to carry collapsible bikes onto trains, but Greg Billing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), said his experience with a folding bike in spring of 2014 was not enjoyable.

"It was such a pain," he recalled. "It was a Friday afternoon and the train was full and I had a bag of my stuff plus a folding bike, and there was just not a lot of space on the train. I was trying to keep my bike in a contained space and not let it hit other people and it wasn't the cleanest thing. It was just not a great experience. I really needed a bike to where I was going, but if I had to do that day in and day out, it would be quite a pain. The new bike trains are gorgeous. They're spacious, really well thought out with the flow of people and bikes. I think it's a great service to people with bikes and people who don't have bikes."

Renee Moore, a Women & Bicycles coordinator for WABA, took on Sept. 19 a group of 10 female bicyclists from Union Station to Penn Station to ride with 30 women from Bikemore, another bike advocacy group. Moore said the car was so spacious that one passenger even stored her tandem bike inside.

"You just rolled your bike right on, and you could secure your bike in the stands, and the rest of the car had seats," she said. "So we talked on the way up and went to sleep on the way back because we were tired. It was great. I loved it. I wish Metro [in Washington] would do that. I wish all the trains would do that because it was so easy to board and get off."

Friday's bike car was a special arrangement to accommodate the Maryland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, but it also helped Sean Byrd of Annapolis, who had planned to ride his bike to his job at Fisher Auto Parts in Odenton after dropping off his car at an auto repair shop near the BWI Station.


"I probably would've had to ride to Odenton on my bike," Byrd said. "It's only about 10 miles. It's not bad, but I would rather get on and get off [the train]."

Liz Cornish, executive director of Bikemore, said the challenge now for MTA and bicycle advocacy groups is to promote the presence of the bike cars.

"People don't know that it exists," she said. "So we need to make sure that we implement high-quality programs like the bike car and also factoring in and budgeting for communication campaigns that really do get the word out. They expanded it to all weekend cars on Oct. 31 and here we are in December and we have a really engaged membership and we're still doing a lot of education to let people know that it's still available during the weekend."

MTA set a record on the weekend of Sept. 5-6 when more than 50 bicycles were transported. That may not sound like much, but Shepard, the MTA spokesman, said the agency is being patient.

"It's going to take time," he said. "It's going to grow, and it's something that now that we've seen that bike cars have been placed on every train, we really expect phenomenal growth in the future."

The long-term goal is to expand bike car service to weekdays and to the MARC Camden and Brunswick lines. But Nate Evans, executive director of Bike Maryland, is encouraged by recent developments.

"I think just the fact we have it on weekends is a big first step," he said. "The fact that we now have the cars, that's half the battle right there."


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