The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) first carried public passengers on September 11, 1972. Bikes, however, were only allowed on selected BART trains—and then only with permits—on January 1, 1975, following a concerted effort led by the young East Bay Bicycle Coalition (EBBC). This breakthrough put BART and bikes on the March 1975 cover of BICYCLING! magazine.
Four decades later, the 14,000 bicyclists using BART every day—roughly 4.1 percent of all BART patrons—still face barriers. Many cyclists hope that the new draft BART Bicycle Plan: Modeling Access to Transit will improve cyclists’ access to BART.
BART has worked hard—and successfully—in recent years to attract more bicyclists by installing bike stations, bike lockers, and other improvements: from 1998 to 2008 the number of cyclists using BART jumped 69 percent while system ridership rose 28 percent overall.
The plan’s ambitious goal is “…to double BART bicycle access, to 8 percent of all trips, by 2022.” To double the number of cyclists (the bicycle mode share) on BART, the draft suggests revisiting the ban on escalator use, adding new signage, improving bike access at and around BART stations, and expanding secure bike parking. The plan also recommends installing wider fare gates at all station entrances, and better lighting in bike parking areas outside the fare gates. It also includes the first version of a Bicycle Investment Tool for planning bike facilities.
Compared to BART’s 2002 bike plan, the 2012 draft plan has intentionally “less traditional structure and contents.” Unlike its predecessor, the current draft seems light on hard data and specifics.
What do cyclists say they need from BART? Cyclists’ top needs for years have been ending the commute hour blackout periods, preventing bike theft, and allowing bikes on all station escalators and platforms. (Their responses to BART’s surveys and focus groups are in Appendices A and C.)
The current draft plan’s three biggest omissions seem to be:
1. Not considering an end to the bike blackouts. Even discussing an end to blackouts in the bike plan was considered contrary to BART policy by senior managers until about a month ago, even though cyclists have asked for an end to that ban for decades. (See Recommendation 4.2, p. 33.)
2. A serious discussion of BART’s frequent bike thefts. It also omits the BART Police Department’s significant and expanding efforts to reduce thefts. (Daily BART bike commuters who lock their bikes in a BART station rack face a roughly 50 percent chance of having it stolen over the course of a year.)
3. BART held no public hearings on the completed draft plan after it was released at the end of April and the public comment period was less than a month long. Did BART provide for sufficient public comment on the plan?
The draft’s recommended “persuasive programs” are marketing campaigns aimed at getting more people to ride their bikes to BART. But BART cyclists and advocates I talk to cite the draft bike plan’s shortcomings and wonder: will BART be willing—or able—to remove the remaining barriers to bicycle commuters who want to use BART? How can BART reach its 8 percent goal without more substantive policy changes—like increasing the security of its bike parking areas or ending the blackouts?
There may be hope for bikes on BART: revisions now underway to the current draft will reflect many of the 200-plus comments BART has already received and reviewed, and half of those support ending the bike blackouts. And a companion implementation plan—as yet unfunded and without a timeframe, however—will cover the specifics of bike facilities and include more public participation.
I’ll discuss the many hopeful recent developments on the BART bike plan in Part II of this series on Friday. Stay tuned…
FULL DISCLOSURE: I have represented Alameda County on the BART Bicycle Advisory Task Force (BBATF) for about a year. As always, my comments here about BART are solely my own, however. They do not represent the official or unofficial views of BART, the BBATF, or any of its members.