Ending Metro’s Rush Hour Ban on Bikes Comes at a Steep Cost

Today at noon, Metro staff held a special briefing on a series of proposed rule changes that would make it legal for bikes to be on all Metro trains at all times.  However, this change comes at a steep cost to bike riders, the new rules also dictate that there should be no more than two bikes on any Metro rail car at any time.

Presenting for Metro was Hector Rodriguez, a long-time cyclist who tried to keep the focus of the presentation positive.  However, instead of a celebratory tone about increased bike access, the meeting became a contentious ones with Metro staff stating the case that because a bike takes up three times as much space as a regular rider, that restrictions need to be in place.  However, no such restrictions were proposed for any other users, be they carrying luggage, pushing baby strollers or transporting a Christmas Tree.

As members of the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition, Los Angeles Bike Advisory Committee, Caltrans Bike Advisory Committee and others complained that this new policy, while better than existing policy, still treats cyclists as second class citizens.  Staff argued that they’ve been taking baby steps that are pushing things in the right direction such as the removal of seats on Red and Purple Line trains.

Of course, the benefit of that seat removal is somewhat mitigated if only two bikes are allowed in the car.  While staff insisted that these rules wouldn’t be enforced on situations where cars have space for more cyclists, but I think we all know that when people in power have the chance to abuse a rule, someone will step up and do so.

So what should Metro do and what should they have done?  While I think the intentions were good, after all we’re not discussing a full ban such as they have on BART trains or anything as severe as that, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.  The mantra that "we’re trying to do something for you" doesn’t ring as true when cyclists aren’t involved in the process until the end.  The only way to insure that the people you’re trying to do a favor for actually want that favor is to involve them in the process at the start, not the finish.  The proposed rules are on the Programming Committee Agenda next week and will probably move from there to the full Metro Board later this month.

But what can Metro staff do to make the rules better?  For starters, they should treat their "heavy rail" cars different from the "light rail" cars when writing rules.  On Red and Purple Line cars, there is a dedicated open space for people commuting with wheels.  On Blue, Gold and Green Line cars, cyclists are being asked to park their cars in the articulated areas.  If there’s no way around placing some restrictions on cyclists there should be flexibility in those restrictions written into the rules based on both type of car and time of day.  Having a restriction on bicycles during the most congested hours is a debatable policy.  Having a hard rule about the number of bikes on trains in off-peak hours is patently ridiculous.

The most popular suggestion in the room was instead of having a series of rules and restrictions, why not just have a "standing area" in every car where people can stand and "hang out" with their bikes, strollers, Christmas Trees or other freight.  That way, Metro can actually increase the carrying capacity for each car and provide adequate space for anyone that has something to carry with them.  However, that solution isn’t in the mix yet because it hasn’t been adequately studied and funding would need to be identified.