BART will relax its rush hour bike ban in August. It will be test to see if its trains can handle it without crowding, collisions or conflicts.
During all five Fridays in August, the Bay Area Rapid Transit District will temporarily suspend its "blackout" rule barring bikes on board during the busy morning and afternoon commute hours.
For years, bicycle advocates have argued that the rush-hour blackout discourages more people from riding BART, and undercuts efforts to ease auto congestion and pollution.
No other Bay Area public transit system bars bicycles at certain times of day, although none have trains as packed as BART.
"I prefer to let bicyclists use their common sense to decide when it's too crowded to get on a train," said Renee Rivera, executive director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition. "With the current blackout, BART is losing some of is capacity to move people."
Even during the five testing days, she noted, bicyclists must continue to obey a rule barring them them from entering crowded cars.
Some BART passengers and workers, however, say they worry that relaxing the blackout will open the door for train overcrowding, safety problems and delays in loading and unloading passengers.
"I worry I'm going to break my neck," said Jerry Grace, a long-time BART rider from the the East Bay. "I'm worried that bikes will be blocking the (exits)."
BART officials said the pilot project will yield practical experience.
"We always assumed bikes will cause trouble in the peak periods, but we haven't put our assumptions to the test," said Steve Beroldo, BART's bike program manager.
As part of the test, BART will encourage passengers to visit BART's website at www.bart.gov/ to report how they fared under the relaxed rule.
Under the current "blackout" rule, bicycles are barred onboard trains in rush hours on the four BART lines that carry people through the Transbay Tube between Oakland and San Francisco. Blackout time varies slightly on each each line, but it's during the busy commute.
Officials say BART dearly wants to get more people to pedal to stations to increase ridership and relieve pressure on its crowded parking lots.
"Each commuter that bicycles to BART could free up another space at a station parking lot," said Rivera of the cycling coalition.
BART has a 10-year goal to get 35,000 passengers a day to bike to stations -- 8 percent of its total riders, Beroldo said. Currently about 4 percent of BART riders also ride bikes.
Bicycle coalitions from the the East Bay, Santa Clara County, and San Francisco all support the pilot project. The union for BART station agents has expressed reservations.
BART Director Tom Radulovich of San Francisco said the test will give cyclists a chance to prove they can be courteous by not pushing their way onto crowded cars.
New York's subway system, he noted, leaves it to cyclists to determine when trains are too full to enter.
"Rather than yelling at our riders to follow a rule, we can find out if they are courteous and respectful with each other," said Radulovich, who often bikes to BART and leaves his two-wheeler at a station.
Many passengers take their bikes on board only because they worry their vehicles will be stolen at stations, a BART survey shows.
To reduce that fear, BART should install more secure bike lockers, racks and storage stations so more passengers can leave a bike at a station when they boad, Radulovich said
When it opened in 1972, BART banned bikes on trains, and then in 1975 allowed bicyclists on board at certain times if they paid for bike permits. The permit requirement was dropped in 1997.
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff
During Fridays in August, BART will allow bicycles on all trains during all operating hours.
To view current BART rules on bicycless, view www.bart.gov/ and click on rider guide and bicycles.