Bicycle access at transit stations

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Customers boarding a CalTrain car. Source: Bryan Goebel.


Bicycles are useful tools for completing last mile connections for transit operations and increasing the access radius for transit stations. But transit stations often pose accessibility challenges for people with bicycles, whether they are parking at the station or bringing their bicycle onto the vehicle. Since many transit stations are either above or below ground, it is important to evaluate how a customer with a bicycle could access the station and, ultimately, the vehicle. Stairs, escalators, and elevators pose specific challenges for customers with bicycles.

Bicycles and Stairs

A bike ramp in Copenhagen. Source: Jonathan Maus.

While many riders may be able to lift their bicycles and carry them up and down stairs, others will have difficulty. There are several options for dealing with this problem. Wheelchair ramps can be used by people with bicycles, but this can create safety challenges. If any access is allowed, signs must make it clear that riding on the ramps is not allowed.

Across the world there are numerous designs for stair channelization to permit people to roll bicycles up and down stairways, but are uncommon in the United States. San Francisco’s BART has implemented a trial at 16th Street Station, as has Los Angeles Metro at the El Monte Bus Station. In both locations, users have expressed dissatisfaction with the design because it is too close to the wall and railings.<ref>Systemic Failure Blog. </ref><ref>Boy on a Bike Blog.</ref>

Bicycles and Escalators

Most transit agencies prohibit bicycles on escalators (BART, LA Metro, for example) for safety reasons. If signs are erected prohibiting bicycles on escalators, it is recommended that the signage include directional information to stairs and/or elevators to improve compliance. The prohibition on escalators is often applicable to strollers or other wheeled devices for safety reasons.

Bicycles and Elevators

Since most stations have elevators in order to accommodate customers in wheelchairs, bicycling customers who cannot carry a bicycle up/down stairs usually have an alternative. Signage directing bicyclists to elevators can help improve compliance and use, but elevators are often avoided due to cleanliness and personal safety issues.

Bicycles on Platforms

A customer using BART Bicycle Waiting Area. Source: Marc Caswell.

Transit platforms are often crowded, and there is a persistent risk of falling into the path of an oncoming vehicle. For this reason, it is advisable that agencies strictly control where bicycles can be. Agencies such as BART have created specific bicycle waiting areas, which can help minimize conflicts between riders with bicycles and other passengers. It should go without saying, but actually riding a bicycle on the platform must be prohibited.

Bicycles on Trains

Transit agencies across California have a variety of policies regarding bicycles on trains, trollies, or cable cars. Some agencies allow bicycles at all times; other limit access to specific hours or load conditions; some systems limit the number per car or prohibit bicycles altogether. Bicycle advocates often point to strollers or rolling bags as analogous objects that are rarely regulated or prohibited on any trains. On the other hand, the size of bicycles makes it difficult to ignore them entirely.

A bicycle on a Sacramento Regional Transportation District Light Rail Vehicle. Source: Paul Dorn.
  • BART: In late 2013, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) lifted its prohibition on bicycles during rush hour, allowing riders to bring their bikes on trains at all hours. The system requests customers with bicycles to avoid entering crowded trains; and prohibits bicycles on the first three cars to provide a space for riders who do not want to share cars with bicycles. To complement this policy, BART modified seating layouts and created ‘Bicycle Priority Areas’ inside trains near the doors to allow customers with bikes easier access.<ref>Bay Area Rapid Transit Bicycle Rules.</ref>
  • CalTrain: Bicycles are allowed inside bike cars on CalTrain, which can accommodate either 80 bikes or 48 bikes, depending on the cars on a specific train.<ref>CalTrain Bicycle Rules. </ref>
  • Sacramento Regional Transit: Bicycles are allowed on light rail trains operated by the Sacramento Regional Transit District (SRTD) at all times. On older trains, bicycles can be placed near the front or rear of the train by the flip-up seats. On the newer trains, there are racks for up to four bicycles. SRTD requests that customers with bicycles board/alight after all other passengers have done so.<ref>Sacramento Regional Transit District Bicycle Rules. </ref>
  • SFMTA: The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) operates both cable cars and light rail. Bicycles are not allowed on cable cars or historic light rail vehicles due to size constraints and issues with access. Bicycles are prohibited on modern light rail vehicles as well, due to the motorized raising and lowering of floors.<ref>San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Bicycle Rules. </ref>
  • San Diego Metropolitan Transit System Trolley: San Diego Metropolitan Transit System allows two bicycles on the trolley throughout the day, but only one during peak hours.<ref>San Diego Metropolitan Transit System Trolley Bicycle Rules. </ref>
  • Valley Transportation Authority (VTA): VTA allows up to six bicycles per light rail vehicle. Four are allowed on the provided racks, and two may stand on the center section of the vehicle.<ref>Valley Transportation Authority Bicycle Rules. </ref>

Folding Bicycles on Transit Vehicles

When folded, folding bicycles are often similar in size to a standard briefcase or piece of luggage. Most agencies allow folded bicycles to be brought onto trains and vehicles, including all of the agencies mentioned above.

Electric Bicycles on Transit Vehicles

Since electric bicycles are still a new technology, agencies have widely varying rules related to customers with electric bicycles. LA Metro prohibits all electric and fuel-powered bicycles. San Diego allows specific types of batteries and requires bicycles must be less than 55 pounds. VTA specifies: “Only human powered and sealed dry or gel cell electric assisted bicycles are allowed.” SFMTA and BART do not specify any rules regarding electric or gas-powered bicycles.

Emergencies & Safety

The most frequent concern regarding bicycles on transit vehicles is related to egress in the event of an emergency. Clearly stated policies, such as BART, require that customers leave their bicycles in the event of emergency.

One other concern regarding bicycles and transit stems from a common myth that bicycles may be converted into pipe bombs. This stems from a sticker from Pensacola, Florida-based band named “This Bike is a Pipe Bomb” which has caused individuals to report these bicycles as an emergency threat. There have been a few bombings related to bicycles throughout history, but never in the United States and never on a transit vehicle. In most cases, the bomb was placed inside of a basket or bag -- and the bicycle was incidental to the movement of the weapon.<ref>Wikipedia: Bicycle Bomb. </ref>


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