Last week members of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, DOT Commissioner Joseph Marie, and Metro-North planners met with cyclists and told them they would work to encourage the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the state of Connecticut to consider more ways to expand access and improve amenities for bicyclists on Metro-North trains.
They also revealed that next month Metro-North plans to award a contract to design a bike rack prototype to be considered for installation on the state's new fleet of M-8 rail cars.
This comes on the heels of Metro-North installing some prototype bicycle-mounting devices on a pair of M-7 train cars as part of an on-going effort to review and encourage bicycle opportunities and options on the railroad.
Jason Stockman, director of Rail, Trains, Ecology, Cycling, an advocacy organization, addressed last week's group, emphasizing benefits of full access for bicyclists on the New Haven Line, including reduced automobile use and accompanying carbon emissions, conversion of parking facilities into transit-oriented residential developments and health benefits for riders.
We support full access for bicyclists for the same reasons.
Currently Metro-North now issues permits to bicyclists and conductors can bar cyclists from trains that are deemed too crowded.
Unfortunately bikes are banned from morning peak trains -- those traveling toward Grand Central Terminal in the morning, and then north back toward Connecticut during the evening rush hour.
If bikes aren't allowed on peak trains, then how are people supposed to bike to work?
Think about the number of Fairfield County residents who live within bike riding distance from the train stations in their towns and cities and whose offices are a convenient bike ride from a train station along the New Haven Line. They would certainly be more inclined to take the train to work during peak hours rather than sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Interstate 95 if bikes were allowed on the train during that time.
Consider, too, how finding a better balance between bikes and train passenger space might boost tourism in the area. There are so many open spaces and beaches to enjoy in the Gold Coast by landlocked New Yorkers, for instance.
Creating a convenient transportation option for cyclists between Toronto and the Niagara region helped revitalize local tourism in Ontario, Canada.
The Bike Train Initiative was developed by Toronto cyclist Justin Lafontaine and launched in partnership with VIA Rail Canada between Toronto and Niagara in 2007. The Bike Train Initiative introduced bike racks onboard select passenger rail trains to destinations across Ontario, making cycling adventures easy and accessible. According to the initiative's Web site, passengers travel in comfort while their bicycles are safely secured in a baggage car with bike racks.
Connecticut should also note the success of Caltrain, which runs along the San Francisco-San Jose corridor. It has become a leader in bike access among commuter railroads in the United States. Bikes are allowed on every train, every day. Caltrain operates two types of train cars. The gallery train set can accommodate 40 bikes while the Bombardier train set can handle 48 bikes, 24 in each of the two bike cars. In 2009, Caltrain increased bike capacity by eight spaces per train and is running more two bike-car trains.
While we realize these projects took some time to bring to fruition, we hope government officials, tourism organizations, small businesses and the public in our area will work together to make improve the bike-to-train-to-bike connection along the New Haven Line.
At last week's discussion, there was talk about integrating questions about bikes into Metro-North commuter surveys to gauge support for more bicycles on trains.
Let's get those surveys into passengers ASAP and make easier access for cyclists on trains a priority in 2010.
The only things we really have to lose are carbon emissions ... and maybe even a few pounds.