Street Smarts: BART’s New Bike Plan: Missing Links?

Street Smarts: BART’s New Bike Plan: Missing Links?

Jon Spangler

This is Part I of a series on the draft BART bicycle plan. The draft plan will be presented to BART’s Board of Directors at their meeting on Thursday, June 14, at 9:00 a.m.

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 only with permits—on January 1, 1975, following a concerted effort led by the young East Bay Bicycle Coalition (EBBC). that made the March 1975 cover of BICYCLING! magazine.

Four decades later, bicyclists using BART still face barriers. Many hope that the new draft draft BART Bicycle Plan: Modeling Access to Transit will improve BART’s accessibility to cyclists.

The plan’s ambitious goal is “…to double BART bicycle access, to 8 percent of all trips, by 2022.” About 14,000 bicyclists—4.1 percent of all BART patrons—now use BART every day. To double the number of cyclists 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. Sadly, the plan’s recommendations seem to ignore what cyclists said they wanted; an end to bike blackouts, access to escalators, and improved security for their bikes.

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.

Compared to BART’s 2002 bike plan, the 2012 draft plan has intentionally “less traditional structure and contents.” Also unlike its predecessor, the current draft seems light on hard data and specifics.

What do cyclists say they need from BART? Cyclists listed ending the commute hour blackout periods, preventing bike theft, and allowing bikes on station escalators among their top needs. (Read their responses to BART’s surveys and focus groups, particularly in Appendices A and C.)

BART cyclists and advocates I know and respect cite the new draft bike plan’s ambivalent language and wonder: Will BART be willing—or able—to remove the remaining barriers to bicycle commuters who want to use BART?

The new plan also seems to ignore BART’s frequent bike thefts as well as the BART Police Department’s work 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.)

The plan recommends “persuasive programs”—heavy with conditional words like “although” and “convince”—aimed at getting cyclists to accept bikes-only blackouts or persistent bike theft rather than recommending substantive policy changes—like increasing the BART Police Department’s budget for theft prevention or an end to the blackouts. (See Recommendation 4.2, p. 33.)

There may be hope, however. Apparently, a second volume of the bike plan will cover the details of bike plan implementation, station by station, just as BART’s 2002 bike plan did. The implementation plan/volume 2 is currently unfunded, though, and there is no time frame for completing it.

What do you think about BART’s new plan? You can read the draft—and appendices—and let BART know at bikes@bart.gov, or attend the June 14 board meeting and tell BART in person.

Look for more comments on the plan’s key recommendations in Part 2 of this series on the draft BART Bicycle Plan, coming soon.

(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.)

Read Jon Spangler’s bio here.

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