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BART Survey: Promising Findings for Lifting the Rush-Hour Bike Ban

BART released results Friday from its survey of riders' attitudes toward the pilot program that lifted the rush-hour ban on bikes each Friday in August. Although BART and media reports have called the findings "split" and "varied," the responses in some key areas look promising.

The vast majority of the more than 7,500 respondents felt that lifting the ban had little or no impact on their commute. As BART board member Robert Raburn put it to the Chronicle: "Many of the passengers just shrugged it off and said, 'What's the difference?'"

Here are the survey highlights, as summed up in a statement from BART:

Findings tending to support eliminating the blackouts included:

  • 90% of respondents aware of the pilot who rode during the commute reported they did not personally experience any problems related to it. (Of the 10% who did experience problems, the most commonly cited problems were bikes blocking aisles, doorways and seats; bikes entering crowded trains; and bikes running into or brushing up against people.)
  • When asked if lifting the blackout would impact their likelihood to ride BART, 25% said they would be more likely to ride. (10% would be less likely to ride and 66% would be equally as likely to ride.) “Interestingly, almost half the respondents skipped this question, which could mean that they were not sure of the answer (unable to anticipate if they would change their behavior or simply thought allowing bikes would have no impact on their likelihood to ride BART)” the survey states.

Findings tending to support retaining the blackouts included:

  • Asked how lifting the blackout affected their BART trip, 17% said it made their trip worse. (9% said it made their trip better, and 74% said it had little or no effect.)
  • Almost a quarter of respondents who rode during the pilot indicate that, even with the current rules, there is poor compliance. Significant percentages said rules are “rarely” or “never” followed with regard to: bikes blocking aisles or doors (24%); bikes entering crowded trains (22%); bikes yielding priority space to seniors and people with disabilities (17%); bikes on escalators (18%).

While BART Bike Program Manager Steve Beroldo told the Chronicle that the results are "a little tricky to interpret, frankly," bike advocates were more optimistic, pointing to numbers like the 25 percent of riders who said they'd be more likely to ride if the blackout is lifted.

"It really spoke to me of the latent demand out there for the people who do want to use bikes on BART as a viable alternative to driving," East Bay Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Renee Rivera told the Chronicle. "I think it's always pretty natural that you're going to have people saying, 'Let's leave things as they are, trains are already pretty crowded.'"

Indeed, the finding that the vast majority of riders were unaffected seems like a good opening for BART to start allowing bikes on board at all times. It bolsters the argument bike advocates have been making for decades: Given the chance (and perhaps a nudge from a campaign promoting good behavior), bike-carrying passengers will generally use common courtesy -- as they already do on transit systems like the New York City subway -- and most train riders probably won't notice a difference.

Meanwhile, a number of passengers who would find it more convenient to combine bike and BART trips when they need to get to work, rather than drive or leave home hours early, would no doubt appreciate the change.

The policy imperative, however, is clear: "As [BART grows] ridership, it is not financially sustainable to accommodate an endless number of people who drive," SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum told the Chronicle. "There's just not enough space at parking lots."

BART staff will discuss the survey results at a Bicycle Task Force meeting this evening in Oakland at 6 p.m. Further action to lift the blackout periods would have to be approved by the BART board of directors.

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