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.

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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.

  • Anonymous

    As someone who has commuted by train for years, the survey may have missed an important point.  Parking at commuter train lots is a BIG DEAL.  People cram into the train vestibule well before their stop, jockeying for position.  Some people sprint off the train.  Traffic queues up at the lot exit, taking several cycles of the light for all to be set free…

    I would not leave it to the survey-taker’s intellect to associate a bike on the train with one less car to compete with for finding a spot in the morning, and exiting the lot in the evening.  I’d instead rely on the survey to lead the reader to awareness.  Maybe as a later question:  “If allowing bikes made it a little easer to find parking, or leave the commuter parking lot, then would you be in favor?”

  • voltairesmistress

    I think (as a long term bike on Bart user) that bicyclists on BART need clearer instructions about where and how best to store bikes on board.  The two bikes in the article’s picture appear to be blocking the exit door, unless there will be no exiting from that side of the train for the entire route.  Maybe their owners will be getting off at the next stop through that door, but even so, they would be exiting before everyone else.  That doesn’t seem like pedestrian-first etiquette to me.

  • Anonymous

    I would think it is actually better and more polite for cyclists to try to disembark first, before other passengers. That way those other passengers don’t have to try to maneuver around the bike to get to the exit. I see cyclists do nice but unappreciated things like this all the time on BART, it blows my mind when people still insist that they are all just rude by nature. As a subset of BART riders, my experience is that people with bikes are generally more accommodating and self-conscious than your average passenger.

    As for the cyclists in the picture with their bikes against the door, I would say it is pretty much guaranteed that they would be disembarking before those doors opened, and put their bikes there specifically to stay as out of the way as possible from other passengers (ie. courtesy). What I more commonly experience when I bring my bike on BART are passengers who refuse to budge or allow me to stow my bike out of the way, even when there are plenty of other empty seats in the train they could be using. Just because someone brings a bike on BART doesn’t mean they become a second class citizen worthy of disdain. Is it too much to ask that we just try to accomodate one another even if it means we risk the chance of being slightly inconvenienced?

  • Kevin

    It depends on which door you block, what train you’re riding and which direction your going. For example, for all SF stops the doors open on the port (left) side. The bicyclists pictures are blocking the starboard (right) side. This orientation is actually one of the most space saving orientations for bicyclists to be in. I do this on a daily basis on my BART commute with my bike.

    I totally agree that bikes disembarking is the best solution, since it opens up more space for others to disembark faster than if a bike was blocking it. It seems like some goodwill by bicyclists gets interpreted as aggressive. More education is definitely needed. Then again, according to most survey respondents seem content with the bikes currently take up space.

    Maybe road rage should stay on the road, and not be taken onto public transit?

  • Anonymous

    Bikes on transit is great when barely anybody does it. 

    The Bay Area, in some quarters, is already getting toward the Dutch way, where lots of parking for bikes is provided at stations and it is well used (some stations have hundreds of bikes parked every day). This is the future.

  • jwb

    My personal observations from October were that clueless cyclists were sometimes cramming their bikes into obviously overcrowded cars, during the hours that would have been blacked out.  I saw this a number of times at Macarthur station.  Also the cyclists had no kind of queue discipline, as I saw some arrive and cut right in front of cyclists who had been waiting a long time for a train.  I think the assessment in this article is quite optimistic.

    If BART really wanted to help bicyclists they would run longer trains in the off-peak hours.  Nothing is more depressing than waiting on the platform at Downtown Berkeley for the first non-blackout train at 8:45, with dozens of other bicyclists waiting beside you, only to have a stupid little 5-car train roll up, already crammed with passengers.

  • jwb

    Er, I meant August, not October.

  • Some thoughts about bikes on BART and Caltrain:

    1) A great Bay Area bikeshare program that people really felt they could rely on would reduce (but not eliminate) the need to take bikes on board both BART and Caltrain. 

    2) Secure bike parking (24/7) at all stations would reduce (but not eliminate) the need to take bikes on BART and Caltrain.

    3) Fast, safe, reliable, pleasant transit connections from BART and Caltrain to popular destinations would reduce (but not eliminate) the need to take bikes on BART and Caltrain.  (I personally have given up taking Muni to Caltrain because I have to add almost an hour to my travel time due to the immense variability in how long the four mile journey can take on Muni. Biking is always 30% faster, and sometimes 300% faster.) However, since every transit rider is subsidized (and people riding local transit subsidized the most), figuring out ways to encourage bicycling to and from BART and Caltrain stations is the most cost effective solution. Then again, driving in cars is by far the most expensive option for communities when *all* the costs are considered. (Added congestion, road repair costs, accident costs, environmental damage, health damage, subsidized car storage, contribution to environmental collapse, etc.) Taking into account *all* the costs, communities should be aggressively pursing both local transit and biking as ways to get people to and from BART and Caltrain stations.

    4) There are often serious physical barriers to taking one’s bike on both BART and Caltrain–I’m thinking of lifting one’s bike up the stairs on Caltrain (this may not be difficult for some, but it is difficult for me) or fooling with the elevators at BART or dealing with lots of stairs at BART stations. That people are bringing their bikes on board in spite of this shows that they are *very motivated*.  If it were physically easier, even more people might do it.  Which means there is probably even more demand that Caltrain and BART are not meeting.

    5) Safe bicycle routes to and from BART and Caltrain stations would increase BART and Caltrain total ridership. Creating lots of convenient, secure bike parking would increase BART and Caltrain total ridership. Advertising to communities that safe bicycle routes to the stations and secure bike parking at the stations exist would increase total BART and Caltrain ridership.  (And for heaven’s sake, cleaning up the BART stations at 16th and 24th street and making the “plazas” there less dangerous and scary would increase BART ridership. Every BART station should be able to pass the 12 year old suburban school girl test: would someone from the suburbs allow their 12 year old daughter to get off at that station alone and walk a hundred yards to her destination? Heck, *I* feel uncomfortable at the corner of 16th and Mission and would not go there alone at night. Each week there are hundreds of people who drive to ODC, three blocks away, who might take BART if the 16th street station were a cleaner, safer, pleasanter place, and that’s just one destination within walking distance.)

    6) Love MattyCiii’s observation below that the more people on bikes, the fewer cars creating bottlenecks trying to leave station parking lots. A hundred people on bikes can get on their way much, much faster than a hundred cars. 

    7) Is there a reason BART couldn’t dedicate half of one car per train to bikes as Caltrain has done, reducing conflict between most BART riders and bike riders? (Though I suppose the amount of time it would take for a multitude of bicyclists to enter and exit a single car might increase BART dwell times.)

    8) BBnet3000, at the Amsterdam central train station there are *thousands* of bikes parked everyday!

  • mikesonn

    I think BART passengers in general have queue discipline issues.

  • jwb

    If there were bike shares at every caltrain and bart station, I wouldn’t ever take my bike on either one.

  • Anonymous

    “Nothing is more depressing than waiting on the platform at Downtown Berkeley for the first non-blackout train at 8:45, with dozens of other bicyclists waiting beside you, only to have a stupid little 5-car train roll up, already crammed with passengers.”

    This to me seems like a good argument in favor of allowing bikes on board at all times. Currently cyclists are cramming onto the cars just before and after the blackout period, creating unnecessary congestion on those trains and increasing dwell times at each station, both reasons stated as to why the blackout removal couldn’t work, ironically.

    If bikes are allowed on all trains at all times then cyclists will be more spread out over more trains, creating a bit more crowding on a micro level but less overall on a macro scale. The “don’t board if there is no space” rule would still apply, but I see cars all the time during the blackout periods that could easily accomodate bikes with minimal or no inconvenience to other passengers. This amounts to lost efficiency, plan and simple.

  • @jwb – I’d still take my bike on when I would ride all the way and want a lift back. But there are a lot of Caltrain riders who have very short rides on each end which a bike share could manage.@Prinzrob:disqus 

    Your assertion sort of implies that you have a bike share near your home as well, however 😉

  • I think that if you give a population an opportunity to reflect on the behavior of bicycle riders and only 10% have a problem, you’re probably doing pretty well. 

  • voltairesmistress

     I find it a tad disheartening that my suggestion for clearer bike-on-board placement instructions got two responses that imply I or others are critical of bicyclists’ presence on the BART system.  Far from it, as I commuted with a bike on BART for years and now do so only once every couple of weeks.  Yet I still don’t know what are best places to put my bike; I interpret the space situation as deferentially as possible.  I think many others, as both of you have said, do the same.  But there are no good instructions, and that ends up creating misunderstandings between fellow riders.

    In fact, last week a young woman purposefully jammed her bike’s pedal into my bike’s spokes after gesturing but refusing to explain to me how I could best accommodate her wishes.  As it turned out, she wanted to walk down the entire aisle to the other end of the train, though there was plenty of room for us together.  That was frustrating.

  • Anonymous

    @mikesonn:disqus  I take it that you have never ridden Muni; although I suppose that you could say Muni has no queue discipline issues because Muni has no queues.  People just form a big gang around the door and muscle their way in.

  • mikesonn

    I didn’t know I commented on Muni. Also, I live in North Beach, I live (& die) by the 30/45/8x thru Chinatown. Do I pass your test?

  • Mjlocal

    Let’s hope it goes the way of rhe cyclist

  • Anonymous

    I agree with you that clear instructions for cyclists on how best to stow their bikes on BART is a good idea, and I feel that the existing cars that they have outfitted with “bike space” decals and bars are a definite step in the right direction.

    However, I don’t see how my response to your comment implied that you were being critical of bikes on BART, beyond mentioning that cyclists exiting first actually benefits everybody and shouldn’t be considered a breach of etiquette. My mention that people who bring bikes on BART have an undeserved bad reputation was just a statement of fact, and not directed at you in any way.

  • @twitter-14678929:disqus The idea being I could ride my own bike from home to a station, park the bike, ride the train, and bike share at the other end.

  • Anonymous

    If you support BART doing what it takes, without further delay, to get bikes on board at all times, you might want to check out this petition on

  • Survey Crest

    Informative Survey


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