Friday, March 30, 2012

bringing your bike on the train - CTA and Metra

Have you thought about taking your bike on a CTA or Metra train but weren't sure how to do it?  If you live far enough from the start location for a club ride that you would ordinarily drive there, perhaps transit might be a workable alternative.

Up to 2 regular bikes per train car are allowed on CTA trains every day, except during weekday rush hours (7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.).   Folding bikes are allowed on the trains at all times, but need to be folded during rush hour. 

Do not try to get your bike into the old-style cars with folding doors (blue line only).  The doors don't open wide enough, and most bikes will get stuck.  Only use cars with sliding doors.  Look for the bike symbol next to the door, as shown in the picture below.

If you find it difficult to haul your bike up and down stairs, you may find this list of accessible stations useful.  You may find yourself sharing facilities and services with disabled riders.  Please give them priority.  Many stations have escalators (at least in the upward direction), which may be workable for you if your bike is not too heavy to hold in place. 

When you are entering or leaving the station, look for the disability access gate, if the station has one.  If it does not, look for a steel bypass gate, which may be next to the station attendant's booth.  If the gate is locked, the attendant will need to open it for you.  Do not try to lift your bike over one of the regular 3-legged gates, because you may get stuck. 

Access at most stations is workable using either a disability access gate or bypass gate.  Beware of the Irving Park/Pulaski station on the blue line.  Both the bypass gate and adjacent passageway are extremely narrow and difficult to navigate with a bike.

Here's CTA's info page for more tips about taking bikes on the train.

Metra's rules are a bit different.  Bikes are allowed on all weekday trains arriving in the Loop after 9:30 a.m. and leaving Chicago before 3:00 p.m. or after 7:00 p.m., except for the following blackout dates, when non-folding bikes are not allowed
  • All days during Taste of Chicago - July 11, 2012 to July 15, 2012
  • Lollapalooza - August 3, 2012 to August 5, 2012
  • Air & Water Show - August 18, 2012 & August 19, 2012
Metra requires the use of bungee cords to attach your bike to the seat rail and keep it from moving while the train is in motion.  If your bike is stacked against others, you'll need to secure it to another bike. 

When possible, it's not a bad idea to coordinate bike loading with other cyclists.  If other cyclists get on, ask them where they're getting off.  The bike getting off at the most distant stop should be closest to the outside wall of the train.  This means you don't have to worry about unburying your bike, or having to find other people to ask them to move their bikes when it's time for you to get off.  This isn't an official policy.  It's a system that many frequent Metra riders have developed to make their lives easier when getting off the train with their bikes.

As on CTA, you'll be sharing disability priority areas, so please give priority to disabled passengers.  Bikes are allowed on ADA accessible cars only, as indicated by the wheelchair symbol next to the door.  Folding bikes in bags are allowed at any time on any car.

Officially, the maximum number of bikes per train is as follows (5 bikes per accessible car, except for Metra Electric, where it's 2 bikes per car):

Union Pacific North, Northwest & West Lines20 bicycles
Milwaukee North & West Lines15 bicycles
Rock Island Line15 bicycles
BNSF Railway10 bicycles
North Central Service15 bicycles
SouthWest Service15 bicycles
Metra Electric8 bicycles*
However, this assumes that all available cars on the train will be open, which may not be the case on some off-peak runs.  Some conductors are more willing than others to help cyclists when there are only 1 or 2 accessible cars open. 

The rules ask you to wait until everyone else has boarded before bringing your bike on.  However, if you do this, you may end up asking 6 or 8 lazy, non-disabled people to move out of the disabled seating area to put your bike in the proper location.  Inevitably, some of them will be resistant, requiring the conductor's assistance, leaving you blocking the aisle until the conductor comes.  I've found that things usually work much more smoothly if I get the bike on early, and work out any needed space adjustments with anyone who boards with a wheelchair, large stroller, suitcase, etc.   I've often been impressed with how well people have worked together to accommodate many different types of users in the disabled seating areas.

I started taking my bike on CTA and Metra as soon as the pilot program began on each.  The experience has continued to evolve over the years.  As CTA station attendants and Metra conductors get more used to working with cyclists, they've gotten better at it.  Hopefully we will see spaces better suited to carrying bikes as new train cars are brought into service.

Do you have any tips to share about taking your bike on CTA or Metra trains?  Please share them in the comments.

- Anne Alt

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