How Bikes on BART is Broken

Doctor Popular reminds us how bicyclists often get shafted on BART:

Yesterday a rider cut in front of me as I was boarding the train and she took up this whole seat. There were at least 40 other seats open for her, so I asked if she would mind letting me use that space. “I was here first” she replied. Then I asked if she would at least move her bags so I could sit in the seat next to her while I propped my bike against the wall and she said “I need the whole seat”.

All this seems to come from a general sense of passenger animosity towards people who have the nerve to bring their bikes on board. I’ve had some seriously unsafe rides due to folks not offering up those spots. In a way, it forces you to take up more space and disturb even more passengers.

Doc Pop commenter Colin brings up a great point about how the whole process is flawed:

Note that even in that space the bike wheel sticks into the doorway. Bikes on BART is a kludge.

Newer cars have improved designated bike areas, but they are few and far between. The SF Bicycle Coalition confirms that they are working to address the issue:

We are asking BART to allocate space on board their trains for bikes so that they won’t interfere with other passengers and can be stowed safely for the duration of your trip. BART plans to remove seats on 80 of its 500 train cars for a first phase and is expected to modify the rest as funding becomes available.

For many, the commute hours rules (bikes only allowed 8:50am-4:25pm) eliminate the practicality of biking for many daily work commuters. A 2009 SFBC survey of BART riding cyclists confirmed that the commute blackout period is one of the biggest headaches about commuting. No word on if or when lifting this restriction will ever be considered.

Author: Vic Wong

I own a sword. I like to write. I am a software engineer for pandora.com. I am a gypsy jazz guitarist.

32 thoughts on “How Bikes on BART is Broken”

  1. 1) Stick the bike where it’s supposed to be and if she expects you to move it for her, respond “it was here first.”

    B) I pretty much never ask to sit in a seat occupied by someone’s crap. They’re seats, which are for asses. I just make it clear that I’m about to sit. It’s their responsibility to get their shit out of the way.

  2. Have you been on BART during the height of weekday commuter rush? Even a single bike could not fit on the car, unless you make about three people leave the train (which would obviously be unfair).

    I ride BART all the time, and I constantly see people give up the seat this woman would not. She seems to simply be an unfriendly fellow passenger. I’m for bikes on BART. I love that SFBC is helping to push for new trains. But there is no way bikes should be allowed on during heavy commute times.

  3. Totally agree, but I also see bikes on BART all the time during high commute hours when they are not supposed to be on board. So, in my mind, its a wash and everybody should just shut the fuck up and get over themselves.

    1. +1

      Caltrain does it right. All the bicyclists even have tags on their bikes indicating their stop, and, generally, order them by next stop.

      But I guess BART and Caltrain don’t talk to each other?

      1. Be realistic though – Caltrain runs about one train an hour and has lots of staff on board. The trains make infrequent stops at far-apart stations with no crowding to get on or off.

        This is such a different scenario than BART. Tagging and bike tending work on Caltrain because of the pacing… seems like BART and the Bicycle Coalition are on the right track with removing some seats. i do hope they install adequate, clear signage – clear instructions about how everyone is /supposed/ to act (by BART’s decree) can make difference.

  4. Well, first of all, anyone who refuses to share a seat because they “need the whole thing” is a jerk. So is someone who snakes in ahead of you, whether it is to take a seat or a place you were going to lean your bike, or whatever.

    That being said, most of the times I have seen problems with bikes on BART have been during crowded commute hours. I had thought that bikes were not supposed to be on trains at those times, or does that only apply to the Downtown SF stops?

    1. It applies to trains headed in the ‘peak directions’ IE trains coming in to SF in the morning and trains going out of SF in the evenings.

      I’ve taken my bike on some pretty crowded cars, even though I’ve been careful to avoid the officially banned times. It is a problem, I agree.

    2. =v= Your objection to those who “snake” ahead with “to lean [our] bike[s]” is too sweeping. The photo atop this entry is inaccurate in specifics, but dead on in general: we are limited to a small number of seats. These seats are the ones closest to the door, though, and if we don’t “snake” ahead to get them, others will just plop right down into them because they’re too lazy or unimaginative to go to the other seats.

      So we end up with a bunch of bicyclists who have to stand AND hold our bikes, because people won’t walk a few more feet to the seats we aren’t able to use. That’s a moronic and totally unnecessary situation, and if I have to barge in to prevent it, I will.

      Now, if the whole car is full and somehow the only seat available is one of the bike seats, then yes, one would be a jerk to “snake” in ahead of others. In reality, these are the seats that fill up first, so I’ve never actually seen that happen.

      1. =v= It’s been brought to my attention that I misread Herr Doktor’s sentence about the party doing the “snaking.” Whoops. My apologies!

  5. If you really need to ride during commute hours, Just get a folding bike. Solved!

    Hey, at least its not Cal Train where you can only cross your fingers that there will be space on the bike car.

  6. Bikes on BART are only a problem during rush hour in the morning and after work. Surprise surprise, bikes are not allowed on BART during those times…

    1. Yeah, I’m never on the trains during that time. So all I usually see are mostly empty cars… with people first taking up these large spaces instead of sitting in any of the other available spots.

      I only see packed cars on weekends, when I don’t have my bike.

    2. No. There are plenty of crowded trains outside of commute hours. I used to take my bike on a packed three-car train to Richmond on Thursdays around 3 PM. I usually saw three or four other bikes in each car. Finally I decided to leave a little later, since they start running less crowded ten-car trains for the commute.

      This isn’t even the main problem. The main problem is that there is nowhere to hold a bike in a BART car without taking up two seats or sticking part of it into the entryway.

  7. IMO the most recent variation, as shown in the photo, is pretty ok. I sit down and tuck the wheel between my legs. It sticks out into the doorway, but only just.

  8. I’m seeing a lot of comments about riding when the trains are packed, but I’m not riding on these trains.

    Obviously packed trains are problems for everyone involved, but my daily experience is on mostly empty trains with plenty of available seats, but folks insist on taking these particular spots first. Sometimes they share the spot with me (after I ask), sometimes they don’t.

  9. If someone’s stuff is in the way and they don’t make an effort to move it, you simply knock it to the floor.

    Hopefully the blackout period will never be lifted. It’s a good thing.

      1. On Bart? In a word, no. When I was young, snotty and as a result keenly attuned to the risk of getting clocked for same, Bart wasn’t even on my radar. Muni? Yes. AC Transit? Aw, hella. Bart is like fresking church.

  10. bring a little velcro strap to lock your brake with and you don’t have to worry about holding your bike.

    use the last car, it’s almost never overfull.

    if you stay on the train downtown during commute hours, just watch the car. when seats fill up, stand and offer the seat to the first elderly person or woman or person with bags.

    when standing space gets crowded, that’s your stop. you do have a bike. ride to the embarcadero or civic center, you are always allowed a bike past those points.

    that lady was the exception to the rule. i’ve had folks act miffed, but never refuse. once a man apologized for his behavior before getting off, to which i smiled and thanked him again for giving me the courtesy of that seat in an otherwise empty car. both of our days were improved by acknowledging our common humanity.

  11. Last night, I was in a BART car with a bicycle-holding dude in that very spot, when a guy in a wheelchair got on. I wish I could tell you how it played out, but it was my stop. Those spaces are bicycle spaces by custom, but they are wheelchair spaces by federal law.

  12. BART really needs to do something about making the trains more accessable to bikes – and about making their trains less crowded durring peak-commute hours.

    Portland, OR does it right with little hooks for hanging two bikes (on each end) of their light rail cars. I don’t see why BART couldn’t install some hooks like those in the cars used for front / rear cars.

    If the SF / Bay Area really wants to live up to its progressive reputation we really need to have better public transit.

    Oh yeah, on that note, has anyone mentioned how the EZ-Rider / Clipper cards are a complete joke – they don’t work properly almost half the time.

  13. Those of us who would like to improve bike access on BART can help achieve our goal by supporting Robert Raburn (the former ED of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition) for BART Board in District 4:

    http://www.raburnforbart.com/ElectRaburnforBARTDistrict4.html

    East bay voters in District 4 (Oakland and Alameda) can vote for him, but everyone can contribute money or time to his campaign and help give BART better leadership for the 21st century.

    (The incumbent, Carol Ward Allen, still supports the Oakland Airport Connector boondoggle which has ballooned in cost to over $500 million, even though it will now offer no intermediate stops and cost twice as much to board as a $125 million Rapid Bus alternative.)

  14. BART’s attitude about this, and those of a couple of the commentors above, is ridiculous. The idea is to improve connectivity between two points of a commute, not to stifle it. Try to find ways to accommodate bikes at rush hour, don’t just throw your hands up and say it can’t be done.

  15. In the picture, do you see the little sign above the bike’s cross bar? No, that is not the international sign for bike storage. Those spaces are meant for people in wheelchairs or using other assistive mobility devices, not your fixies. I work for a disability rights non-profit and in the last few weeks we have received a number of complaints regarding cyclists encroaching on these slots. Fair warning, BART takes these complaints very seriously, and lets just say, the disabled community has a lot me clout with BART administration than the SFBC. I am all for cyclists commuting on BART, but please be mindful of the true intentions of these spaces. It would be tragic for BART to further its bike restrictions because of a few bad apples.

    1. =v= Certainly the disabled have priority in these spaces (a position I championed nearly 20 years ago, when BART expanded bike access), but your claim that they are NOT otherwise for bicycles is simply incorrect.

      You do illustrate part of the problem, though: while the signage in these locations make it clear that seniors and the disabled duly get priority, they do not make it clear where bicycles should go. Thus we get a bunch of uninformed passengers assuming that we’re in the wrong when we follow BART policy.

      BART stations that only have one elevator is a far, far, far worse problem. Whenever an elevator breaks down, folks in wheelchairs are shunted off to other stations, but paratransit can be too inflexible to reschedule a pickup. BART has shown that it can raise as much money as it wants, even for foolish projects, so they can certainly afford to fix this problem.

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