Slightly more than 4 percent of people who ride BART use bicycles to get to the transit system. As the Bay Area-wide system looks to the future, it is wisely considering ways to increase the number of riders who pedal to their trains.
Conceptualized during the height of the automobile culture in the 1950s, BART serves a large ridership that drives to a station and then commutes. By 2022, the transit agency is hoping to roughly double the percentage of its riders who get to its stations by bicycle. As ridership is projected to increase and system extensions are added, this goal will only become more urgent.
The road to making BART friendlier for bicycles has been a long one. Before the first trains even started rolling in 1972, plans were afoot for bicycle parking at the majority of the transit agency’s stations. But it wasn’t until 1975, in a transit industry first, that the agency started its Bikes on BART trial to actually bring the two-wheelers onto the trains.
In 1980, BART policy was to issue riders permits to bring bikes on the system on an “appointment basis.” Six months later, BART also started allowing riders to bring bikes onto the system during the morning and evening commutes as long as they were traveling against the peak flow — for example, from west to east during the morning, when most riders are heading into San Francisco.
Finally, in 1998, BART instituted a new bicycle policy, which included extending the hours bicycles are allowed on trains. Since then, it has added more bicycle parking.
But all of this is still not enough to accommodate future riders. So BART’s current plan looks at new ways to accommodate bicycles, such as providing more bike space on the agency’s next-generation trains and giving commuters better ways to store their bikes safely at train stations. And the logistics of bikes on BART are wisely being re-evaluated, such as how cyclists must now lug their bikes down to the train platforms via elevator or stair, since use of escalators is currently banned.
Under state law, the Bay Area must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent by 2020 and 15 percent by 2035.
To help meet those goals, public-transportation usage will need to increase, especially for systems that transport suburbanites to downtown centers such as San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.
But it is counterproductive for such suburban transit riders to use private automobiles and spew emissions on their way to riding public transportation, especially if their commutes are short. Thus, parking bikes at BART or bringing them onto trains needs to be as convenient as possible.
Increasing bicycle access to BART also is smart for land-use planning. Increased use of bike parking could reduce the need for automobile parking, allowing BART to use its valuable land for rider conveniences such as food shops or retail outlets.
And more convenient bike access to BART will encourage smarter, denser growth around existing stations and new extensions. As the Bay Area’s population continues to increase, dense developments in close proximity to BART will allow the Bay Area to grow smartly without reliance upon sprawling new suburbs based around motor vehicles. Convenient access to transit is an essential pillar of this approach to growth.
Allowing more bicycle access on BART is a smart policy for all of these reasons.