By Martin B Cassidy, STAFF WRITER
Published: 09:40 p.m., Thursday, February 25, 2010
Allowing bicycles aboard peak-hour trains between Stamford and New Haven and integrating questions about bikes into MTA commuter surveys could help bring cyclists and skeptical commuters closer to a compromise on how much access bicycles should have on Metro-North Railroad rail cars, rail advocates said Wednesday night.
“I’m still not convinced there is a tremendous demand for bicycles on trains, but by the same token if you prohibit bicycles on trains how do you know?” said Connecticut Rail Commuter Council Chairman Jim Cameron, who said he is against lifting a ban on peak hour trains.
Members of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, DOT Commissioner Joseph Marie, and Metro-North planners told cyclists Wednesday night they would work to encourage the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the state of Connecticut to consider more ways to expand access and improve amenities for bicyclists on Metro-North trains.
Metro-North plans next month to award a contract to design a bike rack prototype to be considered for installation on the state’s new fleet of M-8 railcars.
Daniel O’Connell, Metro-North’s director of operations, planning and analysis, said that he would help coordinate the potential inclusion of questions on an annual railroad customer satisfaction survey to gauge rider support or opposition to more bicycles on trains.
“That is definitely something that we could do and I will help with that,” O’Connell said.
Jason Stockman, director of Rail, Trains, Ecology, Cycling, an advocacy organization, addressed the group, emphasizing several potential benefits for allowing full access for bicyclists on the New Haven line, including reduced automobile use and accompanying carbon emissions, conversion of parking facilities into transit-oriented residential developments, and health benefits for riders.
Metro-North now issues permits to bicyclists, and conductors can bar bicyclists from trains they deem too crowded.
Bikes are banned from morning peak trains — those traveling towards Grand Central Terminal in the morning, and north to Connecticut during the evening rush hour.
“Though rescinding the policy immediately could be abrupt, why not allow bikes on peak trains between New Haven and Stamford?” Stockman said.
Paul Hammer, a New Haven resident and founder of Bicycle Education, Entrepreneurship, and Enrichment Programs, said the state Department of Transportation could help maximize the environmental benefits of bicycle use by instituting a share-a-bike program at New Haven line stations.
“The bike-to-train-to-bike connection is a powerful extension of the railroad,” Hammer said.
Though crowding onboard Connecticut’s aging M-2 trains make it impractical to allow full access now, Marie told commuter council members that cyclists will inevitably become more prevalent on New Haven line trains.
“There is a latent demand for bikes and access,” Marie said. “Though we would have a very difficult time making that change immediately given crowding on trains today.”