Vinti Singh, Staff Writer
Updated 12:07 a.m., Friday, September 16, 2011
NEW HAVEN -- Jason Stockmann's weekend train rides to New York City are cumbersome because he brings his bike along. He has to stand in the vestibule and maneuver the bike between boarding passengers, and sometimes chain grease rubs off on a passer-by's neat slacks. He's tried chaining it vertically to the rails in the vestibule, but is worried that could be a safety issue if the train needs to be evacuated.
Stockmann and other cyclists may soon have a much easier commute, as state Department of Transportation officials and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority prepare to install bike racks on the new M-8 railcars.
The DOT narrowed bike rack choices to two prototypes and invited the public to test them Thursday in a parked M-8 car at Union Station in New Haven.
Lisa Anamasi, outfitted with a yellow helmet, was the first to ride up to the platform. Her bike was covered in bumper stickers that read, "Ride daily, celebrate monthly," and "One less car." She tried out the bike rack in the wheelchair-accessible section of the car while officials in suits looked on. She easily affixed her bike to the rack.
"I just want to know how many racks there will be and when," she said as she turned to the officials and clapped her hands.
Anamasi said she took her bike on the train to New York City twice, but it was such a hassle she gave up.
A very vocal biking community has been advocating for the racks for some time, said DOT spokesman Judd Everhart. Rules allow for commuters to bring bikes on off-peak trains only. The same rule would apply when bike racks are installed.
Richard Stowe, a board member of Rail Trains Ecology Cycling, a regional biking advocacy group, said cyclists have always stretched the off-peak rule.
Bike racks are already installed on state transit buses. They will not be added to Metro-North's older train cars.
Paul Hammer, a bike advocate from New Haven, said the racks are "a dream come true" after he mounted his bike on the prototypes Thursday. The only issue he foresaw was that bikers would have to yield to people in wheelchairs, since the racks are positioned in wheelchair-accessible sections.
"But I think we can all get along," Hammer said. "Ideally, we'd have a separate bike car like they do in parts of California and Europe. But this is what the budget allows."
Hammer is working with the New Haven Parking Authority to develop a sharing system of foldable bikes based at Union Station, since those are allowed on peak trains.
Testers were invited to give feedback online, and officials will use the data to determine which prototype to choose. Bikers are also invited to test out the new racks in Grand Central Terminal on Friday.
Thirty M-8 railcars are now in service, and the state expects to eventually have more than 400 running over the next three years. How many bike racks the DOT will purchase is not yet known, said Gene Colonese, the DOT rail administrator. The prototype study costs $50,000 to $100,000, Colonese said, and the department has to come up with an implementation plan.
"We want to do it early on, because if we add the racks on while the trains are under construction, it will be a little bit cheaper," he said.
This is a victory that has been a long time coming for Stowe and others. Stowe, who lives in New Canaan, started collecting signatures to petition for the bike racks in the early 2000s, before there were any organized bike advocacy groups in the region.
He helped found Rail Trains Ecology Cycling, and he and other advocates began attending state transportation meetings and spoke in favor of the racks. They eventually gained the support of DOT commissioners and former Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
Rail Trains Ecology Cycling's next major project is to advocate for bike racks on Amtrak trains. The national rail system now prohibits all bikes on its trains.
Read more: http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Metro-North-trains-to-get-bike-racks-2172957.php#ixzz1Z7lkUcD5