Washington DC Metrorail betters bike access

Investing in bike parking to increase both train and bike ridership

Despite hosting the annual US National Bicycle Summit, Washington DC is far from an idyllic location for cyclists. Getting to many of the city’s famous historical sites can be tough on a bike, and for daily commuters the US capitol offers the challenges of any big city to riders.

The city’s rail service, Metrorail, is working on the latest project that could help make it a bit easier for bike commuters to access the city.

“Currently, bicycles are allowed on the rail system during off-peak periods,” says Kristin Haldeman, manager of access, planning and policy analysis for Metrorail. She noted that bikes are not allowed in the rail system from 7 to 10am or from 4 to7 pm, or on days with expected significant crowding — generally holidays — which Metrorail planners remind people about prior to the event.

The city is also trying to address ways of making it easier for those who want to use the Metrorail in conjunction with a bike on either the front or back end of their metro ride.

“For those who need a bike on the destination end, we are working with a local bike sharing entity to locate facilities at these stations and in the vicinity,” says Haldeman. “We also are improving bicycle parking system wide, so if customers wish to park a bike at their destinations, they can feel secure in leaving it overnight.”

Getting people to ride to the stations is also a key goal as ridership in general increases. Currently bike-to-rail commuters only represent 0.7 percent of total Metrorail riders, which is a far cry from the 40 percent who drive to rail stations, 33 percent who walk and even 22 percent who take a bus to the stations.

To address this gap, the Metro system is looking to invest $11 million in projects to improve bicycle and pedestrian access to rail stations through 2017. 

One plan calls for encouraging riders to cycle to stations, in part to reduce the costs of adding more parking spaces for cars. Current projects show that ridership would surge, requiring more than 30,000 to 40,000 parking spaces at stations over the next 20 years.

The Metro currently has 1,700 free racks, which can hold two bicycles each, and 1,270 key-operated lockers that rent for $200 a year. Planners are looking to add new racks at high-ridership stations such as East Falls Church, Vienna, Braddock Road, Bethesda, Silver Spring, West Hyattsville, and Columbia Heights.

There are also more ambitious plans, such as proposed bike storage at the College Park Station, which will include an enclosed room – secured with bars, monitored by close-circuit video and offering spaces for 80 bikes. Riders who opt for this storage can access the storage area with a SmarTrip card, which should keep the bikes safe and secure.

“The type of secure bike parking facility we are exploring through our pilot at College Park Metrorail station will be an enclosed facility with secure access, either through a keycard or fob type mechanism, where only registered users may access the facility,” says Haldeman. “The enclosure will be 'see-through,' have two doors, closed circuit TV, and additional lighting.” 

The College Park facility will open this summer, and Metrorail planners will monitor its use very closely.

“If it is successful,” says Haldeman, “we do plan to open more of them at high ridership stations.”

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