Look at the photo below and take in all the details about the bicycle’s position and orientation in relation to the vestibule, modesty panel, doors, seating, and aisle. Accommodating bicycles on many of the Chicago Transit Authority’s ‘L’ cars can be a hassle, not only for the bicycle-toting customer, but for the other passengers as well.
This photo shows what I see as the only appropriate location for a bicycle on the Red Line’s 2600-series car.
The passengers may be hit by wheels or handlebars, or have their personal space intruded upon or reduced.
The bicycle owner has the responsibility to ensure they don’t hit or disturb other passengers – to be successful with this on every trip is nearly impossible. Additionally, according to the platform position, the owner will have to move their bicycle to the other side of vestibule to allow access to the doors and aisle. Sometimes other passengers are already standing there, not paying attention, and it can be almost embarrassing to ask them to excuse you and your bicycle.
The 2600-series car in which I rode and took these photographs was built in the 1980s. I think it’s safe to say that the designers and engineers at CTA and Budd Manufacturing didn’t consider the spatial needs of bicycles in the plans. And retrofitting train cars is expensive. Bicycle riders in Chicago “get by” with the current rolling stock. (The train cars with the butterfly doors cannot accommodate wheelchairs or bicycles – there are 2 of these cars on many Blue Line runs.)
But there’s an opportunity to change things because the CTA will be asking Bombardier Transportation for some refinements on the 5000-series cars that the transit agency has been testing on all lines. Now’s our chance to request changes!
If you don’t know of the differences beforehand, you can’t recognize that this is a brand new car with a slightly different exterior design. The interior, however, differs wildly.
The most striking distance is the longitudinal or aisle-facing seats.
The new train car now provides two spaces for passengers in wheelchairs (look in the middle for the wide seat backs facing you). The seats flip up and there’s a seatbelt to hold the wheelchair in place. Photo byÂ Kevin Zolkiewicz.
Based on the design we’ve all seen, I suggest the CTA and Bombardier make the following changes to better hold bicycles on board:
- With signage and markings (on the interior walls and floor), indicate that the space for wheelchairs is a shared space and that passengers with bicycles may also use it. The signage would mention that customers with disabilities always have priority as well as mention the times bicycles are allowed on-board. This change would send a stronger message to all other passengers that bicycle owners also have a priority to use this space and they may be asked to move so a bicycle can fit here.
- In an educational and marketing campaign, teach customers about bike-on-board rules, where to place bicycles on the ‘L’, and where and when customers can expect passengers with bicycles.
- On or near the train door exterior, use markings to indicate where passengers with bicycles should board. The current system has a sign on one entrance saying, “Limit 2 bicycles this car” (see photo below). The other entrance has no sign. The confusion lies here: Should two bicycles occupy the same space, at one end of the car and only enter through the door with the sign? Or should two bicycles occupy opposite ends of the car and enter through either door? If the former is preferred, the second door could have a sign that says one should enter with their bicycle through the other door.
- Install a method or mechanism that can hold a bicycle still. This could be with a hook, a seatbelt, or a “groove” in the floor. In Minneapolis, passengers with bicycles can hang them (see photo below).
- Install a light at each door in the car that would pulse to indicate which doors will open at the next platform (left or right). This can help passengers with bicycles know where other customers will be alighting and boarding.
I have some other ideas for the 5000-series cars but not related to bicycling.
Photo of exterior bicycle sign. Photo by Payton Chung.
Photo of bicycle hanging from hook within the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Transit Hiawatha light rail train.