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The New Bike Friendly SkyTrain

At long last! But will it be permanent?

By Catherine Rolfsen 29 Nov 2005 | TheTyee.ca

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Take your bike on SkyTrain. Take two. Take them on in rush hour (sometimes). But don't get too used to it. TransLink is experimenting with new bicycle access. The pilot project currently allows two bikes in each car of SkyTrain (usually only one bike is allowed per train), and allows bikes to travel anytime except weekdays 7am-9am westbound and 4pm-6pm eastbound.

This pedal-pushing pilot started in the summer and could end by December 31st, by which time, the TransLink board, a group of 12 GVRD appointed representatives, will have made their decision.

Crowded handlebars

The pilot project appears to be enthusiastically supported by SkyTrain users of both the suited and spandexed variety.

"I think it's a good idea," says Dwaine Nolan, a pedestrian passenger from Coquitlam. "With the price of fuel going up, every penny you save is good,"

Mike Verney, a biker from Vancouver, agrees. "This is a great town to ride a bike in. With SkyTrain, I can get pretty well anywhere faster than I can get in a car."

Not all reactions have been positive, however. "We have had a limited number of complaints, particularly from wheelchair bound passengers who have found themselves crowded out of cars or elevators by less-than-polite cyclists and some passengers in office clothes have tended to shy away from bicycles to avoid dirt or grease," reports Ken Hardie, Director of Communication at TransLink.

Bicycle liberation

The improved access is a landmark for cycling activist groups across the Lower Mainland. "It's just so liberating to know that you can jump on if you need to," says Bonnie Fenton, a spokesperson for the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition (VACC). "And also having more access, more time and more space, people are thrilled." Since 1998, VACC has been a major voice lobbying for bike access to SkyTrains, which they say it has been a long and at times frustrating campaign.

Dropping the bike

During construction of the Millennium SkyTrain line, cyclists were under the impression that bikes would be accommodated once it was completed. "What they had said was that they would be built with spaces -- racks or some sort of spaces designated for bikes -- but they weren't there," remembers Fenton.

She blames jurisdictional confusion at that time, as BC Transit changed to TransLink in 1999. "It seems like somebody dropped the ball somewhere. It wasn't high enough on the priority list that this was requested," she says.

Inadvertently, it was the transit strike of 2001 that unofficially opened the floodgates for bringing bikes on board as a desperate measure for stranded commuters. Fenton explains how the strike gave TransLink "a chance to see that nothing terrible happened and they didn't get all sorts of complaints about it."

Then came an initial pilot project in 2003 that was approved the following year. This fall's experiment will build on its success and push the boundaries of bikes on board.

Bikes on board

If the experiment is approved in December, Fenton expects that VACC will continue to work towards allowing bikes on at all times, including rush hour. "Obviously, there's a huge flaw in that at the main time you want to use it, you can't."

The way things are, Fenton recognises that TransLink can't simply open up SkyTrain to bikes during crowded rush hour commutes. "Basically, more cars are needed, and probably a designated space too," she says. Currently, bicycles must stand just inside the car doorways in the direct path of travellers entering and exiting from either side. Many passengers echo Fenton's desire for a separate space for bikes on SkyTrain.

But Hardie warns that cyclists should not hold their breath. "It is highly unlikely that we would reserve separate sections or whole cars for cyclists simply because of the crowding we're experiencing on the system." Currently, there are no plans to improve access.

This fall's pilot project is part of a growing relationship between TransLink and bike commuters. "TransLink sees cycling as a logical extension of the transit system that can increase the range that a traveller can cover to and from a transit station," says Hardie.

But its success may hinge on a critical question: whether TransLink has a responsibility to accommodate bikes. Definitely, says Fenton. "They really are trying to be more than just the bus company. And bikes are a part of that." TransLink staff is currently monitoring the pilot project and has not yet released the meeting date. They invite riders to have a say in the decision by contacting TransLink customer service at 604-953-3040 or custrel@translink.bc.ca.

Catherine Rolfsen is a Vancouver-based writer, teacher, and bike commuter.  [Tyee]

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