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The 6-Year Wait for Bikes on the South Shore Has Been Reduced to 9 Months

1:19 PM CDT on August 6, 2015

Mike Noland, general manager for the South Shore Line commuter rail, demonstrates a bike rack from SportWorks, the same company that makes bike racks for CTA and Pace buses. Photo: Carole Carlson
Mike Noland, general manager for NICTD, demonstrates a bike rack for trains from SportWorks, the same company that makes racks for CTA and Pace buses. Photo: Carole Carlson
Mike Noland, general manager for the South Shore Line commuter rail, demonstrates a bike rack from SportWorks, the same company that makes bike racks for CTA and Pace buses. Photo: Carole Carlson

Last week, the board of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transit District voted to dramatically reduce the wait time for a bikes-on-board pilot for South Shore Line trains. A consultant had previously recommended delaying the trial until 2021, when new cars might be added to the system, allowing older cars to be modified to accommodate bikes. Thanks to an outcry from board members and advocates against this ridiculous foot-dragging, the board unanimously voted to move the pilot up to April of next year.

NICTD has been way behind the curve on this issue. Even Metra, which is far from a cutting-edge commuter rail system, has had a Bikes on Trains program for over a decade. The South Shore Line management has been looking into accommodating bikes since 2013, around the time I launched a petition for bike access on the South Shore, which 731 people signed.

After the absurd 2021 pilot date was proposed at a NICTD board meeting in uune, board members Michael Repay from Lake County, Indiana, and Mark Catanzarite of St. Joseph County said they weren't willing to wait that long. They asked for an immediate bikes-on-board option to be presented at the next meeting.

At a July open house on the subject hosted by NICTD, citizens voiced support for getting bikes access sooner than later. The Save the Dunes Council and the National Parks Conservation Association lobbied for an earlier pilot. And the Active Transportation Alliance sarcastically gave the South Shore a Broken Spoke Award as "the least bike-friendly commuter rail service in the nation," since all other systems allow bikes.

At last week's board meeting, NITCD agreed to give the people what they want, with board members voting to launch a pilot this spring. The transit agency will modify three rail cars in its fleet by removing half the seats to make room for custom bike racks holding 25-30 bicycles per car.

General Manager Mike Noland explained that rail cars the agency purchased in 2009 were performing well, making it feasible to modify older cars. "We heard the board loud and clear to accelerate the process prior to the next train car order," he said at the meeting, as reported by the Post-Tribune.

Julia Roesler, a dunes activist from LaPorte County, Indiana, attended the meeting. "[Noland] seemed pretty proud that they would be working on this, and it is an excellent example of listening to what people say they want," she said.

25-30 bikes may seem like a lot but, at first, passengers with bikes will only be accommodated on weekends, and not every weekend train run will include a bike car. Moreover, passengers with bikes will only be allowed to get on and off the train at stations with high-level, wheelchair-accessible platforms. That means that they won't be able to use the Beverly Shores stop, which serves the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's Dunewood Park campground, or the Gary/Chicago Airport stop.

Hopefully, the bikes-on-board program will be tweaked in the future to make it more useful. The agency could make the service more useful by providing bike access on every weekend train run, even if that would require installing fewer racks in each bike car. Access should also be expanded to weekdays. After all, the service isn't just useful for Chicagoans day-tripping in the Dunes -- it's also important for helping Northwest Indiana residents access jobs and other destinations in the big city.

However, the April pilot will be a great start. It sure beats waiting six years.

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