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South Shore Line Launches Long-Awaited Bikes-on-Board Pilot Program

Seats are removed to accommodate bike racks to hold bikes during the trip.
Seats were removed to accommodate bike racks to hold bikes during the trip. Photo: Eric Rogers
Seats are removed to accommodate bike racks to hold bikes during the trip.
Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

The South Shore Line, a commuter train service between Chicago and northern Indiana, started its weekend-only bikes-on-train pilot last Saturday. Alex Elich, a reporter with the WSBT radio station, demonstrated how to use the racks that hold the bike steady on the train.

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transit District, the agency that runs the South Shore, dragged its feet for years about allowing bikes on their trains. After coming under fire as the only commuter train line the United States that didn't allow non-folding bikes on board, last August the NICTD board approved the project to test bike racks in some trains.

Permitting bikes on South Shore trains allows Chicagoland residents to ride the train with their bikes to enjoy the recreational resources of northern Indiana, such as the Indiana Dunes and numerous off-street trails. It's also great for Hoosiers who want to bring a bike into Chicago to explore the city.

South Shore Line yellow sign
A yellow sign indicates which train car holds bikes. Photo: Eric Rogers

During the pilot, South Shore riders can only bring their bikes on weekends, and only on a limited number of runs per day. This is in contrast to Metra, which accommodates bikes on most weekday and all weekend runs.

And Metra currently allows bikes during high-ridership events, with the caveat that if trains get crowded conductors may not allow bikes on board. The South Shore bikes-on-board brochure warns that cycles will not be permitted during Blues Festival, Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza, and the Air & Water Show.

On the other hand, while most wheelchair-accessible Metra cars can officially accommodate only five bikes (although it's easy to fit a few more onboard without objections from the conductors), each South Shore bike car has room for about two dozen bicycles.

Streetsblog Chicago reader Eric Rogers and his friends were some of the first cyclists to try out the new South Shore bike service last Saturday. They pedaled to the 18th Street Brewery in Hammond, Indiana, and then caught the train back to Chicago.

"Boarding was easy and the conductor was friendly," Rogers reported. However, since not every train run has a bike car, the group was forced to catch a train home earlier than they would have liked.

Passengers with bikes can board and alight only at stations with high, wheelchair-friendly platforms. At low-level stations, which are not ADA accessible, all passengers are required to use stairs at the ends of the cars, and agency staff decided it would be too difficult for cyclists to carry their bikes through these tight spaces.

The South Shore's bikes-on-trains brochure includes a timetable of trains that accommodate bicycles, and shows the locations of stations with high-level platforms. For example, if you're going camping at the Dunewood Campground and want to bring your gear on  your bike, keep in mind that the nearby Beverly Shores station has a low-level platform. Therefore, you'll need to get off the train a stop earlier at the Dune Park station and pedal a few miles to the campground.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 2.25.33 PM
Check the South Shore Line's bikes-on-trains brochure to make sure your destination has a bicycle-friendly platform.

Before boarding a train with your bike, look for a yellow sign on the window of a rail car that identifies it as bike-rack equipped. Keep in mind that recumbent and tandem bikes are not allowed. The bike cars will be available through October 30.

Hopefully the South Shore will expand the program in the future to provide bike access on all weekend runs, and most weekday trains, similar to how Metra relaxed their bikes-on-board rules over the years. It might make sense for NICTD to redistribute their bike racks – accommodating 12 bikes on every train would be more useful than 24 on every other run. Buying more racks to accommodate the extra runs would be even better.

It would also be great if it's possible to relax the South Shore rules to allow cyclists to carry their bikes up the stairs onto trains at low-level stations.

While bike access to the South Shore Trains is a welcome change, it must be noted that NITCD is still being unreasonable about another bike issue. The agency is currently refusing to allow an at-grade bike crossing for the extension of the Burnham Greenway on Chicago's Southeast Side.

Did you also ride the South Shore rails this weekend with your bicycle? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

This post is made possible by a grant from the Illinois Bicycle Lawyers at Keating Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago, Illinois law firm committed to representing pedestrians and cyclists. The content is Streetsblog Chicago's own, and Keating Law Offices neither endorses the content nor exercises any editorial control.

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