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Chicago Union Station concourse overhaul will include expanded bike parking options

According a survey focused on bike parking, respondents overwhelmingly preferred the addition of secure, indoor bike storage at Union Station.

A Chicago Critical Mass ride passes by Union Station on Clinton Street in September 2022. Photo: John Greenfield

This post is sponsored by Keating Law Offices.

Last week, several Chicagoland and national transportation professionals met online with about 20 Windy City residents who ride bicycles, to discuss ongoing renovations and updates at Chicago Union Station. Specifically, they talked about a major overhaul of the station's underground concourse area where trains depart and arrive, and the addition of bike parking. 

Amtrak Senior Program Manager Teresa Fourcher had previously touched on the ambitious concourse renovation during a public meeting in April. But she returned last week week to provide additional info on the plan as it relates to bicyclists.

Other officials and consultants attending the meeting:

  • Kate Sullivan, lead architect for Metra
  • Martin Sandoval II, Amtrak’s manager of community engagement for the Midwest
  • Jason Thomas, mechanical engineer at Metra
  • David Powe, assistant commissioner for the Chicago Department of Transportation (formerly director of planning & technical assistance with the Active Transportation Alliance)
  • John Schuyler, partner at FXCollaborative
  • John Rodgers, a transportation planner with Quigg Engineering
  • Laura Rebbe, associate director of architecture and interiors at Epstein Architecture

Expanding Amtrak and Metra ridership at one of the nation’s busiest rail stations

Fourcher told meeting attendees that, as the owner and a primary operator of Union Station, Amtrak is seeking a major overhaul of the terminal as a part of the railroad's effort to double its overall ridership by 2040. She added that Union Station is the national rail system’s fourth-busiest station (the top three are along the East Coast Acela Route) with 3.3 million passengers a year, running 58 trains a day. She noted that in 2023, along with riders, Amtrak carried over 52,000 bicycles. 

Fourcher said the station overhaul effort also has the goal of bolstering Metra commuter rail ridership, and encouraging more Metra customers to bring bikes on trains. That system includes 11 rail lines with roughly 500 route miles and 242 stations, and serves over 100 communities.

"Approximately 90 percent of the riders who go through Chicago Union Station are commuters," Fourcher said. "So if you put Amtrak's fourth busiest station in the network and combine that with the fourth busiest commuter rail system in the U.S., Chicago Union Station becomes the third busiest train station in the country."

Fourcher applauded Metra’s expansion of bike access in its effort to boost ridership. In April, Metra officials said the system had seen a 70 percent increase in customers with bicycles since it started allowing bikes on all trains in February. (Meanwhile, the CTA is banning bikes from all trains tomorrow, Wednesday, July 3, between 5 a.m. and 11:59 p.m.)

Cover of the Chicago Hub Improvement Program report.

Fourcher also discussed the Chicago Hub Improvement Program, a series of infrastructure improvements "so that we can get more trains in and out of Chicago more efficiently." One example is converting the former mail platform, which was used for delivering parcels and letters to the old post office, to Federal Transit Administration-compliant passenger use.

Many Amtrak and Metra riders use a bike in some way

Fourcher touched on the results from a survey about Chicago Union Station conducted by Amtrak last November and December, as well as a more recent survey specifically focused on bike storage at the terminal. According to the general survey, which Fourcher said received 4,000 responses from all 50 states, 20 percent of respondents reported they rode Metra exclusively, while 12 percent rode Amtrak exclusively. 

Slide from the presentation about the Amtrak/Metra Bike Storage Survey.

Surprisingly, however, a whopping 68 percent of respondents said they ride both Metra and Amtrak — signaling a high representation of Chicago-area residents in the survey.

"The collaboration between Metra and Amtrak — and understanding the needs of our customers as they move throughout the entire network — is something really compelling for us," Fourcher said. "So with that, we had over 380 respondents comment that they use a bike in one way or another to access the station. And we had 115 write-in comments about bikes, predominantly about bike storage."

The Amtrak/Metra Bike Storage Survey, which started last May, has received 450 responses so far and will remain open until mid-July, she added. 

What bike storage could look like at Union Station in the near future

The rest of the meeting was focused on discussing bike parking and bike storage ideas, as well as other amenities that could benefit commuters. Currently, Union Station features 164 on-street bike parking racks within one block of the station, with 38 of those racks being near station doors, and eight of those 38 being located at the station doors along Clinton Street. That thoroughfare has a popular two-way protected bike lane.

Map of existing bike parking locations near the station, from the presentation.

Epstein’s Laura Rebbe mentioned there are plans to add secure bike parking, and the team of transit agency and design professionals are exploring various options. Some of the ideas presented to survey respondents included bike check/valet, bike lockers, a bike room with secured access, automatic bike storage, and an indoor bike rack within a secured area. The latter option received the most votes from survey respondents. "Clearly, the outdoor bike rack was not preferred," she noted.

Most respondents were interested in using an indoor bike rack in a secured area. The image is from the presentation.

In addition to the question about specific types of bike parking options, Amtrak and Metra asked respondents if they’d be willing to pay for the amenity. Well over half of those surveyed signaled that they would, with roughly half of survey takers saying that they would prefer a 24-hour day pass in the $5-10 range. Other options included a monthly pass and per-hour storage. 

Most respondents said they would be willing to pay for secure bike parking. The image is from the presentation.

The on-site storage that Amtrak and Metra are considering would also accommodate large or cumbersome bikes such as longer cargo and family bikes, tandems, and e-bikes, as well as electric scooters. 

Examples of possible bike storage options, from the presentation.

In terms of timeline, Fourcher said Amtrak is looking to complete preliminary design by the end of this year, but will continue working on and present a finalized design in the more distant future. Construction is likely still two years out, she said, conceding that "the timeline shifts a little bit here and there."

Still, it's great to hear it's that it's likely that Amtrak and Metra customers – and perhaps other folks who bike downtown for work or play – will eventually have a secure place to park their cycles.

Click here to take the Amtrak/Metra Bike Storage Survey.

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