Bikes on the Train

By+Kathy Jonas

Imagine taking your bike on the South Shore, stopping at the Shedd Aquarium, and then biking the new Bloomingdale Trail on an old elevated rail line through the city of Chicago. 

It’s possible thanks to a pilot program that will run on weekends from April through the end of October. The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District is installing 40 on-board bike racks on three cars traveling between South Bend and Chicago in an effort to increase ridership and provide bicyclists with travel options. 

“It will open up Chicago to bike enthusiasts,” according to John Parsons, spokesman for the NICTD. Going eastbound, it will offer Chicago-area bicyclists the chance to ride the lakeshore in Indiana or tour the University of Notre Dame campus, he says.

 

How it Works

The program features bike racks that lock bikes in place so they are not damaged during the ride. With racks located on one side of the car, bicyclists will be able to sit across the aisle close to their bikes during the trip. There is no additional cost for this new service.

Parsons explains that for safety reasons the stations allowing bicyclists are limited to the stations with “high-level” platforms where passengers walk onto the train through the car’s wide, middle doors without having to climb steps to the train. This means that there will be no bicycle service at Michigan City, Ogden Dunes, Beverly Shores and Gary. All the other stations, including South Bend, Dune Park, East Chicago, Hammond and all other stops into Chicago, will be available.

He adds that while the service hopefully will increase ridership, it will not take away seats from those traveling on foot. In fact, he says extra cars are being added to make sure everyone has access. The racks will be taken out during the winter and replaced with traditional seats.

 

A Thumbs Up from Bicyclists

“This grants the wish that we cyclists have had for decades,” says Joe Dits, South Bend Tribune “Outdoors Adventures” columnist. “And Chicago’s biking options have really grown in that time, from the spectacular Lakefront Trail to a whole range of new neighborhood routes and trails.” He’s also excited for Chicago bicyclists to be able to pedal to the beach at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Dits was fortunate enough to be included on a “test run” that the South Shore organized last fall. While there are always bikes for rent in the Windy City, Dits said bicyclists are eager to bring their own vehicles with them. In his Tribune column, he said the test run involved getting off the train at Millennium Station and then making the decision whether to climb the one flight of steps up to Randolph Street or take the older elevator. He chose the steps. 

While other test run subjects explored the lake shore, he opted to try the new 2.7 mile Bloomingdale Trail. “Pretty darn cool,” is how he described the experience. 

“I had to follow the on-street bike lanes to get there,” Dits wrote. From the station, he said he biked four miles to the trail, which cuts east-west northwest of the downtown. “From the shops and cafes along Milwaukee Avenue, I followed a paved ramp as it circled up to the Bloomingdale Trail. 

Dits noted that at times, Chicago traffic makes for difficult riding, even with bike lanes. He advises bicyclists to use a rearview mirror on a helmet or bike and to be extremely aware of surroundings. The City of Chicago is in the process of adding “low stress” bike routes to separate bicyclists and motorists through various means, such as the construction of concrete curbs. Eventually, Chicago hopes to have as many as 50 miles of these routes built. 

 

Thoughts from a Developer

Dave Matthews, who says his company, Matthews LLC, as an avid supporter of mixed commercial and rental uses in downtown South Bend, including pedestrians and cyclists on trains, is excited about the new biking program. “Bicyclists on the South Shore will make visiting our national lake shore, and exploring downtown Chicago, much more accessible and enjoyable. It is another step we as a community are taking to improve the quality of life for many residents in South Bend.”

Matthews says that he and his company have sponsored and participated in many bicycle events, including Bike the Bend, urban adventure games, and the bike to work week. “We design our spaces with bicycle users in mind, including showers for our commercial tenant bicycle commuters, and secure bicycle storage.”

For more information on the Bikes on Trains program, visit www.nictd.com.

 

A few more things to know:

 

• Recumbent, tricycle, tandem and kiddie cargo trailers are not allowed as a part of this pilot program.

• Bike cars will be identified with the bike symbol prominently located on the windows of the car.

• Bike cars will be located near the rear of eastbound trains and at the front of westbound ones. 

• Bikes may not be permitted during certain weekend events in Chicago. Specifically, there might be restrictions on bikes during the Blues Festival, Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza or the Air & Water Show. For up to date information, check the website at www.nictd.com

• No riding on the platform.

• Bikes are not allowed to block aisles or impede passenger movement. Bicyclists must accompany their bikes at all times.

• Bikes should be free of dirt and grease before boarding.

• There is no guarantee of space available the initial or return trip (including late night trains). Train crews have the final authority on accommodating bicycles. 

• Be considerate of your fellow riders by allowing passengers using mobility devices to board and disembark first.

• In the event of an emergency, cyclists must leave their bikes on the train.