September 5, 2013
One of the biggest hurdles to great bike travel in the United States is the lack of consistent and affordable support for bicyclists on Amtrak, coach carriers, and airlines. Imagine if you could roll your bike safely onto a train or into a cargo bay on a motor coach anywhere in the U.S. — just think of the travel options this would open up for bike overnights, weeklong trips or cross-country trips.
Amtrak, in particular, draws the ire of cyclists as it has cut back its roll-on services significantly over the last few decades. As noted in a recent Streetsblog article, "only eight Amtrak routes allow passengers to roll bikes on board fully assembled. Even those that do allow 'walk-on' service only do so in very limited numbers; most trains allow just six bikes per train."
But here's the good news — Amtrak is showing signs of changing its mind when it comes to accommodating bicycles — and advocates and public officials are turning up the heat to speed the pace of change.
As you'll see in this recent blog post by Ginny Sullivan (Adventure Cycling's director of travel initiatives), Amtrak is working on a pilot project for roll-on/roll-off service between Washington, DC and Pittsburgh (in part to help serve cyclists who are riding the wonderful 330-mile C&O/Great Allegheny Passage off-road trail between those two cities). And beginning September 6, the Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak will launch new roll-on/roll-off service on the Amtrak Blue Water line (Trains 364 & 365), which operates daily between Port Huron and Chicago via East Lansing and Kalamazoo.
I love the quotes in the announcement. Here's Tim Hoeffner, Michigan's director of the office of rail: “Bicycle travel and tourism is important in the state of Michigan. Amtrak inclusion of bike service on Blue Water trains is beneficial for Michigan travelers.” And here's Derrick James, Amtrak's director of government affairs-central: “We’ve worked with the cycling community to modify these railcars so bikes can be secured without disassembly. We look forward to measuring the success of this service with an eye to expansion to additional routes across our national network.”
That's music to our ears! But we are not relaxing. Our travel initiatives associate and uber-volunteer in Michigan, Kerry Irons, is conducting an inventory of current Amtrak bike accommodation services. (Kerry will also be at the news conference Thursday at 8 am at the East Lansing Amtrak station to announce the Blue Water service.) We have joined with other national and state groups, along with public officials, to urge Amtrak to provide better bicycle service on the Adirondack and Ethan Allen lines in Vermont and New York.
Finally, yesterday we joined with many national and state cycling groups to ask for a meeting with Amtrak President Joseph Boardman on their bike policies and services. Please take a moment to read the letter (PDF) and feel free to circulate it — special thanks to Champe Burnley, president of the Virginia Bicycle Federation, for pulling it together. We'll keep you posted but in the meantime, there are more initiatives and models emerging for how we can get more bikes on board!
Photo courtesy of Christopher Parker of Vermont Trail Action Network
JIM SAYER is executive director of Adventure Cycling Association.