Along for the ride: Metra listens and adopts new bike policy

Metra’s Feb. 1 bike policy — allowed on all trains, all the time — may just exemplify “squeaky wheels getting the grease.” Among other factors, vocal input from cyclists, Chicago and suburban, led to expanded bike service.

Cyclists complained about bike policy inconsistencies last summer at in-person Metra board meetings.

“That prompted us to take a whole look at the policy and make a permanent change,” said Communications Director Michael Gillis. “It accelerated the process to allow bikes on all trains.”

Short history: Metra’s introductory policy (2005) allowed bikes on non-rush hour trains in priority seating areas of ADA-designated cars. Applying discretion, crews refused bikes if passengers with disabilities required the space.

With declining COVID ridership, Metra allowed bikes on all priority seating cars. Continued low ridership factored into taking “a fresh look at part of our practices,” Gillis said, including Metra’s revamped fare system.

Racks in a converted bike train car can hold up to four bikes, as tested by experienced cyclists in late December at Ogilvie Transportation Center. Courtesy of Michael Metz

Metra now permits bikes in priority seating areas at all times. Additionally, Metra is partially converting 50 cars specifically for bikes/scooters. The Jan. 17, Metra announcement covers policy details: Bike dimensions, lift usage, etc.

“We already had it in the works that we needed a bike solution to apply to all trains,” Gillis said. “In response to cyclists’ feedback, we invited people to come to us and reached out to other biking community groups like the Active Transportation Alliance.”

Consequently, a working bikers group met via Zoom last fall as a sounding board for staff.

Among them was McHenry cyclist Michael Metz, board meeting regular since June. He noted Zoom discussions were “very linear. Staff person: ‘We came up with this idea. What do you think?’ Then they report back to the board.”

Metz estimated 60 cyclists joined the first Zoom call. Chicagoan Steven Vance, co-founder of Streetsblog Chicago, an independent news organization focused on citywide biking, walking and transit issues, also attended, having brought bikes onto Metra for several years.

“Metra board members took the complaints seriously and asked staff to follow up,” Vance said.

A pilot “bike car 1.0” on the Union Pacific Northwest line awaits departure Feb. 6 from Ogilvie Transportation Center. Courtesy of Ralph Banasiak

Bike car 1.5 vs. 1.0

Group members tried out the converted bike car Dec. 20 at Ogilvie Transportation Center.

“Bike car 1.5’s” diagonally installed rack replaced three seats, securing up to four bikes without blocking the aisle. Gillis noted “a steady stream of people, including some hard-core experienced riders,” providing feedback.

Eight “1.5” cars are already in service. Data about Metra’s 260,000 bike trips in 2023, the highest ever, helped identify their deployment on lines with most usage: Union Pacific North, Milwaukee District North, and BNSF. Converting all 50 will take a few months, per Gillis.

First piloted in November 2020 on the Milwaukee North District line, “bike car 1.0,” with 16-bike capacity, required all seats removed in half the car. Seven pilot cars are currently servicing the BNSF, Heritage Corridor, Metra Electric, Milwaukee North and Union Pacific lines.

Ride Illinois launched its bicycle fatality awareness initiative Jan. 30, mapping cyclists killed on Illinois roadways since 2018. Courtesy of Ride Illinois

Fatality awareness initiative

With a top goal of greatly reducing and eventually eliminating all state biking fatalities, Ride Illinois launched an awareness initiative Jan. 30 by mapping locations of bicyclists killed on Illinois roads since 2018.

The statewide nonprofit bike advocacy organization created an online map using 2018-2022 bike fatality data provided by the Illinois Department of Transportation. This information originates with crash reports entered by law enforcement throughout Illinois into the Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

Color-coded map icons display fatal crash information by year: Crash date/time, geographic coordinates, age/gender of bicyclist/motorist, and weather, lighting and road conditions.

“In an effort to raise awareness and educate the public,” Executive Director Dave Simmons said, “Ride Illinois is launching a new initiative titled ‘Our Response to Fatal Crashes.’” It hopes to provide information often lacking from crash reports, e.g., crash frequency in a given location, speed limit at a crash site, and existence/absence of biking infrastructure.

Crash reports often rely on the surviving motorist.

“What’s not included is the perspective of the person killed,” noted Simmons in a Streetsblog Chicago interview Jan. 30.

In July 2022, for example, initial reporting indicated a Lake County cyclist was killed as she crossed in front of a vehicle. Further investigation, using her smartphone and Apple watch apps, however, revealed she had not.

Ride Illinois is establishing a process to capture and maintain data beyond 2022. It will request/review crash reports and share questionable details or concerns with law enforcement. Links to media reports will be included on social media.

“Through a little research, we might be able to fill some holes. And push back if there’s victim blaming,” Simmons said. “We will collect the data for now, but I expect the process will evolve,” perhaps including academic/research organizations.

In 2023 IDOT reported 42 Illinois bike fatalities.

Winter enthusiasts in “Braver than The Elements” gather for outdoor activities Sunday, Jan. 21, at the Morton Arboretum. Courtesy of Dawn Piech

Get your ‘brave’ on

In its second cold season, “Braver Than the Elements” gathers hardy souls Sunday mornings at Lisle’s Morton Arboretum for hiking, biking, skiing, even snowshoeing.

Organizer Dawn Piech, Lombard physical therapist, believes, “Movement is integral to everything, our wellness, mental health. It truly heals. The outdoors is spectacular, no matter the season.”

More than 300 have “put their brave on” since Nov. 5, individuals and clubs, regardless of activity or skill. Participation ranges widely: Elmhurst Bicycle Club, Black Girls Do Bike-Chicago, Trek Highland Park, Major Taylor Cycling Club and Fox Valley Bicycle & Ski Club.

No fee is required beyond Arboretum access. Activities extend 10 a.m. to noon Sundays through March 31. “Braver Than the Elements” is an offshoot of Inspyrd Movement, the nonprofit Piech started in 2021, which employs physical movement toward elevating diversity, equity and inclusion.

• Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at

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