All Aboard MARC

P1040312Starting this weekend, you can take your bike on select MARC trains running between Baltimore and  D.C. on the Penn Line. MARC outfitted two rehabilitated passenger cars to carry passengers and their full-size bicycles. The bike cars will run on weekends between D.C. and Baltimore, for now.

Bike cars will be easy to spot: they’ll have bike themed graphics on the outside of the train, including “THE BIKE CAR” in big letters. The train car provides roll-on / roll-off service: there is no need to box up or fold your bike. At some train stations the platforms are level which makes rolling your bike on fairly easy. At non-level stations, you will need to be able to carry your bike and personal belongings up the stairs to load your bike. No reservations are available—it’s first come, first served. If the bike car is full, folding bikes are still allowed per MARC’s current policy. Bike trailers are not allowed.

With additional state resources, MARC is purchasing new double-decker train cars to increase passenger capacity to meet the demand. With new cars going into service, MARC is rehabilitating their old rolling stock to provide the new bike service. The bike cars can currently carry 16 full-size bicycle, but can be modified to accommodate up to 26 bikes. The first two bike train cars are pilot designs. Launching weekend service allows MARC officials to evaluate the design and operation of the service with lighter passenger traffic.

With a refined train car design and operation kinks worked out, MARC will look to expand bike service to weekdays and other lines. Depending on customer demand, MARC might add a second bike car to service in 2015 (read: go use the service!). There is no definite timeline for expansion to weekday service at this point.

You can view the schedule here (pdf link).

A great big thank you to MARC for expanding service to passengers with their bikes. We would especially like to recognize Chief Mechancial Officer Eric Ekolig and his team for thoughtfully engaging with bicycling community. We look forward to a successful roll out of weekend bike service and future expansion.

A First Step Toward Better Bike Lanes in MD and VA

Two way protected bike lane illustration from the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide.

This week, WABA sent letters to local departments of transportation requesting consideration and adoption of the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ (NACTO) Urban Bikeway Design Guide. The NACTO guide presents state-of-the-practice solutions that create safe, enjoyable complete streets for current and new bicyclists.

The NACTO guide provides county traffic engineers with additional designs for innovative bicycling facilities that use several techniques to encourage new bicyclists, primarily by separating bike lanes from car traffic. The guide also has recommendations for designing on-road facilities such as buffered bike lanes, protected bike lanes (cycle tracks), bike boxes, contraflow bike lane and other facilities.  Adoption of the NACTO guide by local DOTs clears one of the many obstacles to building protected bike lanes.

Why protected bike lanes?

Protected bike lanes keep current bicyclists safer while encouraging new people to use bicycles for transportation. WABA is working to increase the miles of protected bike lanes throughout the region. Learn about our advocacy priority and our local campaign to build a protected bike lanes in Bethesda. More local campaigns are coming soon.

We sent letters to the Directors of Transportation for Fairfax County, Prince Georges’ County, Montgomery County and the City of Alexandria*.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Arlington County have already endorsed the guide and are currently implementing protected bike lanes. We will publish the written responses we receive from the departments to the blog.

Read the full letter requesting adoption of NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide.

* Update: The City of Alexandria has also endorsed the NACTO guide. 

Become a WABA Instructor

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WABA’s 2012 class of Instructors.

We are proud to announce the 2014 WABA Education Instructor training program. This is a unique opportunity to join one of the country’s most prominent and successful bike education programs that has been featured in The Washington Post and on NPR in 2013. You’ll get paid to teach adults and kids throughout the region how to make the most of their time on a bike.

Additionally, through the program, you will become certified as a League Cycling Instructor (LCI), enabling you to teach bike education anywhere in the country and/or to host your own classes as an independent instructor.

You’re invited to apply for one of a limited number of Instructor trainee positions this fall. The application is not long, but please take the time to think about your answers and use them as your opportunity to make the case for yourself.

Click here to fill out your 2014 WABA Education Instructor application!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a WABA Education Instructor?

WABA Education Instructors are enthusiastic local individuals who combine their love of bicycling and aptitude for teaching to help run one of the best Adult Bike Education programs in the country. Anyone can apply using this form, and from those applications, we will select 12-16 people to be our Instructor class for 2014.

Do WABA Education Instructors get paid?

Yes! Once Instructors have completed their Trainee period (seven hours of teaching), they are paid a rate of $50/hour for any classes they teach with WABA.

What is the time commitment for WABA Education Instructors?

The training program involves 3-4 mandatory events,  including weekly online assignments, a 9-hour class on a Saturday (tentatively scheduled for 9/13) and a weekend-long seminar (tentatively scheduled for October). We estimate that the total required time is somewhere around 40-50 hours (including time spent on homework) between August and November. Once you complete the Seminar, you will have to attend two WABA adult classes (totaling seven hours) as a Trainee. After that, however, your commitment level is up to you. Over 90 percent of our classes are held on weekend mornings and are 3.5 hours long.

What happens if I am chosen as one of the WABA Education Instructor candidates?

You receive the following:

  • A guaranteed spot in an Instructors-only Traffic Skills 101 class, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 13. ($75 value)
  • A guaranteed spot in WABA’s League Cycling Instructor (LCI) Seminar, tentatively scheduled for October 10-12. NOTE: This application is the ONLY way to attend this Seminar. ($300 value)
  • A WABA Instructor polo shirt. ($20 value)
  • A 1-year WABA membership OR renewal. ($35 value)
  • Payment at the $50/hour Instructor rate for any classes taught with us after you successfully complete your Trainee period.

And in exchange:

  • You must commit to the dates for ALL classes in the Instructor training program.
  • You must commit to completing your Trainee requirements (seven hours of instruction) in your first year as an LCI.
  • You must join the League of American Bicyclists, if you are not already a member.
  • You must complete the Traffic Skills 101 course with a score of 85 percent or higher.
  • You must agree to wear a helmet at all classes and while teaching.

We think that seems like a pretty fair trade.

What are the dates and times that I should know about?

July 8 – Applications begin
August 1 – Applications end
August 11 (Tentative) – Instructor Candidates notified
September 13 – Traffic Skills 101
October 10-12 – League Cycling Instructor (LCI) Seminar

What does it cost to become a WABA Education Instructor?

Completing the application form is free, of course. If you are selected as one of our fifteen candidates, you will be asked to pay for membership in the League of American Bicyclists ($40) in order to obtain your League Cycling Instructor certification.  Additionally, you are responsible for all transportation, food/beverage, and bike upkeep costs incurred while in the training program, and as a WABA Education Instructor thereafter (except where otherwise noted). WABA will cover the rest of the costs (see above list).

I completed WABA’s City Cycling course(s). Can I skip the Traffic Skills 101 requirement?

Sorry, but no. Traffic Skills 101 includes both a written evaluation and an on-bike evaluation that you must pass with a score of 85 percent or higher in order to be allowed into the LCI Seminar. While WABA’s classes cover some of the same material, the only way to take these evaluations with us is through this WABA Education Instructor training program.

What happens if I am accepted as a candidate, but fail to meet the 85% score requirement at the Traffic Skills 101 course?

It is possible for this to happen, though we will do our best to ensure that you reach the required score. If you do not meet the League’s requirement for the Seminar, we cannot allow you to continue. We will offer you a spot in the next LCI Seminar that is hosted by WABA, and will work with you to bring your score up.

Click here to fill out your 2014 WABA Education Instructor application!

Thanks for applying, and good luck!

 

Women & Bicycles Tip: Approaching Kidical Mass

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This entry is part of our Women & Bicycles blog series. Women & Bicycles is WABA’s outreach and encouragement initiative to build a stronger women’s bike community and get more women on bikes. These posts certainly aren’t exclusive to women, but they’re produced with and through the Women & Bicycles’ programming and staffing. Click here to learn more and get involved.

Kidical Mass
Family biking is becoming more popular, more normal, more safe, and more fun thanks to the Kidical Mass groups forming throughout the United States.

Kidical Mass groups are volunteer-run initiatives that organize family bike rides for all ages and all experience levels. The groups find flat (or flattest), short, and scenic routes that start or end with treats.These adorable and lively events help demystifying family biking and encourage more Americans to take it on for recreation and transportation.

In just a few years we’ve seen a surge in these groups here in the D.C. metropolitan area. Find one closest to you, tell your friends, volunteer, start your own, join the ride!

Be an Advocate at Bike to Work Day

Be an Advocate at Bike to Work Day. Photo Credit: gypsybug

People take notice when 17,000 people bike to work on a single day, including your elected representatives. Bike to Work Day has grown more than 10% per year in recent years as more people choose to commute on two wheels. Despite this incredible growth, bicycling captures only limited attention from local governments. Bike to Work Day is your opportunity to advocate for bicycling by simply signing up and riding.

There are almost 80 local pit stops this year. Many local elected officials and decision makers will be in attendance for Bike to Work Day. Councilmembers, County Board Supervisors, State Delegates, State Senators, Members of Congress or even a Senator might make an appearance. Important decision makers such as Directors of Transportation Departments, officials from State Highway and DOTs and other planners and traffic engineers could be at a pit stop too. This is an ideal chance to speak with these decision-makers.

Follow these few tips to make the most of this opportunity:

  • Know your elected officials and other decision makersUse our handy legislator look-up tool and be familiar with your representatives. It’s also worth familiarizing yourself with local transportation officials such as the Director of transportation or Public Works.
  • Ask if they are planning to attend Bike to Work Day – Send them a message and inquire if they are attending Bike to Work Day. Include in your message an invitation for them to attend a local pit stop.
  • Plan what you want to say – Practice your elevator speech. You’re only going to get 30 seconds to speak to them. Introduce yourself, including where you live and what your bike commute looks like. Ask them to support a project or for their help in addressing an issue. Ask how to follow-up. Thank them for their support.
  • Introduce yourself at the pit stop – Identify the official and introduce yourself. Be respectful of others speaking with them and wait your turn to speak.
  • Thank them for attending and their support of bicycling – Appreciate their attendance of Bike to Work Day and general support of bicycling. It goes a long way to thank and appreciate people first. If they have recently supported a specific initiative, mention it and give credit where due.
  • Have an “ask” – What do you want them to do? Have a one sentence “ask”. Good example include “could you send a letter of support to DOT about this bike trail?” or “please ask the state DOT to address the issue of biking on this road?”
  • Be respectful of their time (be quick!!) – You might only get 30 seconds or less. Officials have busy schedules and multiple appointments in a single day. Be respectful of their time at an event.
  • Follow-up that day – Make sure to ask how you can follow-up with them. Should you email them or is there a staffer who you should reach out to directly. Send a follow-up email that day!

If you need ideas of what to ask your representatives, see the WABA Advocacy Priority list and ask them to support these initiatives. The WABA Advocacy Priorities represent projects that serve bicyclists throughout the region.

And one last thing, don’t forget to register for Bike to Work Day: especially if you bike every day. This is the one day of the year to be counted (literally). Good luck being a bike advocate and have a great Bike to Work Day.

MARC’s chief engineer wants to allow bikes on some weekend trains

The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) is seriously looking at how to accommodate passengers who want to bring ordinary bicycles aboard a Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) train. A background briefing by top MARC officials last week left bicycle advocates with the distinct impression that they want bikes to be allowed on some weekend trains within the next year or so.

MTA officials have long maintained that the combination of high speeds and full trains prevented them from allowing bikes. At a meeting three years ago in Washington , advocates pressed the matter with Simon Taylor (Assistant Administrator of MTA) and John Hovatter (Director of MARC and Maryland Commuter Bus operations). The officials made it clear that there was no real prospect for bikes on trains anytime soon.

Yet they also told us that MARC was planning for weekend service, and that bikes “should” be allowed if that service started. At the time, weekend trains seemed like a remote possibility. But now they are a reality, and MARC officials are evaluating options for allowing bikes aboard some weekend trains.

Why MARC Does not Allow Bike on Trains

MTA explained its reluctance to allow bikes on trains to several advocates at the 2011 meeting. MTA has long said that allowing bikes on trains is economically infeasible. Federal safety rules require bicycles to be securely tied down on trains running faster than 70 mph, lest they become a projectile in a crash, they said.

On the Penn Line, trains exceed 70 mph along most segments except in Baltimore. On some stretches, the trains exceed 110 mph when pulled by electric locomotives. MTA engineers have been unable to devise means for quickly securing bikes without permanently removing 3 to 5 seats from the car for every pair of bikes that could be potentially accommodated. With full trains, that is not a tradeoff that MARC is willing to make.

The Camden and Brunswick Line trains are not so full, so removing a few seats in favor of bike racks might be reasonable for those trains. But MARC rotates all train sets (except for the electric locomotives) between the three lines, so modifying cars for those two CSX lines would make Penn Line trains even more crowded.

Could MARC allow bikes on the Camden and Brunswick lines with the existing configuration of the trains? Given that WMATA allows bikes on off-peak Metrorail trains, it might seem safe to do so. But MARC officials countered that the CSX track is much poorer, resulting in side-to-side jostling which can cause bikes to slip out of the hands of the owner and strike another passenger. The low platforms at almost every station was another problem. None of these problems are insurmountable, but in MTA’s mind, they seemed to all add up to make bikes more trouble than they are worth.

Signs of a Possible Breakthrough

Last year’s increase in the fuel tax provided additional funds for transportation, making it possible to finally add weekend service. Last summer, I reminded Mr. Hovatter that he had indicated that “bikes should be allowed“ when weekend service starts, because the trains will not be crowded. I asked if he could provide us with an update of his thinking. He responded:

I would suggest we wait a few months to see how it is working and how many passengers we will be hauling. We are only running 3 car train sets to start off. If the trains are packed, and we hope they are, I doubt we will be able to handle any bikes, except the folding ones that we allow right now. Check back with us when it starts.

I was not encouraged by that response, but other members of Maryland’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (MBPAC) were more optimistic. Greg Hinchliffe, who represents Baltimore on the committee, pressed MDOT’s Michael Jackson to set up a meeting with MARC officials and MBPAC.

As soon as the meeting began, it was clear that something had changed. Rather than listen to cyclist pleas for better service, MARC started the meeting with a presentation by Erich Kolig, its Chief Mechanical Officer. His presentation started with a bit of a lampoon of MARC’s existing policy: With a perfect deadpan, he showed the MARC web site:

Here is our bicycle policy: “Due to safety concerns, MARC’s bicycle policy allows for the transportation of folding bicycles only…However, folding bikes are no longer restricted to those carried in a case.” You see, we do have a bicycle policy [loud laughter by all the advocates and Mr. Jackson].

Mr. Kolig then explained that he thinks the weekend service and MARC’s capital equipment upgrades provide an opportunity to start carrying bikes on some trains. While the trains have attracted more passengers than expected, they still carry fewer people than the weekday trains. His presentation included illustrations depicting how bikes can be safely stored aboard the trains. He had clearly thought through how to do it, and how to keep the cost low enough to make it economically feasible.

MARC officials asked the advocates to not reveal any details of the proposal.

Mr. Hovatter seemed favorably disposed to the proposal, although he did not promise that MARC will actually implement it. The decision to go forward is a few steps above his pay grade. And some unanticipated problems may arise, since railroads are highly regulated and MARC owns neither the track nor the largest stations on the Penn Line.

We hope that the Maryland Department of Transportation will approve Mr. Kolig’s recommendation and at least start a pilot project with bikes on weekend trains, as soon as practicable. WABA stands ready to assist MTA officials on any aspect where obtaining the cyclist perspective might be useful.

Jim Titus is a bicycling advocate and member of WABA’s Board of Directors from Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Bikesharing Commuter Benefit to Be Introduced Tomorrow

Photo credit: Mr.TinDC

Tomorrow is a big day for bikesharing in Congress.

Senator Charles Schumer of New York will introduce an amendment that allows commuters to pay for bikesharing with their transportation benefits. Last summer, the IRS ruled that paying for bikesharing was not allowed under the bike commuting fringe benefit. This amendment will fix this issue and allow commuters to pay bikesharing-related expenses with their benefits.

The Senate Finance Committee will vote on a tax extender package tomorrow that includes commuter parity, giving those who take the bus the same tax breaks given to those who drive. In January, the maximum transit benefit was cut in half to $130 per month,  while the parking tax subsidy stayed steady at $250 per month.

In a statement released by his office, Schumer says, “Bike share programs are an efficient, healthy, and clean form of mass transportation, and they should be treated the same way under the tax code as we treat car and mass transit commuters. It makes no sense for cars, trains, buses, and private bicycles to be covered by this program but not bike shares, and this legislation will fix that.”

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia is co-sponsoring the amendment.

According to the League of American Bicyclists, the amendment will have the following effects:

  • Last summer, the IRS ruled that costs associated with bike share memberships were not eligible under the commuter benefit statute as currently drafted. This amendment would change that.
  • Specifically, it adds bikeshare costs to the list of recognized expenses eligible for the transportation fringe benefit.
  • Like the Bike Commuter Benefit (for those who ride their own bike to work), employees using a bikeshare program to commute to work would now be eligible to receive $20 per month on a tax-free basis from their employer to subsidize their bikesshare membership.

Please take one minute and ask your Senator to support the bikesharing commuter amendment now.