After four decades of service, BART finally appears ready to allow bikes on its trains during commute hours.
The long-overdue policy change will expand the usefulness of the transit system, especially for commuters who work significant distances from BART stations.
But the entire plan will backfire if BART officials don't prepare well for the additional bikes on trains and in stations. Moreover, a small group of arrogant cyclists could ruin the experiment for all bikers if they don't respect other passengers.
This has been a slow evolution for BART, which started in 1974 by allowing only up to five bikes per train, only during off-peak hours and only in the rear car of each train, and first requiring cyclists to obtain permits to bring their bikes on board.
Over the years, the restrictions were eased. The permit requirement was eliminated. Cyclists can now ride in any car but the first. And there are no limits on the number of bikes if space is available on trains.
But the commute-period restriction remains on heavily traveled trains. Last summer, BART conducted a test by eliminating that rule on the five Fridays in August. It went fairly well. One-third of cyclists who rode BART during commute hours said they would not have otherwise used the transit system.
The experiment will be repeated for a full workweek from March 18-22. If that goes well, look for BART to make the change permanent, but also designate the first three cars in each train as bike-free zones during commute hours. That will provide refuge for those who don't want to confront the hassle of rubbing elbows with cyclists and bumping into their bikes.
The policy change is part of a larger program to encourage more BART riders to use bikes to and from the stations. That could reduce car traffic, curb demand for precious parking spaces and entice commuters who otherwise might not consider BART an option.
But there are serious challenges. Many cyclists might not want to take bikes on BART so additional secure cycle-parking capacity will be needed. Inside the stations, cyclists must follow the rules to use the stairs or the elevators, not clog the escalators. And trains will need to be modified to provide more space for bikes.
There will be problems. Keep in mind that fully 10 percent of riders reported problems during the August experiment such as bikes bumping into them, cyclists entering crowded trains, or bikes blocking aisles or doorways.
That was during the summer, when many are away on vacation. We fear escalating complaints on more-crowded trains next month, and when the rules are permanently changed. To avoid that, BART must make all cyclists and passengers aware of the rules.
If they do, we're hopeful this experiment will work.