A recent news report on an injured cyclist denied passage on the N Judah because she was carrying her (unfolded) bike received no small amount of attention this week, and now transit advocates are asking why bikes are unequivocally banned from Muni light rail vehicles at all.
As reported this Thursday by the Ex, cyclist Katherine Roberts "hit a metal plate that jutted open by the Muni tracks at Church and Duboce streets" at around 11:30 p.m. on April 11, and struck her head. Fearing the high cost of a San Francisco ambulance ride, she and fellow-rider Jym Dyer attempted to board an N Judah that had stopped nearby, bikes in tow.
Per the Ex:
She sported a black eye and a massive head bump, which she showed to the operator. She asked if he could give her and Dyer a ride to nearby UC San Francisco Parnassus.
“He said, ‘Not with your bikes, I can’t,’” Roberts recalled.
Roberts and Dyer argued with the operator and an inspector. The inspector denied them a ride to the hospital four stops away, but later allowed Roberts to board the next train.
They both had folding bikes, which are permitted on Muni as long as they are folded. But the train was empty, and given her injuries and the crack on the head, it didn’t occur to her to fold her bike. “As soon as I showed the driver my injuries, I thought he would just say ‘okay’ and drive the train,” said Roberts. “I was disoriented and weak and I wasn’t really thinking ‘oh, it’s really important for me to fold the bike right now!'”
The driver told them to get off the train and refused to move. He called over a fare inspector. The inspector forced them off the train and told them to call an ambulance if they needed help. But for some reason he also told them they could take the next train, which was right behind them (that’s three N-Judah’s bunched in a row, in case anyone’s counting). However, he still wouldn’t let Dyer on with his bike, folded or not, because it is a larger, folding cargo bike model. Dyer had to ride his bike behind the train while Roberts-with cuts and a large bump growing on her head-was left alone with her now-folded bike.
According to Streetsblog, the driver also "came out of the cab to yell at Roberts to 'secure her bike' which had flopped over on the floor. 'I was weak. I had a concussion,' she said. 'The car was almost empty. I wasn’t blocking anybody.'"
Speaking with the Ex, SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato is apologetic, to a point.
“I agree that our staff on scene should have exercised more compassion to Ms. Roberts and engaged with her in a more courteous way...However, our protocol when it comes to medical emergencies is to call Central Control, which will then dispatch emergency services.”
The incident has inspired Streetsblog to wonder "why are we banning bikes on late-night trains in the first place!" Noting that bikes are allowed on BART, the website says that "Nobody’s arguing that full-sized bikes should be allowed during peak periods. But what would be the big deal if bikes were allowed, space permitting, during off hours?"
"If New York can handle bikes on its subway, and Portland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento and many other cities can handle bikes on their Light Rail Vehicles, what makes Muni so special?"
Rachel Hyden, the Executive Director of the San Francisco Transit Riders, appears to agree. Her organization, which successfully pressured the SFMTA to allow all-door boarding in 2012, says “the incident with Katherine is disheartening, both in terms of how she was treated and in light of the strict enforcement of an antiquated policy, especially in an emergency situation."
The SFTRU, she says.“is supportive of a policy amendment that would allow bikes on LRVs, especially during off-peak hours.”
As Hyden is the SFTRU's first executive director, and was hired just weeks ago, this seems like an ideal issue with which she can make her bones. I'd expect this discussion to continue until Muni either offers a legal reason they can't allow bikes on their vehicles or folds to the SFTRU's demands. This will be an interesting one to watch!