Getting Bicycles on the South Shore Railroad

bike and south shore icon

 

Background

Save the Dunes believes it is important to improve non-motorized access to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park. Millions of people head to the parks each year; in fact, our Indiana Dunes Parks have the same number of visitors as Glacier National Park or Yellowstone National Park.  How do we protect natural resources from the impacts of the influx of vehicles, which can cause air pollution, water pollution, and bring in invasive species? One way is by fixing a long-standing issue: the South Shore Railroad, which carries passengers to and from Indiana and Chicago daily, must accommodate bicycles.

It’s easy to see the benefits inherent in attracting more riders by using the rail service as a convenient link to both the expanding network of pathways in Northwest Indiana and Chicago, as well as the region’s natural assets such as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park.

That being said, the challenges and barriers towards implementing this program on NICTD’s rolling stock are clear and significant. Though this program has worked for other transit agencies throughout the country, the circumstances under which NICTD could successfully implement a ‘bikes on trains’ program needs to be specifically tailored to its rolling stock, platform infrastructure, operating schedule, and fiscal environment. With that in mind, Save the Dunes, NIRPC, NICTD, NPCA and others advocated and found funding for a technical study assessing the feasibility of NICTD implementing and operating a “bikes on trains” program in 2014. The study was complete in July 2015.

The project included development of an engineering study assessing how to best accommodate bicycles on NICTD’s trains. It involved:

  • Composing a summary of successful “bicycle on commuter train” programs in other areas
  • Evaluating NICTD’s rolling stock, car layout, station platforms, and other physical constraints
  • Assessing physical, financial and temporal barriers to such a program
  • Providing at least 2 alternatives for a NICTD bicycles on trains program
  • Selecting a recommended option
  • Exploring funding mechanisms from both public and private sources

The Advisory Committee consisted of Belinda Petroskey (NIRPC), John Parsons (NICTD), Nicole Barker (Save the Dunes), Geof Benson (Town of Beverly Shores), LeAaron Foley (NPCA), Jan Dick (Chairman, Ped, Pedal and Paddle Committee at NIRPC), and Jack Eskin (City of Gary).

As part of the project, a survey was issued to gauge community interest in allowing bikes on the the South Shore trains back in February of 2015. Here is a link to the survey: http://www.nirpc.org/hot-topics/bikes-on-trains-study.aspx. The results were most interesting, indicating that most people wanted to use the system for recreational use on weekends during the warm season. The study was managed by Quandel Consultants and was completed in July 2015.
Quandel Consultants was hired to conduct the study. The final recommendation is for NICTD to purchase new cars and retrofit at least 5 existing cars to accommodate 30 bikes and 30 passengers for a warm-season, non-peak weekend program. New cars are expected within the next 5 years. While this is a wonderful solution, Save the Dunes and others continued to ask for a shorter-term solution. A full copy of the Quandel Consultants Study is available here.
NICTD bike prototypes 7-2015

Mike Noland and John Parsons of NICTD show board members the bike rack prototypes.

We received the latest good news in July 2015. At a NICTD board meeting, they unveiled and approved a short-term plan to get bikes on trains, which is a testament to how our partnership can work effectively together. They presented two prototypes that would lock into existing cars (ones with the 3/2 seating arrangement). They will test these prototypes in autumn 2015 and a pilot program will begin in April 2016.

NICTD stated that they will modify 3 cars and equip half of each car with bike racks and leave half the seats so that bikers can ride near their bicycles. The cars would be used on warm-weather, non-peak weekends; the schedule will soon be determined. Seattle-based Sportworks, experts in bicycle transit rack design, worked with engineers at NICTD to develop a workable short-term solution.

 

Lastly, for a long-term, permanent solution, NICTD plans to purchase new bi-level gallery cars that allow for an eventual bikes on all cars option that is still being evaluated.

Save the Dunes is committed to helping NICTD implement the plan on all three timelines and interweave the program with the need for bicycles to safely reach various locations in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park. NIRPC and other regional leaders will be working to make sure trail connections are in place so people can use the system effectively once they are off the train.

Save the Dunes starting asking NICTD for action on this over four years ago, and ever since we’ve been working side-by-side to understand the project’s challenges and opportunities together. The project is a testament to what we can accomplish by working together as a region to solve complex issues. Thanks for inviting us to the table, NICTD!

Chicago Tribune Article.

Northwest Indiana Times Article.

To keep on top of this process, and to indicate your encouragement and support, watch the Save the Dunes Facebook page or join our We Want Bicycles on the South Shore Facebook page.

Many thanks to the organizations who are providing matching funding for this project:

  • ArcelorMittal
  • Northwest Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD)
  • National Parks Conservation Association
  • Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA)
  • Porter County
  • LaPorte County
  • NIPSCO
  • Greenways Foundation