The North Bay’s new commuter rail line is proving popular among commuters with bicycles — so popular that SMART officials may eventually adjust the way they run trains to better accommodate passengers who bring their wheels on board.
Throughout September, SMART’s first full month of operations, trains usually carried about 250 to 300 bicycles daily on weekdays, and less than 100 daily on weekends, according to figures recently provided by the transit agency.
Those numbers scrambled expectations of some Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit leaders who thought more bicyclists would ride on the weekends and more commuters would choose to leave their bikes behind before hopping on a train.
“There are way more people riding their bikes than I expected,” said Deb Fudge, Windsor mayor and the chairwoman of SMART’s board of directors. “That’s a good thing. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do in Sonoma County, is get people out of cars. And they’re doing it. And they’re getting to the stations lots of different ways.”
Fudge expected to see more people use the system’s bike lockers, available at all 10 stations. But many of those lockers have sat empty as more commuters instead brought their bikes to use trains.
“I think because of the last mile,” Fudge said. “It’s a ride for them at the other end.”
That’s created a challenge for the system, since each train is designed to hold up to 24 bicycles — 12 per car — and trains can fill up with passengers during the morning and evening commutes, officials say. Still, rail officials aren’t rushing to make any big changes.
“We’re having short-term, medium-term and obviously long-term plans as we gather more data and we see that there is consistency,” said Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager. “You certainly don’t want to go and do something that costs a lot of money if the data is still very young ... We’re keeping an eye on it. We’re pleased that we have such a problem.”
But if the trend holds for another couple months, SMART has several options to make the commuting rush more comfortable for bicyclists and pedestrians. Among them is potentially adding a third car — SMART trains currently travel in pairs — at least during the highest-traffic runs, according to Mansourian.
The system could also encourage more people to use the bike lockers by widely distributing the cards riders need to pay for them, said Alisha O’Loughlin, the executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.
Riders can’t yet pay for lockers with a Clipper Card, which they can use for train fares. They have to get a special card from BikeLink, the company that operates the lockers.
Additionally, trains currently provide bicycle accommodations in three places: hooks at each end of the car to hang them and seats in the middle that can be folded up to make room for bikes. O’Loughlin would like to see that approach consolidated.
“It would be really great if they just had one centralized area,” she said.
“They could even paint something on the platform so cyclists know exactly where you should queue up when the train arrives.”
At the same time, the bike coalition has been working with Sonoma County transit officials to explore whether they could provide some sort of bike-share program, which would allow riders to check out bikes and drop them off again at various popular places along the rail line. That could reduce the need from some riders to bring bikes on board the trains, O’Loughlin said.
What: Afternoon of Recognition hosted by Amaturo Sonoma Media Group
When: Noon to 5 p.m. Sept. 30
Where: Old Courthouse Square
More details: heroesofoctober.com
What: Wildfire Anniversary Event: Community Healing Together. All-ages event to with art activities, musical performances, guided hikes, and food.
When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 6
Where: Shiloh Ranch Regional Park, 5750 Faught Road
More details: https://parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Play/Calendar/Wildfire-Anniversary-Event/
What: Museums of Sonoma County opening reception for “From the Fire: A Community Reflects and Rebuilds,” which runs through Jan. 27
When: 3-6 p.m. Oct. 6
Where: 505 B St., Santa Rosa
Tickets/more details: museumsc.org/events.
*The event is the first in a larger series through the month of October, including an Oct. 25 event from 7-8:30 p.m. at 505 B St. featuring Press Democrat journalists discussing the fire coverage that earned the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize.
What: Together in Hope, a prayer gathering in solidarity to honor and remember the resiliency and recovery from the North Bay Fires.
When: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 7
Where: Cardinal Newman High School Field, 50 Ursuline Road.
More details: http://santarosacatholic.org/TogetherInHope
What: County of Sonoma and City of Santa Rosa’s ceremony, featuring chalk for artistic expression on sidewalks around Courthouse Square.
When: 4 – 8 p.m. Oct. 8, with a ceremony with a reading by Sonoma County Poet Laureate, Maya Khosla, and a firefighter memorial bell ringing begins at 6 p.m. Chalk will be available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 9
Where: Old Courthouse Square
What: La Luz Center’s appreciation of community resiliency, featuring food, art activities, resources and a listening session in Spanish conducted by Sustainable Sonoma.
When: 6-8 p.m. Oct. 8
Where: La Luz Center, 17560 Greger St. Sonoma
What: Honoring Loss, Rising in Hope – an evening of singing, prayer and reflection.
When: 7 p.m. Oct. 9
Where: First United Methodist Church, 1151 Montgomery Drive
More details: Contact Pastor Lindsey Bell-Kerr at Lindsey.Bell-Kerr@fumcsantarosa.org
What: One-year remembrance gathering hosted by Coffey Strong
When: 7-8 p.m. Oct. 9
Where: Near the intersection of Hopper Avenue and Coffey Lane
More details: facebook.com/events/2123622767957025