Bike-Escalators: Should they come to LA?

Photo by Mikael Colville-Andersen

“GET OUT OF THE WAY!” A woman yelled at a cyclist while both were going up the escalator. The impatient woman was enforcing the unwritten rule that one side of an escalator should be cleared for those who wished to walk up it. The cyclist with his bike on his left side, now under the pressure from the woman, looked around on the crowded escalator for a way to clear a path for her to move ahead. No luck. The escalator was packed, and the woman would have to wait.

“YOU’RE NOT EVEN ALLOWED TO BRING BIKES ON THE ESCALATOR!,” the woman yelled once more before exiting.

As uncivil the woman’s reaction was to the cyclist blocking the escalator, she was in some ways correct. Objects such as strollers and bicycles aren’t allowed on Metro escalators, and cyclists are asked to take the stairs and elevators instead. I have yet to see it done, but I’ve been told that failure to obey such rules can result in a citation.

And, more than a disruption to the flow of movement, bicycles aren’t allowed on escalators for safety reasons as well. There have been cases where bicycles were accidentally dropped on escalators, injuring the people below. And, I’ve witnessed a few times when cyclists walking their bikes up would accidentally hit the face of the person behind them with their bike’s rear wheel by accidentally swinging it sideways.

As more and more cyclists bring their bikes into rail stations to mix up their commute modes, the required usage of elevators and stairs for those with bikes can often lead to greater difficulty for everyone.

Some rail stations offer only one elevator, making it time-consuming for cyclists and other commuters to go up using them as bikes and wheelchairs take up a great amount of the elevator’s space. Then there are stations like Wilshire/Vermont and Civic Center which have incredibly long stairways, making it quite the workout for those with heavier bicycles to go up on them. What a pain.

The long steps up Civic Center.

A fellow cyclist and friend of mine who recently came back from a trip to South Korea messaged me while he was there about how many of the subway stations had been modified to accommodate for the growing number of bike riders using trains. One modification into many of the station’s infrastructure to make it more bicycle-friendly was the addition of bicycle-escalators. Countries like Japan and South Korea have long had bicycle-escalators, thin conveyor belts placed alongside stairs that assisted cyclists to push their bikes up.

Photo of a bicycle elevator in Japan by BIGmog

Here’s a video taken in Japan that shows it in use.

The closest thing we have here in the states to accommodate cyclists using stairs are bicycle-stairways, also known as bike-ramps. Bike-ramps, as seen in the picture below at BART’s 16th Street station, are non-motorized channels which are placed along stairs to allow cyclists to roll their bikes up and down instead of having to carry them. (The new El Monte Station will have them and according to this staff report, they’re being studied as part of the second phase of the Expo Line). Check out the photos below.

Bike-ramp in the SF Bay Area. Photo by docpop.

New bike-ramps at the El Monte Station

New bike-ramps at the El Monte Station

New bike-ramps at the El Monte Station

New bike-ramps at the El Monte Station

With cycling and transit usage in Los Angeles on the rise, and as both commute modes intermingle with one another; do you think it’s a good idea to bring the same bicycle-escalator technology to stations here? Should we invest in a bicycle-elevator (motorized) or bicycle-stairway (non-motorized)? What do you think?

31 replies

  1. I bet with the right deal, Metro could get a contractor (or a few) to build a few bike channels for free. Also, I bet that some bike advocacy groups might pay for them to be installed in a few existing stations. Maybe the biker groups could work with Metro to have a stock design approved and they (the biker groups) could buy them in bulk, then the approved contractor(s) could install them for free as time and schedules permit. Public, private, and non-profits working together could make this happen quick and cheap.

  2. Yes, write to the Metro Board NOW to include stair channels for bikes – or better, such as bike escalators, in all Metro projects, starting with Phase 2 of the Expo line. Bicyclists should get this basic amenity and deserve privileged treatment to encourage them to make the last mile, first mile to transit by bike and not by car. That’s how bicycling is incentivized in European countries with great results for the whole community.

  3. Stair channels for bikes should be at all the Metro stations. Even though I have a folding bike, it’s still difficult to carry up stairs folded as it weighs about 25 pounds. I have taken the elevator, but it would be so much more convenient to have an easier way to go up stairs with bikes.

    For those who wonder why people even want to take their bike on the train, last Thursday, I took the Metrolink to Union Station, then the Purple Line to the Gold Line, and finally the Gold Line to Long Beach. It would have taken impossibly long to ride all the way from Palmdale to Long Beach. Being able to ride my bike to my departure and return stations allows me to avoid driving a car and lessen CO2 emissions. Win-win for the environment.

  4. Stair channels are an easy, quick, cheap option that would remove a lot of the need for cyclists to take their bike up the escalator. And they could easily be implemented at existing stations, not just new construction. Motorized bike escalators would be great, but realistically, I can’t see Metro thinking that far ahead.

    Metro has recently shown itself to be open to small, incremental changes that improve things. This seems like a good opportunity for another small step forward.

  5. I can’t imagine why Metro doesn’t have bike channels next to the stairs. Whenever I take my bike on the train I have to carry it up the stairs, which can be quite a climb. Bike channels would be cheap, low-maintenance, and would contribute significantly to making biking a more attractive option to more people.

  6. Paul A,

    I say bicycles need to be kept off Metro because it’s causing too much trouble for other passengers. Our light rail system is too small and our railcars are too narrow to handle bicycles to begin with.

    And many bicyclists are selfish that they think have the right to shove bicycles in everyone face and clothings and making us have to deal with protecting ourselves from getting hurt. Why can’t you guys start being considerate of other passengers? Bring a smaller foldable bicycle or something. Why do you have to bring this huge bicycle onboard? It’s not even fair that you are paying the same price to bring such a big thing onto the train anyway; you guys need to pay at least double for taking that much extra space.

    Why do they even have to use public transit anyway? Why can’t they just bicycle all the way? I see bicyclists get on board and get off at the next stop. Can’t they have just bicycled for the one stop instead? The time it gets them to go up the stairs and wait for the train, they could’ve biked that one station. Duh.

    The train is already too crowded for bicycles. People first, not bicycles.

  7. Bikes on Metro escalators are not forbidden. Even though there are safety concerns, Metro has decided to look the other way so bikes can go ahead and take them up and down on escalators. metro knows that they have given bicyclists a raw deal by only providing one elevator per station and lots of steep stairways with no bike channels as the only other option. This is not fair and we are advocating for bike channels on all existing and future metro stairs. Until then, go ahead and carefully hoist your bike on the escalators.

    • Hi Barbara;

      Let me clarify as best I can: The latest Metro Code of Conduct still prohibits bikes on escalators. That said, my understanding is that it’s not being enforced. Instead, those with bikes on escalators are being asked to not use the escalators when they’re especially crowded — i.e. wait until crowds subside or use the elevator or stairs.

      Anyone who is interested in having stair channels in future rail stations should advocate now and not wait until designs are set.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  8. Hector, a number of subway and train systems (NYC, Boston, SF, DC, Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, Houston) allow bikes, though sometimes with the stipulation that cyclists avoid bringing their bikes during rush hour times. If I wasn’t able to take my bike, public transit would be far less useful for me.

    A few signs of “bicycles do not belong on escalators” throughout the system would be very useful–until now, I had no idea they were forbidden.

  9. Metro needs to make the stations themselves a money maker before they do upgrades like these that cost additional taxpayer dollars.

    Build retail space first, generate long term revenues, then use those revenues to do upgrades apart from taxpayer money. It’s common sense, people.

  10. Just put bike ramps on all stairs in the Metro System. Easy. No need for extra escalators. Just push your bike up the stairs, just like they do in the Netherlands and Denmark. HUP HOLLAND.

  11. I think we should just ban bicycles onto the system. They’re dangerous and are a nuisance to other passengers. I don’t any other city allows bicycles to be brought onboard the trains in the first place.

  12. I had an experience which will forever cause me to believe that bikes should NEVER be on escalators.

    It was at North Hollywood Station on the up escalator to street level. As usual when a Red Line train has just arrived, there was a crowd of people on the escalator and a line waiting to get on at the bottom. Along comes Mr. Cyclist, who practically pushes his way to the front and — despite several passengers telling him his bike didn’t belong on the escalator — pushed it onto there anyway, just ahead of another passenger and myself.

    Halfway up, he lost his grip on the bike and gravity took its course, knocking over the passenger in front of me. Oh, did I mention said passenger was a senior? Thankfully, I was able to catch her before she fell completely.

    Mr. Cyclist didn’t even apologize to her.

    Anything we can do to prevent cyclists from creating safety issues (even if inadvertent) by their behavior, I favor.

  13. The non-motorized option is a good idea, but if the motorized version is under semi-continuous repair in the same manner as the escalators, no thanks.

    In the meantime perhaps the rules regarding bikes and strollers should be more strictly enforced. Especially strollers as I’ve seen parents nearly injure their children many times. I’d be surprised if there weren’t actual injuries somewhat regularly as well.

    Bikes don’t appear to me to be as much of a problem, but if the comment above regarding the beach cruiser is indicative of routine behavior, some enforcement is also necessary. If a bike is too heavy to carry on the steps, it’s almost certainly going to be a danger to other passengers on the escalators. Perhaps a lighter bike would make more sense?

  14. I’m soon to be a new resident of L.A. so yeah, I don’t mind motorized bike elevators. I completely support the idea. So build them.

  15. I think that cyclists should not use the escalators unless a) the elevator is broken or b) it’s a slow time of day/night.

    Since elevators are sometimes out of service, I think Metro should provide one escalator per station with the nonmotorized ramp (and put up signage for it) AND have security warn the cyclists who do carry bikes on the escalator during rush hour. That’s just rude.

  16. Side issue: someone mentioned it in a prior post, and I second the notion of “walk left, stand right” signs over the escalators.

    What if I’m using a bicycle escalator but there’s a slow-stepping person ahead of me? Does my bike continue the journey ahead of me?

    • The bike wouldn’t continue ahead of you. If there’s an obstacle ahead, you would simply release the brakes and have the wheels start spinning. If you take a look at the video linked on this post, you can see that they are holding onto the brakes.

  17. Now we are talking about bike escalators? Very strange, MTA had more people escalators along the subway; for instance at Union Station, Civic Center Station and 7th Street/ Metro Center. Originally, the way the escalators were set up was very good. Then many of them were taken out. I assume they were taken out to get more people to use the steps and get exercise. Guess what? Most people still use the escalators or the elevators.

    Now, you want to put in bike escalators; makes no sense to me. MTA should have kept what they had to begin with. Why don’t you spend money on keeping the buses and trains repaired and improving bus and train service.

  18. I would be great if all Blue Line stns had more than one entrance/exit. The stairwells, ramps, and of course escalators are so congested its def a HAZARD. Am I the only one who sees this?

    Adding to the hassle is ticket inspectors blocking these areas – its like a corral! After getting thru, the connecting train that you needed departed and whole travel schedule is no good. I give NexTrip a 65% rating.

  19. People standing on the escalator are pretty annoying, and mostly during rush hour is when it is a huge problem. It is like they have no where to be. Bikes are a bit of a problem as well. Even though I appreciate people using bikes; the cyclist, people with strollers, and people luggage need to use the spaces designated for them.

  20. When I lived in Downtown I would dread bringing my beach cruiser inside the Pershing Square station. Most of the times the elevators were not functioning and taking them down the stairs would be near impossible because my bike was so heavy. Only option I had were the escalators. I hope existing stations get retrofitted with these ramps too.

  21. Goodness those bike escalators would be SUCH a relief. I have enough trouble when I have to bring my bike on a route that requires me to get on busy buses and the racks are up to capacity (2 bikes). I love Metro and have used most of it’s systems so if they do make their system more bike friendly then I’d be ecstatic! My pops was a MTA driver (even when it was RTD) and I love seeing all of the changes you’ve made through the years :]

  22. I’ve seen it in South Korea myself. It’s practical and convenient for all–the walkers and the bikers. Minimally the non-motorized ramp should be available on all sites. If there’s additional capacity or funding the motorized escalators might be considerate for those who are elderly or low-income folks who are generally stuck with a cheaper heavier bike to take up. As a biker myself it doesn’t make sense that the bikes crowd the ADA access elevators. Wheelchairs and even mothers with strollers should get priority access of the elevators in theory. Of course in LA, given the sparse train ridership the elevator is used by one or two folks so I take my bike on it not to crowd the escalator but sometime the elevators get packed by elders who really need it and I end up taking the escalator because of the long staircase and my lower back injury. A simple ramp along the staircase would make it all the more reasonable. Of course that’s why it’s much simpler to take the bus but there are only two racks and these days open racks are hard to find. Smaller 40 feet buses with 3 racks would be a practical solution as well. MTA wastes too much public funding studying the hell out of everything when it’s just a no-brainer to do it and not waste time as well–of course the whole point of the studies is to give contracts out to consulting and planning firms–no other reason really. Corporate welfare creates a lot of wasteful processes.

  23. According to this motion from 2010, all new stations would be required to have the stair channels/ramps.

    I believe the motion was passed, but someone may be able to correct me if wrong. If that’s the case, I don’t know why they’re only “being studied” for Regional Connector and not present (or are they?) in Expo Phase II. Wouldn’t they be a required inclusion?

  24. I like the idea, but with the ramp wouldn’t that be more tempting for skaters to use? or for some bicyclists to ride the bike down on the ramp as well, unless the ramp is narrow.

  25. These are the same bike stairs under PCH/Sunset to access the beach bike path. Nothing new for LA, but glad to see it become expanded. Hopefully we’ll get the same treatment at Metro rail stations.