Boosters of allowing bicycles on South Shore trains rolled a bit closer to their goal Thursday when the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission authorized spending $205,000 to study how that can be done.
At its regular meeting at NIRPC headquarters in Portage, the executive board added a feasibility study of bikes on the South Shore to its short-term transportation plan. An advisory committee will now be formed to select a consultant to undertake the study.
"There is a whole lot of economic development potential for this as Northwest Indiana becomes known for its trail system," said NIRPC Executive Director Ty Warner. "To get folks from Chicago to access this trail system would be huge."
Everyone backs the idea philosophically, but there are thorny technical issues that have to be worked out, according to NIRPC Regional Planner Jack Eskin.
Those issues include finding space for bicycles on South Shore cars, assessing whether boarding platforms can handle bicycles, and how loading them on trains would affect schedules, according to Eskin.
People often point to Metra's successful program for bicycles on trains and ask why the South Shore can't. But Metra train cars are configured differently than the South Shore's, so a thorough study of the issue is needed, Eskin said.
During a public comment period on bikes on South Shore trains, NIRPC received about 400 comments, Eskin said. Virtually all were in support of getting bicycles on the trains, Eskin said.
The Federal Transit Administration will provide $154,000 for the study and $41,000 more will be provided as a required local match for those funds.
Eight groups in all are contributing to the the local match of $41,000. Those are South Shore operator Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, Porter County Board of Commissioners, LaPorte County Board of Commissioners, National Parks Conservation Association, The Greenways Foundation, NIPSCO and ArcelorMittal USA.