It looks like history may be in the making with recent approval to fund a bikes-on-trains study for the South Shore Line.
The subject of whether bikes should be allowed on trains running from Chicago to South Bend, and if so, how, has been a topic of conversation for many years. You can already take your bike on Metra and Chicago Transit Authority “L” trains, but you can’t get to a national park that way.
It is great to see the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District is making some progress with help and support from about 10 businesses, county governments, and nonprofits led by the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.
Through the efforts of these partners in Northwest Indiana and Chicago, the important step of improving public access and transportation alternatives across the region is finally taking shape.
For more than 20 years, community groups, bicycle clubs and tourism officials have supported the idea of allowing riders to take their bikes on the train to enjoy the trails in Northwest Indiana. They see this opportunity as a way to better develop regional recreational trails that will benefit residents and tourists alike.
One of the bike trails accessible from several South Shore train stops is the National Lakeshore Connector Trail, running through Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Imagine Chicago residents being able to load their bike on the train at Millennium Station for a weekend bike ride at their nearby national park.
Of America’s national parks, few are situated on a major public transportation route. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is unique, located within this region of more than 10 million people and less than 90 minutes away by train from downtown Chicago.
Being so close to the nation’s third largest city, Indiana Dunes can provide a national park experience for millions of people who might never have the chance to visit Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. And sometime soon, these people may be able to take public transportation and have a great weekend bike ride.
A report by the National Parks Conservation Association, the Field Museum and Indiana University titled, "The Future of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore" offered recommendations for ensuring the national park is supported and protected for our children and grandchildren to enjoy. Among the recommendations was to better connect the region’s residents to their nearby national park by improving access and transportation alternatives.
Specifically, the report suggested; “Given the demand from Chicago-area bike riders, the South Shore Line should allow bicycles on trains.”
There is great potential for making what has been a topic of conversation for many years into a reality. And the feasibility study, which will identify necessary modifications and associated costs for train cars and depots in order to accommodate bicycles, is a good first step.