Officials hope cycling tourists can bring their bikes by train
RENSSELAER Upstate tourist attractions such as the Adirondacks, Saratoga Springs and Lake Placid are popular places to go for a bike ride.
Now a group of lawmakers and business officials are looking to make such scenic spots even more popular with cyclists by making them easier to get to.
At a press conference Monday at the Albany/Rensselaer Train Station, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and state Sens. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, and Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, called on Amtrak to add baggage cars capable of carrying bicycles on their Adirondack and Ethan Allen Express lines, which run between New York City, Vermont and Canada. They described their proposal as a way to boost tourism, recreation and the economy.
“Folks already come from all over New York and the East Coast to visit the miles of scenic bike trails along Lake Placid, Lake Champlain and throughout the Adirondacks and North Country,” Schumer said. “We have the opportunity to bring even more visitors by allowing passengers on the Amtrak lines to bring their bicycles on board.”
“We’re not just spinning our wheels here,” Schumer said. “Bicycle tourism can be a great shot in the arm for the Capital Region economy. … Bicycle tourists spend a lot of money.”
Currently, Amtrak has a “Bring Your Bicycle Onboard” program on its Boston-Portland line, New York-Charlotte line and in California, where the program is so popular that Amtrak had to begin requiring reservations.
“That’s what we want to happen here,” Schumer said.
Amtrak’s Bring Your Bicycle Onboard program offers passengers the option of storing their bike in any of the train’s baggage cars.
The bicycle proposal is the brainchild of Little, who chairs the state Senate Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation Committee.
She noted that many New York City residents do not have cars, and said that making it possible for downstate cyclists to ride their bikes to Penn Station, store them on baggage claim, disembark at their destination, and bike to tourist attractions, restaurants, events and hotels will draw more people upstate.
Little said she started working on the Amtrak initiative a few years ago, as a result of her involvement with the Tour of the Battenkill, the pro-amateur bicycle race held in Washington County’s Battenkill Valley.
The majority of those bicyclists, she said, came from New York City.
“My area is a tourism area,” Little said. “I’m trying to figure out better ways to bring tourists upstate. … We have bike tourists come from Montreal, and they have to have a van dropping them off and picking them up.”
Earlier this month the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce launched an online petition urging Amtrak President Joe Boardman to permit bikes on trains between New York City and Canada. So far, more than 600 people have signed.
Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said cycling groups and chambers of commerce throughout the state have responded to the petition. He said the area is rich in attractions for bicycle tourists.
“They can cycle through so many great areas,” he said.
Schumer said Amtrak is building new baggage cars that can carry bicycles at its CAF facility in Elmira, and he would like these new cars to be directed to the Adirondack and Ethan Allen lines. Right now, only passenger coaches and cafe cars that cannot accommodate bicycles run on those lines.
Schumer said the cost of implementing the proposal would be “negligible,” and implementation would be “easy, because they have the new cars coming.”
According to Schumer’s office, Amtrak is building 55 baggage cars, and only five or six would be needed for the Adirondack and Ethan Allen lines.
Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express line runs between New York City and Rutland, Vt., by way of Albany, while the Adirondack line runs from New York City to Montreal.
In a statement issued in response to the press conference, Amtrak said it “supports passengers bringing bicycles on their trip as checked baggage, with on board bike racks or as carry-on luggage based on the train equipment and type of bicycle. Amtrak recognizes the growing demand to expand ‘roll-on, roll-off’ bike service and is testing designs to retrofit our existing train equipment with more on board bike racks and are building new baggage cars with them built in.”
The statement added that “Amtrak will look to states for direction on where to provide bicycle accommodations.”
According to Schumer, local studies have shown that bicycle tourists spend on average between $100 and $300 each day, and stay multiple nights when they visit the Capital Region.
The proposal comes at a time when bicycling is becoming more popular, according to Josh Wilson, executive director of the Albany-based New York Bicycling Coalition. “Bicycle tourism is growing in all regions,” Wilson said. “Communities are building trails left and right. There are hundreds of cycling events throughout the state.” Schumer’s proposal “makes a whole lot of sense and it will not be a huge burden,” he said.
Wilson said bicycling is something everybody can do, not just serious bicyclists who race or compete.
“It’s everyday people who are biking,” he said.
Hoylman said that “bicycling is booming in Manhattan.” He said New York City’s new bike share program has brought hundreds of new bicycles to his district, and he sees riders on city streets every day.
A bike-share program is a network of bicycles that riders can pick up and drop off at self-service docking stations located throughout an urban area. These programs are used for a variety of reasons, such as short trips, commuting, tourism and recreation.