, Salem, MA

May 22, 2013

Bikes welcome on the T

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — BEVERLY — Steve Roberge is an evangelist of the bicycle.

He promotes it as a way to “save money, save gas ... reduce carbon emissions and global-warming gases and get healthy.”

What’s more, Roberge, 51, puts his pedals where his mouth is — he regularly bicycles part way to work at Axcelis in Beverly. That means riding from his home in Cambridge to North Station, getting the bike aboard the commuter train, getting off at Beverly Depot and then biking another 3 miles to Axcelis.

Sometimes, at the end of the day, he skips the train altogether and bikes the whole way home.

He’s lost 50 pounds doing this. And he’s become enough of an advocate that he’s celebrating an MBTA pilot program that allows cyclists to get their wheels aboard trains during peak commuter hours between Montserrat and Rockport and between North Beverly and Newburyport. Until now bikes have been allowed on those lines only during non-peak hours — a system that didn’t work for many commuters.

It’s a program aimed at the outer edges of the commuter runs, but Roberge has been able to take his bike from Boston because he travels against the morning rush hour, from the city to Beverly in the morning, returning in the late afternoon. Only folding bikes that can be neatly tucked away are allowed on peak-hour trains.

The pilot program was developed for the MBTA by North Shore Transportation Management Association and is aimed at people whose workplace might be a few miles from the train stop.

“Now they can take their bikes,” says TMA director Andrea Leary. “That’s where we feel this is going to be a great service. ... There is an excess capacity in these lines.” She expects to triple the number of bikes now on the train. Designated areas will be set aside for the bikes in the last two coaches.

MBTA general manager Beverly Scott endorsed the program, saying it creates “environmentally friendly commuting options for our riders.”

Roberge, a member of the TMA board of directors, lobbied for the change in T policy. “They were actually very receptive,” he says. Bicycling is encouraged by his employer as well, as Axcelis provides bike stands and showers.

“I ride in the good weather a couple of times a week,” Roberge says. And he’s not alone. “I’ve seen eight or 10 bikes leaving Boston, and a lot of them get off in Beverly.”

It’s not only a boon for his health, it saves money on gas and tolls, he points out, not to mention a gym membership. “I get a relaxing ride in the morning and I can read a book on the train.”

His wife wasn’t keen on his bike riding at first. The death of a woman cyclist, apparently hit by a truck near Kenmore Square on Sunday, was a reminder of the hazards of the road. But Roberge believes those perils are reduced significantly with care and experience.

“If you know the traffic rules and follow them ... you’re going to be safer,” he says. Further, he believes the increased number of bikes on the road increases safety. “Cars are looking out for you.”

At home, Roberge sometimes rides a tandem bicycle with his son, Adam, who is blind. As they travel, dad describes the passing scene. “He learns the geography of the area,” his father explains. “And it gives him a sense of speed and of freedom. He feels the wind going through his hair.”

The pilot program will run through Oct. 25.