No Special Trains for This Year’s Midnight Marathon Bike Ride

Security officials have asked the transit agency to derail their partnership with cyclists.

Cyclists who rely on a special Commuter Rail train to travel between Boston and Hopkinton for the annual Midnight Marathon Bike Ride will have to find a new way to get to the starting line for this year’s event.

After the Boston Athletic Association allegedly asked the organizers of the ride to derail their annual 26.2-mile trek, the MBTA announced that a set of train cars reserved last year for shipping hundreds of cyclists to the starting line would not be arriving at South Station in 2014.

“A special train, dedicated to bikes, will not be provided this year,” said MBTA Spokesman Joe Pesaturo in an email to Boston. Pesaturo said the train would not be giving rides to the cyclists “at the request of local public safety officials,” not the BAA. Standard rules for bikes on off-peak Commuter Rail trains will be in effect, which means a maximum of four bikes will be allowed per coach.

The BAA asked Midnight Marathon Bike Ride organizers not to host the event, citing safety concerns. Last week, the BAA put out a set of specific security guidelines in response to last year’s bombings at the finish line.

Peter Judge, spokesman with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, the state office that works with BAA officials to address security issues both prior to the marathon, and on race day, said the reason for asking cyclists to cancel their trip “dove tails” on last year’s bombing, but it’s actually just a general concern voiced by officials in municipalities that the riders pass through. “Anytime you are going to send 1,000 people out at midnight on bikes, you have the potential for issues. [The bombings] aside, this is something that has been discussed every year, and there has been concerns,” he said. “It’s strictly a public safety issue and the timing of it. It’s a cool idea, but it’s just raw with potential. That being said, we are asking them not to have the ride.”

Since 2009, cyclists have met up to embark on the journey from the beginning of the marathon route, all the way into Boston. The event was started by cyclist Greg Hum, a Boston University graduate, and later received help for organizing purposes from members of BostonSOS, a volunteer-run group that hosts social events like the “No Pants Subway Ride.”

The Midnight Marathon Bike Ride has grown in popularity since its inception, and last year more than 1,000 cyclists joined the event. In 2013, in response to the influx of cyclists that continuously crowded South Station to get to Hopkinton, the T officially partnered with BostonSOS to provide a special train to accommodate riders on their trip to the finish line the night before the marathon.

But due to increased security concerns, the T will not renew that partnership, according to Pesaturo.

“It’s depressing because the train is my favorite part. It’s a chance for everyone in the community to talk to each other and meet each other. That’s your best chance to make new friends,” said James Cobalt, founder of BostonSOS. “Now it’s up to everybody to figure out how to get there on their own.”

Hum said he’s also disappointed that there won’t be a special train for cyclists this year since they have worked so well with the transit agency in the past to ensure rider safety. “I’m super bummed. The whole tradition of the ride sort of hinged on a train being available. From the very beginning, the whole ride started with the thought, ‘there’s no way I can run 26 miles, but I can bike it.’ The key to doing that was making use of public transportation,” said Hum. “It’s been this amazing ride where people not only get together on bicycles, but it also raised awareness about the use of public transportation. Without any train this year, a large part of the experience that we have built up will not be the same.”

Last year, Cobalt and Hum worked with the Commuter Rail to have special tickets available for sale at a South Station kiosk specifically for cyclists participating in the midnight ride. More than 700 tickets were sold within days of organizers announcing their availability.

To show their appreciation for the workers that helped coordinate efforts in 2013, Cobalt and Hum presented Commuter Rail employees with a safety vest signed by event participants, saying “Thank You.”

This year, Hum and Cobalt said they met with a representative from the BAA to talk about ways they could meet security concerns so that the ride could still happen through a Commuter Rail partnership. Cobalt said none of the ideas they floated to the marathon organizers seemed to alleviate their worries, however. “We met with them a few times, we proposed a lot of changes, like changing the route so it doesn’t go by the start or finish line, or doing it smaller batches. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t find a solution,” he said.

Cobalt said he understands the reason for the safety concerns given the tragedy during last year’s marathon. “I think it’s a little bizarre in some respects, but I’m very sympathetic to the BAA and to the police. The stress and the emotions alone, it’s a tough thing for them to deal with,” he said. “We didn’t feel as though we needed the BAA to be supportive, because the roads are still open at that time, but we still wanted them on our side because, like I said, we are sympathetic to what they are dealing with right now.”

Despite the rift in this year’s event between the Commuter Rail and BostonSOS, Hum and Cobalt said they are still determined to ride, and although they won’t be organizing a train and handing out maps of the bike route, they expect that people will still show up in Hopkinton. “The roads are open to vehicles, and by state law that means they are open to bikes. We have already heard from a lot of people that they are planning on doing the trip,” said Cobalt. “Even without the train it’s going to be really big. It’s not simply a ride this year for people, they want to make a statement like, ‘you can’t keep us down, we are still going to live our lives, and love this city.’”

Hum said he started the Midnight Marathon Bike Ride as a way to spend time with friends, and have fun, and if it means he has to carpool, or have someone drop him off at the starting line, he is going to carry on that tradition. “It’s not going to keep me from getting my bicycle, in the spirit of what I originally intended it to be—getting my friends out there and having a great time along the marathon route,” he said.

  • Charlie

    Boston Stron… oh wait never mind.

    • pissed off pete

      Boston Stupid more like it!

  • Dorian

    This makes absolutely no sense – If they don’t want people riding bikes on the route after midnight, then they should ban cars too if they are truly concerned about “safety.”

    This feels like a step backwards.

  • Pocky

    It seems like the problem is that they’re concerned about people bombing the train. Greg doesn’t say the ride isn’t going to happen — he simply says there’ll be no train. I rode out-and-back last year, and a number of groups hired shuttle buses. It can certainly still happen.

    • Charlie

      Well that’s ridiculous. What about all the other commuter rail trains running that night? Or the day of? Or all the subway lines and buses? Or private buses and trucks? Or any vehicles at all? They should really tell everyone to stay home, just to be safe.

      • Steve Annear

        “Standard rules for bikes on off-peak Commuter Rail trains will be in effect, which means a maximum of four bikes will be allowed per coach.”

      • pissed off pete

        Yes charlie, That is so stupid,and people can bomb any train. Lets just shut down the mbta forever just in case!!!

        • pissed off pete

          I will just live in a cave and be scared of living the rest of my life.

      • pissed off pete

        If they want everyone to stay home and be safe, then they should cancel the marathon and not have it anymore.

    • Sparr Risher

      The train will still run, it will just have bicycles in every car instead of in the bike car. How is this relevant to the maybe-bombing?

      • Valerie E.

        It wasn’t just one car. It was an entire train full of people with bikes, which was weirdly magical (really nice to see new riders give it a try). I mean at least we can still ride out and back, right?

        … but yes, I’m inclined to agree that the terrorists win if the ride couldn’t happen (ok a bit unnecessarily tongue-in-cheek, but you know what I mean).

  • Jon Ramos

    Last year the org team used the train ride to distribute information about the route, respecting quiet neighborhoods, and how to negotiate the tricky train tracks. With no train, the org team has less control over what happens out on the street. This is a step in the wrong direction.

  • Jasoturner

    Wow. Two punk kids frighten Boston enough to ban a really cool event. I guess we Bostonians aren’t such tough guys after all…

  • Jan Vau

    OMG! I am actually sad reading about this. When I heard about the Midnight Bike Ride last year on NPR, I thought that this is something cool that maybe a 59 year old, out-of-shape woman can do. THEN the bombings happened the next day and it SOLIDIFIED my commitment to do this ride. I have been training ever since. I have my bike up on a Cycle Pro Trainer with adjustable tension in my house and have worked up to riding over 2 & 1/2 hours on it just to get ready. I Want to take Back what the bombers tried to take from all of us!! So, what can we do? I think we really Have to do the ride… we just Have to. To show the world (and local authorities) that we Are Strong; we Are Brave. I had planned on doing the ride starting at 7:00pm because starting at midnight is just too late for me. Anyone else joining me at that time? And how about renting / chartering school buses or other such vehicles to get folks out there? What is a solution to this dilemma?

  • Kelly Aderholt

    People of the Boston Midnight Bike Ride, Go For It! The bike riders of Charlotte, N. C. support you 100%