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.