Serving the Bike/Transit Commuter

How can we best facilitate transit service for those who arrive or depart on bikes?Bike Station

Portland’s Tri-Met transit agency announced yesterday that it would spend $1 million of its stimulus funds on improving the region’s bike facilities near transit stations. The agency will invest in two major bike garages, such as that pictured here, as well as improving the existing bike stations throughout the system. Tri-Met will also apply for $1.7 million of funds from the Oregon Department of Transportation for another five bike garages.

Portland isn’t alone in attempting to find ways to improve the commute for bike enthusiasts: Salt Lake City will build a new bike station downtown; last year, Washington announced its intention to create a large bike center just outside of Union Station.

These improved bike storage locations go beyond the rudimentary street bulb-outs and u-rack parking that New York City, for instance, has emphasized in recent years. They offer bikers the same parking conveniences that are usually provided only to automobile commuters; in some cases, such as the station in Chicago’s Millenium Park, they offer more, such as showers, toilets, and cafes.

And indeed, improving the services provided to bike commuters fulfills an important mission of transit agencies: getting people from home to work without using an automobile. Unfortunately, the construction of car park-and-ride lots that make it all too easy to drive to transit stations encourages automobility and sprawl; diverting some funds to bike stations can reverse the equation and expand the 1/2-mile radius that is typically considered the maximum walk distance for people to transit station.

Why shouldn’t bikes be allowed onto trains and buses? That would make the construction of such bike lockers unnecessary, as commuters could keep their bikes with them either at home or at work. Tri-Met makes the argument that only four bikes can fit on a train (8 when the train is twice as long), and only two on the front of a bus. Caltrain, which runs between San Francisco and San Jose, can carry between 16 and 32 bikes on its trains, making them ideal movers for that area’s bike commuters, but the result is complete madness during rush hour. When there’s room left for bikes, they’re difficult to get through doorways, and non-bikers are often blocked by them. Delays ensue. It’s not an ideal situation.

It probably makes sense, then, to encourage the use of biking – but only on one end of a commute. Taking bikes on trains or buses simply causes too much of a headache. For the most part, employment locations should be close enough to transit stations that biking from an arrival station to work shouldn’t be necessary.

But there’s another solution, of course: bikeshare. Paris and Barcelona have placed thousands of public rental bikes at stations throughout the city that are freely accessible to subscribers to their respective services with the touch of a card. Such systems, in connection with efficient mass transit programs, make commuting around a dense city quite convenient. They also make the idea of taking a bike along on a bus or train absurd – because there will be a bike waiting at either end.

By implementing bike share systems, American cities have the potential to increase the use of biking while also discouraging the nasty habit of bringing bikes onto transit vehicles.

Image above: Future Beaverton Transit Center bike locker, from Tri-Met

22 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Thank you for your great work on this blog. I read it regularly with interest. I’d love to hear your thoughts/report on freeline skates as another form of public transit. They are small enough to fit in a bag or backpack, and move you around faster than a segue or skateboard. In some cases, they are even more convenient than a bike. I’ve seen them around Chicago – could they be another piece to the transit puzzle?

  • Chris G

    I can’t see this working in a town overrun by bike thieves.

    I like that they want to make it all more anti car and transit friendly but i’ve never seen as many bikes stolen in broad day light as my days in portland.

  • Katie B

    Thisis a possible wrench in the bikeshare plan.

  • DingDong

    C’mon, “bike enthusiasts.” Biking is a form of transportation, not just a hobby. No one calls people who get around by car “auto enthusiasts.” The more mainstream media use “enthusiast” all the time with respect to advocates of trains, bikes and basically anything but cars and planes. I’d thought transport politic wouldn’t.

  • Dave M

    Bikeshare doesn’t solve the problem of folks wanting to take their bikes on transit, or at least not much. Each person’s bike is unique to him or her. Using a public bike just is not the same. Using bike share to put around for three blocks might work, but to cover serious ground, one wants one’s own bike.

    Bikeshare is, IMO, training wheels for people that will eventually graduate to their own bicycles.

  • DingDong –
    Thanks, you’re right. I’ll try not to use that phrase again. It’s a bunch of nonsense.

  • Ryan Farrelly

    Freeline Skates !!!!!!!

    I ride, and Mark willis is right!!!! I talked to another rider that rides 10 miles a day instead of his bike!

    Downhill is the best because of the sideways stance and ability to really lean in around turns like a motorcycle.
    However for flats land and distance,it is so much easier than walking or ever running, and much faster too. You can get pumping like how a fish swims and get up to like 25mph for miles!

  • In New South Wales, I found that a 20″ folding Dahon worked fine for trains, and for buses, and of course if it was pissing down rain, I could call a cab and throw it in the boot.

    However, good bike lockers at the origin station and Bikeshare available near the destination is also a quite workable solution.

  • I prefer to take my bike with me. I also think calling caltrains rush hour chaos due to bikes is a bit OTT. All rush hour transit use is chaos. I have used mix-mode commuting in Munich, in Portland, and in Seattle. The issue of not having room for my bike is most troubling and one I would love to see solved.

    I like my cycle accessories and fit, I really don’t want to use a shared bike except on vacation. I would like to point out that loading a lot of bikes on a ferry is easy, the issue is the loading method for most light rail has not even considered bikes. Transit needs bikes because it solves the last mile issues.

  • Ian Leighton

    big up for bike share! but in the meantime, an idea for all those caltrain commuters sick of getting bumped with their bikes:

    unfortunately, this only works with good locks or a less-bike-stealing environment, but my aunt and uncle in germany have a second (cheap) bike they leave at their destination station… they ride from home to departure, lock up, and then take the train, then ride from arrival station to final destination. an idea, especially when there is attended bike parking at caltrain stations…

    bike share is really the way to go though.

  • “For the most part, employment locations should be close enough to transit stations that biking from an arrival station to work shouldn’t be necessary.”

    Apparently you live in Elbonia. Especially in the context of Caltrain where the bullet stops are separated by several miles. That’s a lot of land that isn’t in walking distance of the train station. When the train pulls into Mountain View, everyone either 1) Gets on their bike, 2) Gets on a Shuttle, 3) Gets on Light Rail. 4) Gets in the CAR they keep parked at the lot overnight! 10% walk to work from the station, tops.

    Other topics:

    Inline Skates – I live on a 15% grade. Fine on a bike, not so great on skates.

    Bike Share – this works in Paris where the use is distributed. For Caltrain commuters, they need to have a bunch of bikes that disappear in the AM, then don’t return until the PM (when nobody needs them anymore). Not a lot of sharing going on.

    Bike Lockers/Cheap Bike at other end – on Caltrain this is a non-starter for the following reason. Not all trains stop at all stops. Say I have locked my cheap bike at Sunnyvale. On the way to the train, I get a flat, and miss the train by 1 minute. There is another train in 15 minutes – but it’s an express which does not stop in Sunnyvale – the next train to Sunnyvale is in one hour.

    Bottom line – there are already racks and lockers and whatnot, but people gravitate to the Bikes on Board because it WORKS.

  • Murph beat me to making the points I generally make when transit professionals attempt to encourage transit use by installing bike lockers.

    A second or third bike stored at each end of the trip works for some people, but the biggest benefit to transit providers comes from accomodating bikes on transit. Encouraging bikes on transit expands the pool of potential transit users significantly, probably more than any other accomodation you can make for the price.

    Caltrain, for example, will spend $200,000 this Spring to add 8 more bike spaces on each of 10 cars. Because each bike car is used 4 times during the day, that’s room for an additional 320 fare paying passengers every day. That same $200k spent on car parking would serve only 8 more passengers each day. A $200k bike shed might create 100 passengers.

    Bikes on transit is the best bang for the buck for US transit providers. It’s unfortunate that the publicity from Caltrain’s highly successful Bikes On Board program has made other transit agencies gun shy.

  • Followup to my previous comment after reading TriMet’s press release: TriMet will spend $1 million to provide parking for 250 bikes. Caltrain is spending less than a quarter of that for 30% more passengers.

  • Adirondacker

    I’ve asked this question before, why do they need to take the bike with them? I got lots of answers that … don’t address why the bike has to come along. The best one was that the ferry terminals in SF don’t have any mass transit. Whenever I’ve used the ferries in SF there seems me that there’s lots of mass transit around… Looked at a MUNI map, N or the T to The Embarcadero for the Ferry Building or the 10 or the 47 bus to pier 39 or 41 Not that I see lots of people getting on Caltrain to go to their job so far from the ferry terminal in Sausalito that they need a bike in Sausalito. For that matter I don’t see lots of people on the Peninsula that get on the ferry at all, not to go to work.

    This is yet another non answer. “Say I have locked my cheap bike at Sunnyvale. On the way to the train, I get a flat, and miss the train by 1 minute. There is another train in 15 minutes – but it’s an express which does not stop in Sunnyvale – the next train to Sunnyvale is in one hour.”

    Your destination was so far away from Sunnyvale that you took the train. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, you missed the train back to Sunnyvale. How does having your bike with you get you back to Sunnyvale any faster? Or you are so far away from your destination that it involves a bike ride to Caltrain which you take to Sunnyvale. Having a second bike in Sunnyvale doesn’t affect how fast you get to the train that takes you to Sunnyvale. I’m definitely missing something somewhere – the reason why you need the bike with you.

    “I like my cycle accessories and fit, I really don’t want to use a shared bike ”

    Awwwww. I’d like the seats on the Lexington Ave subway to be as comfortable as the ones on Acela. Unfortunately getting a seat, any seat on the Lexington Ave subway is difficult. The Second Ave Subway is going to help with the over crowding but it may not change the situation with seats. So I should tolerate you and your huge bike because you don’t like the way a shared bike or a foldable bike feels on way to the office? Which you are biking because you don’t want to get on MUNI or VTA? Awwwww. Of course there is the solution of having a bike at each end of your train trip, one that isn’t too tall or too short or that seat is too wide or too narrow or… And it doesn’t tell us why you need a bike at both ends of your Caltrain trip.

    I’m assuming a lot of things, one is that most of the bike commuters are going to 4th and Townsend in the morning and that they are returning to the Peninsula in the evening. I’ve been at 4th and Townsend and can’t imagine anywhere I would want to be in SF, during the day, where I’d want to deal with having a bike with me. That’s what MUNI is for. I suspect that lots of the commuters who are dragging their bikes along with them could leave them at the station.

    “The issue of not having room for my bike is most troubling and one I would love to see solved.”

    One of the solutions is to NOT take the bike with you on commuter rail. Walk at your destination or use local mass transit. Or have two bikes.

    I still haven’t heard a good reason why Caltrain has to carry many more bikes than other commuter rail systems. Including one that is reasonably local – BART.

  • Adirondacker – perhaps your handle implies you are in New York, your comment certainly implies it. But I’ll answer anyway.

    I don’t quite get your ferry statement, the ferry comes from Marin, Caltrain runs south, there are some people who commute from Marin to SF to the Peninsula via Ferry/Caltrain but they are the rare case.

    Summarizing the Sunnyvale conundrum for you. I am getting on at SF and taking the train to Sunnyvale, 40 miles away, where my cheap bike is. I will then ride my cheap bike 2 miles to work. No problem. But I miss the train. The next train only stops in Mountain View – which is 2 miles away from my cheap bike, and 4 miles from work. If I have my bike with me, I just get on the express train and ride an extra 2 miles on the destination end. No sweat. If I am relying on the cheap bike in Sunnyvale, I have to wait an extra 45 minutes to take a train that specifically ends up in Sunnyvale (or commit to a 2 mile walk) – and will then be taking a local train that is 15 minutes slower than the express. Get it yet?

    Your assumption that most of the bike commuters are going to 4th/King is completely wrong – your New York bias is showing. As many people take the train in the opposite direction to go to work points south, as take it North, and many of the Northbound bike commuters are getting on in San Jose, Sunnyvale/etc… and only taking the train to Palo Alto (Stanford). Jobs and Housing are dispersed more uniformly in the Bay Area than in NYC. This is particularly true on the Peninsula where Caltrain runs.

    BART’s lines run in a far more traditional Burbs to Jobs in the city manner – in many cases BART came first and then people moved to the burbs where BART ran. BART supported it by building huge parking lots there. Caltrain runs from SF to Silicon Valley, with Stanford in between, stopping in small downtowns with no room for massive parking garages. The last mile problem is far more complex than for other systems.

    Besides – it WORKS. 2400 people take it daily with only one problem – not enough room for cyclists, on trains with EMPTY SEATS. People who don’t know the problem posit that as time goes by, the seats will fill. I posit that without bikes the seats cannot fill – there is no way for those people to get to/from the station. There is no more room for parking, no more room for corporate shuttles, the audience that can be captured by MUNI – those living close to Caltrain or with massive patience – pretty much already has (don’t pretend the N Judah is the Lexington Ave Subway – it’s slow and unreliable).

  • Adirondacker

    I was just recounting an example I was given for why people need their bikes on Caltrain – that there is no mass transit to the ferry terminal. We both agree that there aren’t many people who live on the Peninsula who need to get to the ferries or the reverse. I was explaining that in my opinion there is mass transit between the Caltrain Terminal and the ferries and that someone who does do that commute probably doesn’t need a bike with them.

    No I don’t get it. You need a bike in Sunnyvale, your destination station for your commute. A few times a year you miss your train and want to be able to take the next train at your origin station to another station up ( or down ) the line from Sunnyvale. In any scenario you are late for work. So you trade being an hour late for work a few times a year for being half an hour late for work a few times a year and dragging a bike along with you every day. There are other options at the station-other-Sunnyvale. Cab from there to work comes to mind and then hitching a ride with a coworker who passes near Sunnyvale at the end of the workday comes to mind. Or a cab to Sunnyvale. Or walking to Sunnyvale and catching a later train.

    “Caltrain runs from SF to Silicon Valley, with Stanford in between, stopping in small downtowns”

    Just like any other commuter line. Train comes through what is mostly farmland in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Since no one has a car a walkable community develops around the stations. The Peninsula corridor isn’t all that much different than corridors in in the Northeast and Midwest. Very very unusual in California but not especially unique. The Southern Pacific was doing the same thing the Pennsylvania, the New York Central, the LIRR, the NY&NH, the DL&W, the B&O, the IC, etc.
    I’ve been on the Peninsula. I experience deja vu because it’s so similar to other railroad ‘burbs I’ve been in. Rip out the palm trees and it would blend in the Northeast or Midwest.

    Yes my nickname implies I’m in New York. 200 miles from New York City and miles from anything that could be considered mass transit. Last passenger train lumbered through here in 1955 or so. I spent most of my life in Newark, NJ and it’s suburbs. Off the top of my head, train stations without parking – Penn Station Newark, Newark Broad Street, East Orange, Brick Church, Orange, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Elizabeth. It’s very very tight at Maplewood, Millburn, Summit.. Again off the top of my head, Maplewood has lessened it’s problems by establishing timed jitneys that either take people to their destination or to satellite parking lots – ones that are underused during the day… one in downtown Springfield, which doesn’t have train service comes to mind. NJ Transit offered to build a parking garage in Summit but if NJ Transit built it Summit residents wouldn’t have preference so Summit built it.

    NJ Transit builds infill stations where there is room for parking or redesigns them for more parking when possible. Jersey Ave New Brunswick was an experiment of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Hamilton and Wayne/Route23 are more recent. I think Matawan was moved so there would be more parking. There was something about the garage at Montclair University that I vaguely remember.. Union was added, it has lots of parking.

    There are non traditional commuters in metro NY. Part of the reason for Connecticut’s SLE service is to get people from the suburbs east of New Haven to suburbs west of New Haven. One of the reasons the LIRR is going to build a third track on the Main Line is that they need the capacity to accommodate reverse commuters, though the primary reason is that the Main Line becomes a bottleneck once the terminal at Grand Central opens. Also that little problem where the grade crossings will be closed for 42 minutes during rush hours, they need to grade separate the line.

    “There is no more room for parking” Agreed but then I look at Google satellite images of Caltrain station and from my point of view there already is scads of parking. But that’s because I’m comparing them to NJ Transit stations that don’t have parking at all…

    “no more room for corporate shuttles” I just looked at Sunnyvale which I picked because you seem to be familiar with it. You are going to have to explain that more fully. Looks like there is lots of space for buses to me. More corporate shuttles means that the person now bringing a bike along no longer needs to and people who wouldn’t consider biking have an option. But then I’ve been at Penn. Station in Newark, NJ where during rush hours multiple buses are passing through on Market street every time the light changes, all of them discharging and picking up passengers at the curb. ( That’s been improved in the past few years )

    Of course there are other things at Sunnyvale that I look at and that make me shudder.. Mathilda Ave for one. Grade crossings to the northbound platform for another.

    … but we are digressing from using a bike as part of your commute. I’m still not convinced that Caltrain is so very extra special that they need more bikes than commuter lines in the rest of the world.

  • The advantage of bike lockers is that you don’t have to worry about having your bike with you. The advantage of bike racks on board is that you get to take your bike with you.

    Clearly treating it as a “one or the other is right” issue is silly, when the person who is happiest to have the bike locker available and the person who is happiest to have the bike rack available are two different people, and catering to both is cheaper and creates stronger transit demand and better supports transit oriented development than catering to another park and ride parking place.

    As an aside, a proper bike share system that included main destination stations and employment centers and other final destinations might work quite well … after all, the incentive in bike share is not to take the bike in the morning, hold onto it until evening, and then bring it back … its to take the bike in the morning, and park it at the closest bike share point to the final destination, and reverse that in the evening. Since those main destinations are where people are going to be wanting to get around in the middle of the day, getting the bikes to those bike share points in the morning peak is a good thing … and then getting them to the Caltrain station in the evening, ready to be used in the morning, is also a good thing.

  • “A few times a year you miss your train” – maybe you don’t have a 3 week old baby. My departure is completely unpredictable now :)

    Cab? In Sunnyvale? Laughable. Aside from the fact it might be
    hard to find one, Cabs in the South Bay charge 10 bucks a mile
    or something like that – it’s incredible.

    “There already is scads of parking”. Just because there is “a lot” of parking does not mean there is enough. The lots are full, to the point the surrounding neighborhoods enforce draconian 4 hour parking limits to keep Caltrain customers from parking there.

    There are no shuttles running in Sunnyvale, period. The parking lot
    egress would be blocked by any shuttles. The shuttle bay of
    note is at Mountain View. During the commute the shuttles spill
    onto the side streets.

  • Argh. A double post of an incomplete posting.

    Anyway, I digress. Regardless of Caltrain being special – the point is that any complaint that the bikes are screwing up Caltrain is an end around by Caltrain staff. The bikes are not a problem – the only
    problem is that it is too successful. To say that about anything related to a transit system in California – heck anywhere outside of NYC and maybe Chicago, is saying a lot.

  • Bikes on Transit

    Like the term “bike enthusiasts” (thanks for ending its use), I find the closing paragraph to be disappointing:

    “By implementing bike share systems, American cities have the potential to increase the use of biking while also discouraging the nasty habit of bringing bikes onto transit vehicles.”

    No doubt that bike stations should be added to many transit nodes, but the idea that bicycles are an annoyance could negatively impact the efficacy of said transit systems is disappointing. In King County, Washington the implementation of bikes on buses has been a great success.

    As you point out, more bicycles also could help expand the 1/2 mile radius that most transit centers assume for being walkable. This will be particularly true in Seattle with the opening of Sound Transit’s Central Link. There, the separation between stations frequently exceed 1/2 mile, and luckily bikes can help fill solve part of this deficiency.

    Furthermore, bikes can help augment developing urban rail systems in environments that do not yet have sufficient rail systems to be fully effective (not sufficient geographic coverage, etc). Bike share could serve as an important component to augment the gaps in rail, but not the only one (oftentimes people carry more than just themselves on their bikes – bike share isn’t adequately equipped to handle this).

  • anon.

    In Europe, the problem of getting bikes on trains was largely solved through the use of FOLDING bicycles, which are significantly more compact.

    How about selling some more of those?

  • Ted King

    The two bicycle capacity frames mounted on the front of San Francisco’s Muni buses have been in place since the late 1990’s (1997 ? 1998 ?). Link below for the curious. I’ve seen them used all over town and especially in the hillier sections. Supposedly this feature was modeled after something done in Seattle.

    S.F. Muni Bike Info

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