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