Bikes and Transit

The relationship between bikes and transit has been much on my mind of late. Last week we heard the news that TriMet would invest $1M to upgrade existing bicycle parking and provide 250 new parking spaces at Light Rail stations and transit centers.

And Thursday, our friends in Portland’s Transportation Options group are hosting a brown bag session on the topic.

But primarily I’ve been thinking about this because as a member of the Bicycle Master Plan steering committee, I just finished chairing a working group on integrating bikes with other modes. You can find our recommendations memo to the steering committee here (PDF, 20K).

Fundamentally I think we’re at a cross-roads. We have saturated the existing capacity to put bikes on board transit vehicles on popular lines at rush hour. While we can (and should) work to increase capacity, it’s NOT going to scale at the same rate that cycling will.

That means we need to look toward parking at key stations and transit centers. But the cycling community is resisting this (see

The parking model is widely accepted in Europe (there is a floating bike parking structure at Amsterdam’s central rail station that holds thousands of bikes). Indeed, some people even have ‘station bikes’ that they store at the work end of their transit commute trip.

I suspect part of the difference is that in European cities, folks commute on low-value bicycles (i.e., beaters), where here we invest a lot more in our commuter bikes.

Can we shift our culture to the ‘station bike’ and parking model? What will it take to do this?

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10 responses to “Bikes and Transit”

  1. I commute by bike every day, all year long, but hate dealing with the “cycling community” because they can never, EVER be satisfied. If Trimet builds bike parking they’ll cry about the lack expansion on trains and buses, if Trimet increases the amount of space on trains, they’ll ask for a whole car for bikes. It’s ludicrous.

    I recognize that it’s a small, vocal minority, but they seem to hold sway with the BTA, and I’m afraid at some point Trimet’s going to decide that they can’t satisfy the cycling community, so they might as well expend their efforts elsewhere. Portland is by *far* the best city in the nation to cycle in, Trimet should make efforts to increase bike capacity where feasible, but not at the expense of seats for other transit riders.

  2. Regarding the types of bikes we use for commuting – I find this a really odd thing in Portland, because we will spend $3,000 on a Bianchi or a handmade bike to commute with, that has no practical features to accommodate carrying things, wearing normal clothes, etc – when we could spend $500 on an Electra that would be way more practical for commuting and short trip stuff like groceries and such, but wouldn’t be as “bike-trendy”. We have kind of a strange bike culture here that way, I don’t quite understand it. I think it’s going to take shifting from the small group of “bike culture” folks to more normal, everyday people just traveling by bike because it’s practical, useful and works for them, because those people are the ones who are going to buy the cheap(ish), practical bikes, rather than the expensive specialized sporting bikes.

  3. I should also say, I think the best way to integrate transit with bikes, is to have bike parking at some of the major outlying transit centers (clackamas, gresham, beaverton, etc) – so that people who live in the suburbs can bike to those transit centers, and then ride transit into the city.

    Taking bikes on buses, streetcars, and light rail should be a secondary focus I think, as for the most part, people who would be taking their bikes on buses, streetcars and light rail could either bike the distance instead, or would be better served by the above option.

  4. One other thought–unrelated to transit per se–is continuing to improve bicycle infrastructure to make long(er) distance bike commuting more practical.

    Portland has a nice trail network–and getting better–but it still has some noticeable gaps. Here in Beaverton, finding a good place to cross TV Highway and the P&W rail-line is a challenge.

  5. Dave–

    We also have a lot of people in town who like to buy expensive sports cars, which aren’t very suited to commuting (no room for groceries, poor gas mileage)–and are attractive targets for thieves if left in public parking places for very long.

    Difference is, though, most hot-rod jockeys don’t include transit in part of their trips….

  6. I suspect part of the difference is that in European cities, folks commute on low-value bicycles (i.e., beaters), where here we invest a lot more in our commuter bikes.

    I was as careful as I knew how to be when getting a bike because I need it for everything one might want a bike for: commuting, general transportation needs, running errands, and recreation. Too “low-value” and it wouldn’t be much good for the latter. My bike may be a compromise on all fronts (i.e., not exactly a super-sporty road bike, not exactly a cushy comfort bike set up to carry 4 bags of groceries), but it is a good enough compromise to satisfy my purposes. I simply don’t have the money for or the space to store more bikes that might be better suited to one or another purpose. If I lived out in the ‘burbs I would likely have more space, but be too far out to bike commute the whole way.

    I wouldn’t be so sure that “the cycling community is resisting” bike parking or the notion of leaving bikes at a secured location. The cycling community is a lot bigger than several comments on and a lot more diverse.

  7. I have mixed feelings about this. I have a bike locker at Beaverton TC, but unless I am going downtown, I need my bike on the other end of my transit trip. The West Hills are the biggest issue. The hills keep a lot of people from commuting by bike like they do on the eastside. The tunnel creates a great link. Its really too bad that there wasn’t a bike lane there and then we might not be having the same issue.

  8. I think the problem here isn’t that there’s not enough capacity for commuters (although it would be great to have more than enough). The real problem is that both ends of our commutes aren’t as accessible by transit as they ought to be.

    One may be easily able to ride to transit, but without a bike on the the other end, there may not be a feasible way to get all of the way to point B. As such, there are two ways to fix this problem. The obvious one is to add more bike capacity, while the other one is to actually make our city friendlier to transit.

    I don’t need the bus on my commute, however. Whenever I ride the bus with my bike, I’m only really using it as a trip extender. Say I need to get from Vancouver to Newberg by bicycle. I could ride the entire way, but if I take the bus, I’m certainly going to need my bike past Sherwood. For all of these situations in which I absolutely need my bike, increased capacity would be the way to go.

    One final situation: what if I need to take the bus to the bike shop to get my bike fixed? Again, the only option is to put my bike on the bus.

  9. I expect a bike trail along the south side of Canyon Road from the Zoo viaduct to Montgomery Drive would go a long way to creating a workable commuter connection from Beaverton to downtown Portland. Of course, there’s still going to be a long climb both ways — but it might be a bit more doable than trying to get uphill through Washington Park, and safer than trying to bike the shoulder of 26.

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