Yesterday, Alan wrote a thoughtful post at EcoVelo entitled “Why bicyclists need transit.”
Even though transit may not currently be on your radar, that could change overnight, and you may find yourself depending upon a bus or train in combination with your bicycle to get yourself to work everyday.
Alan points out that the incomplete transit networks in the USA require huge park and ride lots to connect transit to the sprawling highway networks typical of American development. Like Alan, I’m a multi-modal commuter, using my bicycle to get me the last mile (actually 3.5 miles) from the train station to my office. Bikes complement transit very effectively.
I think he got the title of his post backwards though: transit needs bicycles. Here are several fer instances…
- San Francisco residents are blessed to have the best connected transit in the Bay Area. They have a few options to get them from their homes to a Caltrain station for their commute to Peninsula and South Bay jobs. Once they get to Palo Alto, Sunnyvale or San Jose, though, they’re in a transit desert, which explains why the majority of Caltrain trains with bike capacity problems are southbound trains — these commuters bring their bikes because that’s their only good way to cover the last mile to work. Caltrain has already captured the low hanging fruit of those who can walk, drive or take transit to 4th & King in San Francisco — the best way they can increase their passenger count is by removing seats and adding bike capacity. Transit needs bikes to increase their passenger count and revenue!
- According to San Jose Transportation Director Jim Helmer (with whom I ride a bus into San Jose every day), the most utilized city parking lots are those next to Caltrain and VTA light rail stations. These parking lots are filled to capacity every day. BART has similar parking capacity issues. $200,000 will buy about four parking spots in the Bay Area — those four spaces will be used by one person each day. Caltrain will spend about $200,000 over the next eight weeks adding almost 300 bike spaces on its bike cars, each of which can be used by three or four people if you consider round trip travel. Transit needs bikes to cost effectively get passengers the last mile to and from the transit stop.
- Mark Eliot (part of the Caltrain Working Group for the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition) investigated the real potential of bicyclists on Caltrain.
One way to look at this is to examine the likelihood people will take the train based on their proximity to a station. Studies have shown that pedestrians are willing to walk about 10 minutes to public transit. Let’s assume that instead of walking these people cycle. A cyclist riding at 12 mph will go 2 miles in 10 minutes. Few people have straight ride to a station; most will have to take a route with cross streets, stop signs, stop lights, etc. So, let’s assume that the actual pace of a commuter is more like 10 mph. This is 1.67 miles.
Using this very conservative 1.67 mile figure, Mark created a map, drawing a 1.67 mile radius circle around each Caltrain station. This powerful illustration shows transit needs bikes to dramatically increase the pool of potential passengers!
Biking distances to Peninsula Caltrain stations
- Several people have proposed bike share programs as a way to solve the “last mile” problem. I like the idea of bike share to get people on bikes without some of the associated hassles of transporting them on transit, but bike share is far from a complete solution. Like my buddy Murph mentioned somewhere (I forget where), you take the bike from the train station to work — where it stays all day, unavailable for anybody else to use. If there are 10 bikes available at the Palo Alto bike share and you’re number 11 in line, how do you get to work? It’s not as if you can just wait for the next bike to come in, because these bikes will be gone for the entire day. Transit needs bikes as a way to provide consistent, reliable, inexpensive transportation over the last mile.
- An idea that works well is secure bike parking at transit centers. This exists at San Francisco, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and Mountain View, with more planned at all of the “top 10” Caltrain stations. This solution is practical or affordable to everybody, however: I need a bike both for the trip to/from home and the trip to/from work. Transit needs bikes!
I’m encouraged by the appointment of Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager to the Caltrain board. He’s a bike commuter who understands that transit needs bikes. He’s already stated publicly that he believes Caltrain should encourage even more bike use in order increase fare box revenue.
Book: Sally Jean the Bicycle Queen.