Can you bike to the nearest airport?
Phyllis Orrick of the Safe Transportation Research & Education Center and Karen Trapenberg Frick of the University of California Transportation Center examined bicycle access for airport employees at a variety of airports in the United States.
Orrick and Frick (O&F) studied seven airports — SFO, OAK, LAX, SEA, BOS, MSP, and PDX — and discovered eight elements that influence what they call “Bicycle Oriented Design” (BOD). These eight elements are: governance structure, location, access roads, self-perceived environmental stewardship, spending restrictions on non-aviation transportation improvements, proximity to transit, policies and mandates to reduce environmental impacts and land use constraints.
Although bicycle access can benefit travelers, O&F limit their study to employee access because airport operators generally implement bicycle facility improvements as a part of programs to reduce single-occupancy vehicle travel at airports. They evaluated the bicycle friendliness of airports with a few basic criteria: distance from the Central Business District, availability of secure bike parking and bike racks, convenient bike access, the existence of a bicycle master plan, and the existence of an employee group or transportation management association that encourages non-car commutes to the airport.
Among the studied airports, the researchers found Portland International has the most extensive program with:
- an exhaustive bicycle master plan,
- secure bicycle parking for employees and travelers,
- showers and lockers for employees,
- a seamless bicycle / transit connection,
- connection to what we in California call a Class I multi-use trail,
- on-site bicycle assembly repair area with tools, and
- a successful diversion of Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs) to support bicycle facilities
The inclusion of Minneapolis – St Paul in this case study is interesting. O&F writes this airport was included because it has been “subject to more than one of the eight influencers in our table and have some bicycle access improvements” although the airport has “less developed bicycle enhancement policies or plans.” The case study for MSP notes:
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) has few bicycle enhancements and is difficult to reach by bicycle, according to interviewees.
MSP has bicycle racks at its two terminals, but they are not used regularly, because of the many months of inclement weather and dangerous roads leading to the airport, an interviewee said. Bicycle use increased when light rail came to MSP in 2004, but it remains low.
While MSP included sustainability components in its recently adopted Long Term Plan, there is little reference to bicycle access. It is not mentioned in the 2010 report on airport greenhouse gas emissions required by the state.
The paper includes obstacles encountered by airport manager who wished to encourage bicycling. The biggest obstacle is Federal Aviation Authority policy that favors car, bus and shuttle transportation to the exclusion of any other mode, with prohibitions against using facility fees for bike projects without a waiver from the Federal government.
It would’ve been kind of cool to see the airport near my work — San Jose International (SJC) — on this list. It’s literally a 10 minute bike ride from my office to the ticket counter, and I only need to touch maybe 100 feet worth of road where I need to cross to get to another path. It’s only four miles from downtown San Jose to the airport, and the Guadalupe River Trail directs travelers almost straight to the airport bike parking. Lady Fleur writes occasionally about her bike trips to the airport.
You can read the highlights and the full study here. The full narrative (16 pages including footnotes and references) is very much worth the read.
What kind of bicycle access does your airport provide?