Portland tops in bicycle airport access

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.

Airports studied for Bicycle Oriented Design

SFO – San Francisco
OAK – Oakland
SEA – Seattle Tacoma
BOS – Boston Logan
MSP – Minneapolis St Paul
PDX – Portland, Oregon

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.

airport bicycle access criteria

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

Although PDX is a smaller airport, the authors included it as an exemplar. Jonathan Maus has written about his airport’s superior bike access and facilities over at Bike Portland numerous times.

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.

Many bike advocates know MSP as the airport where workers remove and destroy bikes left parked overnight and where police tase and arrest cyclists who dare to bike from the airport.

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.

Me on the Guadalupe River Trail at the south end of San Jose International Airport.

Airplane Panda

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?


  1. Interesting report. I was a little disappointed that the report didn’t acknowledge that significant numbers of travelers are taking short trips with relatively little luggage.

    In less than 1 year, I’ve biked to San Jose airport for four trips and San Francisco airport once. (Three overnight, two day trips; four business, one pleasure). It’s easy once you know where the racks are located, find the best route, and figure out how to carry.

    Critical factors that made it work for me:
    * owning a “beater” bike that I was comfortable leaving locked overnight on nicely visible, well placed racks.
    * having a bike with a rack and basket so I could carry both a briefcase and an overnight bag
    * using Caltrain, which has great bike access, bullet service at stations within 5 miles of the both airports. I arrived at the airport quickly and sweat-free, even though I live 13 miles from SJC and 25 miles from SFO.

    Here’s my report on riding to SFO: http://ladyfleur.wordpress.com/2012/09/17/planes-trains-buses-bikes-and-feet/

  2. I like the easy BART access at SFO, although connections from there can be a little weird.

    I’m not a fan of the VTA Airport Flyer to SJC, although it’s free. Half hour headway for a big chunk of the day and absolutely no schedule integration with Caltrain or other VTA services = always a long wait for that #10 bus.

  3. Friends were pushing me to use Caltrain/BART to SFO instead of taking my bike, but then I’d need a dropoff at Caltrain or leave my bike at the MV station overnight, which is way less secure than in the SFO garage.

    I’ve used the VTA flyer since my office on the route. Worked well except for the time my flight was delayed and I arrived after the service was shut for the night. The taxi driver was not happy about taking me 1.25 miles to my office. Now they force a $15 minimum taxi fare from the airport.

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