The Bicycle Fix
Bicycles are the no-brainer of American mobility, one of our great underutilized resources. There are more bicycles in the United States than there are households but most of those bikes sit in garages except for an occasional recreational outing. And yet they are the perfect transportation choice for a short one- to three-mile trip to and from a transit station. Why doesn’t it occur to more people to put those bicycle wheels to use as transportation? Studies show the primary reason is fear of bicycle theft, and with good reason. One San Francisco Bay Area transit agency reports that more than 50 percent of bicycles parked at its stations are stolen every year with a very small rate of recovery. Bicycle locks break easily and bike racks are open and vulnerable. Even much-publicized European bicycle programs often experience very high rates of loss and theft.
Potential bike users also worry about convenience – where to change, freshen up and keep their clothes. People may be proud of riding their bike to work but they don’t want to spend their day in bicycle shoes. And there is the issue of personal safety, not only while riding the bike, but also when retrieving it from its parking place. If transit planners can find ways to overcome these objections, the first and last mile dilemma can be largely solved.
Solving all these problems involves a lot of different people in different positions making important decisions that change long established rules — none of which is easy. But one important step is well within reach — the creation of a multimodal transit facility at virtually every transit stop now existing or about to be built. Such a step, if done correctly, solves problems of bicycle security, convenience and even takes a big step toward improving personal safety for users. At the same time, it sends an important message — alternative transportation is welcomed, supported, even expected in this city, at this transit station. And the surprising part is that, contrary to conventional wisdom, many Americans will make the choice to bicycle and take transit if given the realistic choice.
Creating a multimodal mobility center doesn’t have to be hard. There are services within reach of every city that can get a transit facility well underway in a matter of weeks. And with new sources of federal, state and local funds available, the steps are there to be taken.
What Kind of Multimodal Transit Center Do You Need?
The first step in developing multimodal transit centers for your transit system is determining what kinds of facilities each transit stop requires. The most common alternative transportation facilities in use today are bike racks, which allow users to lock their own bikes for free. Bike racks are inexpensive and come in a wide variety of styles but they don’t solve problems of security or convenience and are mainly used as temporary parking where only a small amount of security is needed. They do not tend to expand the user public because they don’t overcome user fears.
The next step after racks is bicycle lockers. Lockers help overcome bike security issues since they are difficult for thieves to access, but they have a number of traditional problems. They require a fairly large amount of square footage — customarily about 270 square feet to accommodate 10 bikes. They are often unattractive and inflexible in that users leave their bike in the locker in one location only. Each locker facility often has only a single user even if they don’t use it, and so often lockers are inefficient and may not be cost-effective.
The benefits of lockers can’t be denied, however, and consequently in the near future facilities will be available that combine the best of the locker concept and avoid its pitfalls. These new-style modules will be more compact, more attractive and will be multi-user, allowing many users to share a single location. They will be created in a network allowing users to access the new modules at multiple transit stations. Each one can be built to accommodate 36 bikes in a space only 10 feet x 20 feet (but can be ordered 10 x 20, 10 x 30 or 10 x 40). And the new modules will be well-lit and positioned for optimum security and visibility, since they are attractive and iconic. They are hyper-efficient in the land use and attractively designed to be placed prominently, close to the cyclists’ intended destination(s).