Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bikes

Traditional transportation planners for the most part seem to hate bikes. Highway folks tend to see bicyclists as pesky road obstructions. Indeed, rumor has it that even today--the 21st Century--the Illinois Department of Transportation is actively lobbying against a bill that would direct IDOT to simply consider bicycling as a transportation option when planning transportation improvements.

It is not much better on the transit side. For years Metra viewed bicyclists as akin to lepers. Metra fought tooth and nail against allowing bikes on its trains. This is in direct contrast to the approach taken in other areas, where entire commuter rail cars are dedicated to carrying bikes and bicyclists. Transit folks tend to view bicyclists as competitors, believing that transit riders are more likely to shift to biking than drivers. Certainly the sight of bicyclists passing your bus drives home just how slow bus travel is, especially in the central city. (To his credit Frank Kruesi helped make the CTA much more bike friendly.)

As some European and Asian cities demonstrate, however, bicycling can be a viable transportation option for thousands of people each day. Since bikes take up less space and fuel than Hummers, the congestion relief and environmental benefits are substantial when more people travel by bike.

Pasted in below is an article that sets out a relatively simple and low-cost strategy for encouraging more people to travel by bike. Reading it, I envisioned local governments and the RTA subsidizing such spaces where bicyclists could store their bikes safely and perhaps shower and get some bike repairs done. This would be a good use of space in new buildings that have yet to be leased and a great way to utilize older, less desirable buildings that are in heavily traveled areas. One can even envision a chain of privately-run bike centers that would include a coffee shop, free Wi-Fi and lots of two-wheeled social networking.

Might investments in such bike centers yield more congestion relief and environmental benefits on a per dollar basis than many of the hugely expensive projects contained in the RTA's Moving Beyond Congestion wishlist?

Here is the link to the article from the L.A. Times and here are the contents:

Cities peddle parking for bicycles
Communities hope that valet and other services will encourage residents to use bikes for commuting and doing errands.

By Deborah Schoch, Times Staff Writer
April 23, 2007


Pity the cyclist with the $4,000 titanium road bike attempting to park at the Sunday farmers market in Santa Monica.

After 10:30 a.m., the meters and street signs were already claimed by early rising cyclists who chained their bike frames to the poles, and that hefty, pricey Kryptonite lock simply wouldn't fit around the nearest fence post.

Now, cyclists in search of heirloom tomatoes and organic cilantro can enjoy valet parking of the sort offered to BMW-driving diners at Ivy at the Shore or Chinois on Main, handing over their wheels to polite attendants who park them at a nearby bicycle stand.

In California bicycle circles, this kind of service is the coming thing.

Long Beach residents can check their bikes at the downtown Bikestation, where they can get free air for their tires and on-site repair service. A Santa Barbara self-service bike center opening May 1 will feature hot showers and a locker room for changing from sweaty nylon-spandex jerseys to suits, ties and heels.

Valet bike parking would seem a quintessentially Californian response to clogged freeways and overflowing parking lots. By encouraging more cyclists, cities are promoting environmental consciousness and outdoor cardio workouts.

Most important, for some cyclists, is knowing that someone is watching over their bike.

"You can have all the bike lanes you want, but when you get to your location, you need a place to park," said Russ Roca, 29, of Long Beach.

Roca, a freelance photographer, travels exclusively on a bike retooled to carry 200 pounds of camera equipment. He is a regular at the local Bikestation, which, he says, has become a social spot for area cyclists.

These centers for cycling aficionados are largely public-private partnerships, modeled after facilities in Europe and Asia.

In 1996, the Bikestation in downtown Long Beach, near the MTA's Blue Line station, was the first to open in the United States. Its founders have created the Bikestation Coalition, an umbrella group that helps open other centers on the West Coast.

The concept has spread to the usual progressive hot spots: Berkeley, Palo Alto, San Francisco and Seattle.

Most of the centers offer valet and self-service parking. Some contain small repair shops, and some offer classes. They were built largely with public funds, and revenue covers most operating expenses.

The new Santa Barbara center, for example, is funded by downtown car parking fees. It contains $80,000 in equipment and is expected to cost $25,000 a year to operate.

Pasadena, meanwhile, is preparing plans for a bike center near the Gold Line light-rail stop in Old Town. The city hopes to use $180,000 in state grant money to build a facility that will hold 40 bikes.

Santa Monica hopes to build a downtown bike center with room for 300 bikes. In the meantime, the city parks 200 to 250 bicycles at its crowded Sunday market and is bracing for up to 350 bikes this summer. The city funds the valet service.

Planners hope that these service-oriented parking centers will encourage residents to use their bikes to do errands and commute to work.

On Sunday on Santa Monica's Main Street, trusting shoppers were handing over their sleek racing bikes and rusty beach cruisers to attendants who by noon had filled spaces designed for seven cars with more than 70 bicycles. Although the service is free, most people left tips of $1, $3 and more.

Kristin Mongiello, 35, of Santa Monica sped up to the valet table, her bike pulling her son, Riley Egan, 5, who was behind her on an attached wheeled contraption called a "Trail-a-bike."

They were rushing to a super-hero themed birthday party, and Egan was dressed in a blue and gold hero costume. On the way, they needed a few things from the farmers market, where she has become a regular valet parker.

"Parking here is dreadful," Mongiello said, "and we've had two bikes stolen." She and others said they felt more secure using the free parking service launched by the city last year to ease parking congestion at the Sunday market.

Some owners initially were wary of leaving their bikes guarded by strangers.

"I actually came and scoped it out, looked at the people who were taking care of it," said Jason Puerto, 35, of Santa Monica. He felt so comfortable with the valet service that he left his $1,700 Felt S22 with the attendants for the first time Sunday.

As often happens with good intentions, success has come with a cost. The Santa Monica project has cut severely into the income of a white-bearded man known only as Johnnie who started watching over bikes and dogs two years ago at the market's Main Street entrance.

"I'm the one who started this business. They come here and just put up their thing," said Johnnie, who said he once had as many as 40 cyclists as customers. On Sunday, he was guarding two bikes and four dogs and said he was falling behind on his rent. "But I'm not worried. God will bless me," he said.

These parking services are not simply for upscale cyclists, said Andréa White, executive director of the Bikestation organization, which now has centers in six different communities and is consulting with other cities, including Washington, D.C., where a bike center is due to open at Union Station next year.

Service workers and other low-income residents use the centers, and the Bikestation is starting an outreach program to teach cycling skills to women who have recently been released from prison or drug rehabilitation, she said. Those who complete the program will get bicycles to help them find jobs.

The Sunday crowd in Santa Monica, by contrast, was largely focused on finding basil and breakfast croissants.

Mary Ann Cummins, 70, has equipped her bicycle with side bags large enough to hold her artichokes, greens, broccoli and fresh Gaviota strawberries. "My God, I forgot my eggs," she said, and hastily returned her bike to an attendant.

2 comments:

pjs said...

Bike parking is very underutilized in Chicago. Our Mayor has taken strides with the bike garage at Millennium Park and with special event parking downtown. But few institutions have embraced it on a permanent basis. Wrigley field is one, with bike parking offering a very sane way to reach the game on time. Plus, its very affordable. Why would anyone who lives in the city drive to a Cubs game?

Anonymous said...

Parts of Chicago are bike friendly and bike to transit friendly, but the CBD is a huge exception. The bike station is in the middle of nowhere and dangerous to get to by bike. The loop has no bike lanes but tons of overly wide streets that foster terrible driver discipline. If the city is serious about reaching 9% bike usage by 2015, then it needs to get serious about helping regular people get around the loop area safely on bikes -- including to Union Station. Right now riding a bike means having to weave in and out of the L pillars on Wells and Lake, etc., which is dangerous and discouraging. My rule of thumb is that, if my middle aged relatives feel unsafe bicycling, then we're not trying hard enough to get it right.

More broadly, I look at places like Copenhagen, which has invested heavily in protected (raised) bike lanes that connect really well to their subway and commuter rail systems. Why not add raised bike lanes on streets leading to and from L stations in the city? If the biking was safe, we would attract millions more people who would bike to the train instead of waiting for the lumbering delayed bus. Think of how much money we would save investing in simple protected bike lanes (and parking) versus more and more buses. In less dense areas, this would help eliminate the last mile problem and the constant clamoring for more car parking spaces for Metra stops.