CategoryBikes and Transit

Some lessons learned in bike parking placement at train stations

Flickr user Jeramey posted the photo below showing empty bike racks inside the Damen Blue Line station in Wicker Park, Chicago. He took it on Wednesday, April 14, 2010, when the high temperature was 82°F – good riding weather.

He linked to a photo taken in July 2009 showing the full bike racks inside the Sox-35th Red Line station in Bridgeport/Bronzeville. It’s hot in July as well.

Both bike racks were installed in the same project in 2009. Two other stations received high-capacity bike racks: Jefferson Park Blue Line, and Midway Orange Line.

Jeramey’s implied question is, “Why are people using Sox-35th bike racks, but not Damen bike racks?” I have some hypotheses.

Damen Blue Line station bike racks

1.  The number of physical barriers someone with a bicycle must cross to access this space is too high. First there’re the narrow doors to the station house; second is the gate that must be unlocked by the station attendant (but is often found unlocked);third is the stairs; fourth is the high frequency of passengers in the staircase and first landing that the passenger with a bicycle must navigate through.

2. The lack of knowledge about this parking space’s existence. While there are small signs pointing towards these bike racks, they are easily ignored. Additionally, people riding bikes in Chicago tend not to look for signs as bike parking is almost always in view of the final destination (this is one of the rules of successful bike parking).

3. There is often available bike parking outside the station house. If the racks outside are available, those are more convenient. See hypothesis 1.

4. The station is too close to downtown, the destination of a majority of people bicycling to work. Instead of biking to the train station, they ride directly to work without riding the CTA. This map shows where people who bike to work call home and where they work. To test this hypothesis, I think some usage counts should be taken on multiple days per season. Expected results: In colder weather, people would combine modes and ride to the station and then to work. In warmer weather, they would only ride their bicycle.

Sox-35th Red Line station

Now let’s look at the Sox-35th Red Line station bike racks in the same categories.

1. No barriers. The station is newer, has wide doors, no stairs, and a wheelchair turnstile that people with bikes can use.

2. No need for signage or direction. As soon as one enters the station, the bike racks are visible.

3. They’re the only bike racks available. You can’t park securely outside the station house.

4. The route between Sox-35th and the center of Chicago is not as bike friendly as that between Damen and downtown. Milwaukee Avenue offers a direct connection between Damen and downtown, a critical mass of other people bicycling, and bike lanes for a majority of the length. State Street is the most direct to downtown from Sox-35th, but lacks bike facilities (not even a wide outer lane; King Drive has a bike lane but only goes so far as Cermak Road), or other people bicycling.

In future installations of bike parking like these two, we should look at the difficulty of accessing the bike rack as well as considering who will use them and what trips they may take (will people bike past the station to their destination?). Additionally, planners should count the number of bicycles parked at the stations before and after new parking fixtures are installed to better understand how and when it’s used.

Disclaimer: I was involved in 2009 and 2010 in selecting four CTA and Metra stations for the second round of Bike To Transit. The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) awarded CDOT a $375,000 grant as part of its Innovation Coordination Enhancement program.

A better way for bike storage on trains

UPDATED: How BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit, San Francisco region) treats bikes on board. Simple signage and a bike graphic tell all passengers where bikes belong. Photo by Jim Dyer. More photos.

Look at the photo below and take in all the details about the bicycle’s position and orientation in relation to the vestibule, modesty panel, doors, seating, and aisle. Accommodating bicycles on many of the Chicago Transit Authority’s ‘L’ cars can be a hassle, not only for the bicycle-toting customer, but for the other passengers as well.

This photo shows what I see as the only appropriate location for a bicycle on the Red Line’s 2600-series car.

The passengers may be hit by wheels or handlebars, or have their personal space intruded upon or reduced.

The bicycle owner has the responsibility to ensure they don’t hit or disturb other passengers – to be successful with this on every trip is nearly impossible. Additionally, according to the platform position, the owner will have to move their bicycle to the other side of vestibule to allow access to the doors and aisle. Sometimes other passengers are already standing there, not paying attention, and it can be almost embarrassing to ask them to excuse you and your bicycle.

The 2600-series car in which I rode and took these photographs was built in the 1980s. I think it’s safe to say that the designers and engineers at CTA and Budd Manufacturing didn’t consider the spatial needs of bicycles in the plans. And retrofitting train cars is expensive. Bicycle riders in Chicago “get by” with the current rolling stock. (The train cars with the butterfly doors cannot accommodate wheelchairs or bicycles – there are 2 of these cars on many Blue Line runs.)

But there’s an opportunity to change things because the CTA will be asking Bombardier Transportation for some refinements on the 5000-series cars that the transit agency has been testing on all lines. Now’s our chance to request changes!

If you don’t know of the differences beforehand, you can’t recognize that this is a brand new car with a slightly different exterior design. The interior, however, differs wildly.

The most striking distance is the longitudinal or aisle-facing seats.

The new train car now provides two spaces for passengers in wheelchairs (look in the middle for the wide seat backs facing you). The seats flip up and there’s a seatbelt to hold the wheelchair in place. Photo by Kevin Zolkiewicz.

Based on the design we’ve all seen, I suggest the CTA and Bombardier make the following changes to better hold bicycles on board:

  1. With signage and markings (on the interior walls and floor), indicate that the space for wheelchairs is a shared space and that passengers with bicycles may also use it. The signage would mention that customers with disabilities always have priority as well as mention the times bicycles are allowed on-board. This change would send a stronger message to all other passengers that bicycle owners also have a priority to use this space and they may be asked to move so a bicycle can fit here.
  2. In an educational and marketing campaign, teach customers about bike-on-board rules, where to place bicycles on the ‘L’, and where and when customers can expect passengers with bicycles.
  3. On or near the train door exterior, use markings to indicate where passengers with bicycles should board. The current system has a sign on one entrance saying, “Limit 2 bicycles this car” (see photo below). The other entrance has no sign. The confusion lies here: Should two bicycles occupy the same space, at one end of the car and only enter through the door with the sign? Or should two bicycles occupy opposite ends of the car and enter through either door? If the former is preferred, the second door could have a sign that says one should enter with their bicycle through the other door.
  4. Install a method or mechanism that can hold a bicycle still. This could be with a hook, a seatbelt, or a “groove” in the floor. In Minneapolis, passengers with bicycles can hang them (see photo below).
  5. Install a light at each door in the car that would pulse to indicate which doors will open at the next platform (left or right). This can help passengers with bicycles know where other customers will be alighting and boarding.

I have some other ideas for the 5000-series cars but not related to bicycling.

Photo of exterior bicycle sign. Photo by Payton Chung.

Photo of bicycle hanging from hook within the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Transit Hiawatha light rail train.

Another case for integrating biking and transit

Integrating biking and transit can reduce a user’s transportation costs.

A friend just instant messaged me to describe his “bike instead of transit” commute,

“I spent $440 on Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) this year and $300 on bike stuff. When I was just taking the CTA it was $1032 per year. I used to have the monthly pass deducted from my paycheck, $86 per month. Now I pay as a I go, and I go much less.”

In some places, and for other people’s situations, commuters could bike TO the train or bus and reduce their costs by eliminating a transfer. Transit also lengthens a bike rider’s possible trip distance when they combine the modes. In this sense, providing services or facilities for people riding bikes attracts new customers or maintains relationships with existing customers.

The Department of Transportation is now funding projects that improve bicycling (and walking) connections to bus and train stations. We should continue focusing on expanding and improving our bikeway networks by connecting them with our transit networks. By doing so, we make each system more robust and give people more options to choose the route that’s best for them.

Boarding northbound Caltrain at Palo Alto University Avenue station.

Some buses can hold three bikes (see Seattle and Silicon Valley). Highway 17 Express bus Santa Cruz bound at San Jose State University stop. Photos by Richard Masoner.

ThinkBike – The opening ceremony

Cross-posted to Amsterdamize.

The Netherlands seems to have it all when it comes to people riding bikes: safety, facilities, normality, sensibility. But I’ve already written about that (and here, too), and since you’re reading this on Amsterdamized, you would have seen that in the 1,000+ photos Marc has published on Amsterdamize. The Netherlands hasn’t always had expertise about making it safe and easy for people of all ages to ride bikes. There was a period of time when bike use declined dramatically as the popularity of driving rose. In the three decades since the central and civic governments started acting to change this scenario, the country has learned a lot about what works.

Hans Voerknecht’s presentation shows bicycle use dropping (red line) from 1960-1975 and rising from 1975 to now.

The City of Chicago’s Bike 2015 Plan promotes two goals that echo the sentiments of almost all North American cities and the Netherlands:

  1. Increase the number of people riding bikes
  2. Decrease the number of injuries and fatalities.

People riding home from work on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. Before stopping in Chicago, ThinkBike paid a visit to Toronto, Canada.

Regardless of what the press release claims as the role of the ThinkBike workshop, it seems to me an opportunity for the Netherlands government to share its expertise on achieving these goals (and possibly drum up some business or economic partnerships for the country). For more on bicycling conditions in the Netherlands, I urge you to read John Pucher’s excellent paper, “Making Cycling Irresistible” (PDF). The country’s four representatives (think tank, private consultancy, and municipal planning) also want to promote imaginative and innovative solutions for Chicago bicycling.

This post is about the “opening ceremony” on Thursday morning, which was open to the public. I took great notes during this part!

Previous write ups on ThinkBike from friends:

Before the four representatives got up to speak, there were introductions:

  • Geoffrey Baer, documentarian and from WTTW channel 11, introduced us to the two-day workshop. He told attendees that in Chicago there were once 88 bicycle manufacturers (Schwinn was founded here). There was once a mayor that ran on the platform that he was “not the champion cyclist, but the cyclist’s champion.” The mayor-to-be rode his bike 100 miles on the campaign trail.
  • Luann Hamilton*, Deputy Commissioner at Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), talked about how she got into bicycle planning in Chicago that I doubt many people had known. She started at CDOT as a transportation planner. For the first five years of being on the job, there was not a word or mention about bikes. But then she got a “blue note” from the mayor’s office asking about bike racks, specifically in front of the Board of Trade building. Now, many years later, CDOT has installed over 12,000 bike racks, more than any other American city.
  • Hans Heinsbroek, Consul General in Chicago, wanted to ensure everyone knew that the Dutch didn’t invent the bicycle, but a German named Karl Drais who created the velocipede. “The Dutch are merely responsible for putting the bicycle to vast use. [The Netherlands] is the birthplace and utopia of cycling.” More tidbits from Hans. Unflattering to the Dutch, Hans broke the ice by saying, “As you know, Dutch is not a language but a throat disease.” In any case, the Dutch know English very well.

Now it’s time for the Dutch experts to tell us about the good stuff.

Arjen Jaarsma, Balancia

Arjen talked little about bicycling. Instead he talked about eco-cities and sustainability. Because of this, I’ve moved my summary of his presentation to a different post.

Hans Voerknecht

Two parts of the Dutch bicycling philosophy are joy and safety. Hans wants us to think bigger than 1-2% ridership (expressed in portion of workers commuting by bike). The Bike 2015 Plan has a goal of 5%. Currently, Chicago has a 1.15% rate (workers 16 and older riding their bikes to work) according to the 2009 American Community Survey – slightly above the nation’s rate of 1%. In the whole of the Netherlands, the bike to work rate is 27%. We should aim for 10%.

Joy

How does joy fit in? “I’ve been driving. I don’t feel free siting in a cage in a traffic jam.” People of all ages bike in the Netherlands. Girls aged 12-16 cycle 7 kilometers daily! (The United States only tracks cycling rates to work for people 16 and older.) “My father is 83 years old; he’s not allowed to drive but he rides his bike.” [Read more about 8-80 criteria]

Safety

Perceived safety is secondary to joy in the Netherlands. (I would say if not already first priority in America, it should be. We can work on joy simultaneously.) How does one make a situation where riding a bike is perceived as a safe thing to do? (Please comment if you don’t understand these – as a transportation planner, this is firsthand knowledge for me.)

  • There cannot be a large speed difference between adjacent road users.
  • There must be forgiving situations.
  • There must be recognizable infrastructure.
  • There must be a legal system that protects vulnerable users. Drivers are 100% liable for collisions with children on bikes (because children cannot help but to behave unexpectedly and the driver should always be aware of this). For other collisions, drivers are at least 50% liable.
  • There must be continuation of the bikeway through the intersection.
  • Use color!

The bike lane continues through the intersection (denoted by white squares) while intersecting drivers must yield (denoted by shark teeth – the triangles). Photo by Daniel Sparing.

Hans explained the three road types in the country and how bicycle riders are accommodated.

  • Highway – No bikes are allowed here. This is like our interstate system, which has limited and controlled access. Bikes are almost always banned on these roads, but some states, like California, allow people to bike on interstates when no substitute road is available.
  • Distributor – On these roads, there are separated lanes. There are many ways to implement this. In the extreme, bike lanes appear to be American-style off-street trails 20 feet away from the main roadway. Or the bike lane occupies the same roadway as the main lanes but is somehow separated or segregated.
  • Access – These roads have mixed traffic, but people riding bikes always have priority. Think permanent traffic calming or the ultimate “complete street.” This may include the woonerf and the “bicycle street” (car drivers are not allowed to overtake bike riders).

Bike lane adjacent to, but separated from, a distributor road.

A woonerf, or shared space. Many “traffic calming” devices prioritize people on foot and on the bicycle. Photo by Joel Mann.

Hans also talked about transit, but I’ve moved that to the end of this article because the final speaker, Ruud, also talked about transit. Continue reading

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