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 82Â°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. Â 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.