By Noel T. Braymer
A major problem with taking the train is getting to and from the train stations. Ridership for rail service is dependent on the amount of parking since most people drive to the train station. Many train stations have full parking lots. Increasingly more parking structures are being built at stations. But these are expensive and can’t keep up with the demand needed for expanded rail service in the future. Increasingly at stations all over California we are seeing another alternative; bicycles.
Bicycles are inexpensive, require much less space to park than cars and are good for trips of 1 to 2 miles. A healthy person can ride a bike 2 miles in 10 minutes or less. Many people are traveling these distances to and from stations. In many cases public transit is non-existent for such trips and it is too far for walking. Still many more people who could ride bikes aren’t. There are simple reasons for this which can be solved.
First finding a safe place to park a bike: many bikes can be worth thousands of dollars plus have accessories bolted on them which are easy to steal. Leaving bikes out in the open also leaves them subject to damage from the sun and bad weather. There is bike parking at most stations. But not always at the places people will be riding too. Bike boxes are common at train stations but these are for people using them on a regular basis. Bike Boxes are rarely available for one time use by visitors.
Another big reason more people don’t ride bikes more is traffic. Our road system is dominated by car and truck traffic. To get most anywhere you have to take busy arterial roads. There are few alternative routes on quiet streets. Many cities have bike lanes on arterial roads. These are mostly on the shoulder of the arterials which are often rough, poorly surfaced and covered with debris which can puncture bike tires. Plus many people are afraid of heavy traffic racing past them only a few feet away. There are bike paths but these are usually for recreational use and often don’t connect with activity areas. A better long term solution would be the creation of bike routes using quiet streets and made available by short cuts available only for pedestrians and people on bikes to activity areas. Better bike parking and bike routes to jobs and shopping from train stations will get more people on bikes and out of their cars.
One of the concerns about more passengers riding bikes is finding enough space on the trains for passengers who want to carry their bikes with them. Part of the problem is many of the bike racks on trains are poorly designed wasting valuable space for the number of bikes they carry. Any bike shop owner could design a better system to carry more bikes in less space. Another solution is to encourage regular bike riders to use 2 bikes. Park one at their home station and pick up another bike at their destination station. Persons parking their own bikes for commuter purposes could use secure parking to get to their final destination. For passengers who are not commuting having more rental bikes available is a great way for passengers to get to were they are going.
More people are already riding bikes to catch the train and more will as facilities continue to improve over the years. We can’t build enough parking structures to carry all the people that a train station can handle. We will need to build more development that is walking distance to stations. We can improve transit connections to stations to carry more people at stations. And we can encourage more people to ride bikes to and from stations.