Lesson to Be Learned

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote on this blog about the “first mile/last mile” role that the bicycle can play in making transit use more effective and more attractive.

In short, this simply means that the average Joe and Jane are willing to pedal much farther to a bus stop or train station than they can be bothered to walk. A planning study summary from Fairfax County, Virginia, notes that a comfortable walking distance to a transit stop is about half a mile, where a comfortable biking distance is two miles. (Yes, many of this blog’s readers are willing to pedal much, much farther, but we’re talking typical americans here….)

So, if you calculate the area of the circles thus defined, you discover that, by making transit stations and the streets surrounding them bike friendly, you make the bus or the train accessible to people in an area sixteen times as large.

And if you consider how many bikes you can fit into a space that could park only one car, and how many bikes you could fit into a lane that could accommodate only half a car, you’ll see (assuming you’re not an LA city council member) that encouraging folks to pedal between transit and home, school, or work is probably the best thing you can do to encourage a shift from space-wasting private cars to clean and efficient buses and trains.

But would it work in LA, the way it works in Northern Europe, in Portland, and in the Bay Area?

Peruse that photo at the top of the column again. That is the little bike corral at the Allen Avenue Gold Line station in Pasadena. It is on a decided un-bike-friendly street: a vast, bleak boulevard with wide lanes, fast traffic, and no more sophisticated bicycle facility than a series of tin signs, each about the size of a shoebox, diffidently naming the boulevard a “bike route.” If you’re coming from the south, the street is a steady climb. The weather’s usually hot and often smoggy. If you need to cross the street, the markings are vague and the wait for a signal long.

Yet the racks are so full that bikes are locked to the fence as well.

There’s a lesson here. And the lesson is, that if you build decent, well-thought-out facilities for bicycling at transit stops, folks will bicycle to transit stops.

There’s a further lesson here: because there is a bigger bike corral just outside the station (which is housed under a freeway crossing that also holds the Gold Line tracks). That bike parking area comprises a bleak battered fence around a bunch of staple racks similar to the ones that are full right by the station entrance. But they are in the blazing sun, hard by a freeway onramp, and constantly battered by traffic noise from the lanes immediately above. They also see little foot traffic, and so provide no “eyes on the street” protection from theft. There was one bike parked there that day.

The racks in the shade, by the station entrance, where people bustle by all day, were beyond full. They are new racks; I didn’t see them there two months ago. But someone, somewhere decided to do it right—and even on a crappy fast street, they drew bike traffic.

It doesn’t take too much. But it does take more than the usual token effort. And that’s the lesson to be learned.

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