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TriMet grapples with bike capacity issues


bikes on max-1
Bikes and people squeeze
onto a MAX train.
(Photos © J. Maus)

As reported yesterday, TriMet is working to improve the bike hooks on their MAX trains. However, if you’re like many people who take a bike onboard (especially during peak hours), the bigger problem is that there are just aren’t enough hooks available.

If you’re waiting for more bike capacity or more hooks, don’t hold your breath — all signs point to no increased bike capacity on MAX in the foreseeable future.

TriMet recently bought new MAX trains and the design offers more seats (eight more per train), more rider capacity (space for 36 more passengers) but has the same number of bike hooks (eight) as existing trains (a “train” is two joined MAX vehicles). Below is a rendering of the new trains (which are slated to arrive this fall):

The scarcity of bike hooks has inspired some riders to make their own.

A homemade bike hook.
(Photo: Mark Allyn)

SE Portland resident and artist Mark Allyn — who commutes everyday to Hillsboro — made his own hook by welding a few spoons together. I’ve heard other reports of people using straps to fasten their wheels to the bar in the bike hook area.

Unfortunately for these do-it-yourselfers, TriMet’s bike programs intern Colin Maher (read more about him here) says that’s not allowed.

Because of safety concerns, Maher says TriMet can’t allow customers to hang a second bike in the bike hook area. “I’ve seen people use their own strap to hang a second bike,” says Maher, “and the result I’ve observed is that the handlebars of the second bike extend almost to the center pole and block the aisle.”

Maher suggests people who bring bikes on MAX take a look at the Bikes on Max section of the TriMet website (or watch this TriMet TV episode) where their official policy states:

“Bikes must be suspended from the hook, one per space. If all the hooks are taken, you may use an area displaying the wheelchair symbol when there are no senior or disabled passengers present who need to use the area…One bike may be placed against the door of the operator’s cab on cars with stairs if the cab is not in use.”

A lack of space for bikes on MAX trains is likely to only get worse as TriMet’s ridership numbers skyrocket and more people look to multi-modal transportation solutions instead of driving their cars.

In August 2007, TriMet conducted research to learn more about their customers who bring bikes on MAX. The survey (a final report is due out later this month) made it clear to TriMet that there are bike capacity issues.

Results of their study (which included an online survey, hand counts, and an on-board surveys) showed that 3.8% of passengers brought bikes on board — that’s an estimated average of 2,100 bike-on-MAX trips every weekday.

From 4-6:00pm on the northbound Yellow Line, TriMet researchers counted an average of five bikes per car — that’s one more than capacity (and that number doesn’t take into account how many people decided not to board with a bike because the train was too full).

Eric Hesse, a strategic planning analyst for TriMet said at the January meeting of the Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee that, “The conclusions of this survey suggest that people are using MAX [with their bikes] because it makes their trip possible.”

When asked to give reasons why they took their bike on MAX, 77% of the survey’s respondents said their trip was “too far to bike only” and 76% said they needed their bike to reach their final destination.

The notes from that January meeting state that the results of the survey, “demonstrate a need to accommodate bikes on board,” and that the ability to do so, “expands TriMet’s ability to get more people to use the system.”

Further complicating the issue for TriMet is that 42% of respondents said if they couldn’t bring their bike on MAX during rush-hour they’d otherwise drive a car (the highest percentage of any alternative) and 76% said they would not be willing to leave their bike at a covered, secured parking area at the MAX station.

At the BAC meeting last January, Hesse acknowledged that “we have seen the need to accommodate as much [bike] capacity as we can.”

So, how does TriMet plan to do that (since their new trains don’t have any more hooks)?

On the bus with my folder.

At this point, TriMet says they’ll delve further into their survey data and be on the lookout for other good ideas. One possibility that is being discussed is a program to encourage customers to ride folding bikes. The city of Santa Cruz, California offers a discount of $200 toward the purchase of a foldable bike (upon completion of a bike safety class) as part of their Foldable Bikes on Buses Incentive Program.

Maher, with TriMet’s bike program, says he’s “excited” to create partnerships with the bike industry and promote and encourage folding bikes, “not as the solution,” he says, “but as a great option for commuters that regularly encounter crowded trains or buses.”

Bike capacity on buses faces similar hurdles for riders and for TriMet staff. Some have called for the use of three-bike racks (currently all TriMet buses have a two-bike rack), but Maher says that option is not looking good.

He says they’ve looked into the three-bike design and that it’s not all its cracked up to be. Maher says that in other cities, some bikes have fallen off three-bike racks and that the larger racks are that block the bus’ headlights. Most importantly, he says, they make the buses too long and unable to maneuver around each other at busy transit centers.

As TriMet grapples with high fuel prices, increased ridership, and an increased demand for taking bikes on their trains and buses, it looks like customers who bike will have to schedule trips during off-peak hours (if you can), wait for the next train (or bus), get a foldable bike (but make sure it doesn’t block the aisles!), or just ride all the way to their destination.


Do you have any ideas for how TriMet can add bike capacity? What has been your experience taking your bike onboard?

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