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New research explores cost of bikes/transit integration (Updated)

Posted by on April 27th, 2011 at 12:34 pm

bikes on max-2

(Photos © J. Maus)

A new report funded by the US Department of Transportation and conducted by the Mineta Transportation Institute, Bicycling Access and Egress to Transit: Informing the Possibilities (PDF), takes an in-depth look at a topic that is very relevant for the Portland region: How to integrate bikes and transit. The study sought to answer the question, “What are the most cost effective strategies likely to generate the largest number of cyclists accessing transit?”

TriMet has grappled with accommodating the increase in users who combine bikes with their trips on MAX light rail for years now. Lately, as MAX ridership has increased and space for bikes on trains has become scarce, TriMet’s focus seems to have shifted toward the park and ride model. They have altered signage near the bike hooks and they have invested in bike and ride facilities at transit centers (some of which are being singled-out for a lack of use).

According to this study, TriMet isn’t alone:

“A core challenge in realizing bicycle and transit integration is that the predominant approach for integrating the two modes in the United States—bicycles aboard the transit vehicle— frequently runs up against capacity restraints (typically two or three bicycles for each bus on a front rack or three to four bicycles per light rail car). While existing transit capacity for bicycles could be adjusted at the margins using this approach (e.g., through incentives, exploiting technology to enhance communication between riders), the opportunity is ripe to consider broader solutions—about which there is a dearth of information.”

Researchers analyzed existing practices and oversaw focus groups in five communities; Boulder/Denver, Colorado; Chicago, Illinois; Ithaca, New York; Portland, Oregon; and Santa Clara County, California.

Specifically, they broke down bike/transit integration approaches to four methods:

(1) “Bike on transit” (transporting the owner’s bicycle aboard – inside or outside – the transit vehicle),
(2) “Bike to transit” (using and parking the owner’s bicycle at a transit access location),
(3) “Shared bike” (sharing a bicycle, which would be based at either the transit access or egress point),
and (4) “Two bikes” (using an owner’s two bicycles at the access and egress location).

In terms of cost-effectiveness, the study found that “bikes TO transit” ranked best overall while the favored method of focus group respondents was “bikes ON transit”.*

The preference to bring bikes along for the transit trip has to do primarily with concerns about security. “Minor adjustments in terms of security could address the current challenge of “Bike ON transit” capacity limitations,” wrote researchers, “and make the less cost effective strategies comparable to “Bike ON transit.””

Learn more about this issue and download the full report here.

*This sentence was originally published incorrectly and has been factually updated. This article’s title has been updated to reflect the change. -J.R.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Dave April 27, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    When we were in Amsterdam, all the metro cars have a little section blocked off where you can fit 2 bikes, but most people don’t take them on transit, there are massive bike parking facilities at metro stations and train stations, as well as bikes locked to every conceivable stationary object nearby (and often just with a rear wheel lock and big chain locked through the wheels, but not locked *to* anything).

    Of course, the density of Amsterdam is much different than Portland (higher population in half the physical space), but for my own personal travel habits, I would find the bike parking at transit locations to be the most useful, most of the time.

    For instance, it would be great if there was some good, secure bike parking at the Lloyd MAX stop, so I could lock up there (the lower density on the east side making biking a more feasible option than walking for getting *to* transit) and ride MAX into downtown, where I could then feasibly walk where I needed to go.

    Certainly sometimes it is necessary or more convenient to take bikes on transit, but I don’t know if that’s the majority of the time or not. It would be interesting to study, of people who mix biking and transit, how they typically use the system. I suppose it also depends on which type of transit you’re using – for instance, I’d be more likely to put my bike on a bus and take it with me than to take it on the MAX, traveling within inner Portland.

    Also, I know transit and bike issues are often crunched for money in the U.S. – but figuring out how to do this well should also take into account convenience for all users, not just cost.

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  • Russ Roca April 27, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Thanks for the post. Glad there is some research being done on transit and bikes. Since being in town we’ve taken our bikes on the light rail several times. We’ve taken light rail in different cities across the country and it is interesting to see how they try to incorporate bikes on board.

    Many have seemed to use the hook method, which we personally find a little limiting. They seem to assume you’re not going to be carrying panniers that you will have to remove (which you probably might if your commuting). They also assume you either have a lightweight bike or relatively strong enough to lift and position your bike on the hook.

    I’ve spoken to a few other fellow transit riders with bikes who are older or with heavy department store bikes that are unable to lift them up on the hook. The hooks also only allow a bike per side of the train which seems really inefficient.

    Of all the cities that we visited with light rail and bike accommodations, the most convenient was the Red Line in Los Angeles.

    It’s special bike facility on transit – NOTHING.

    They simply removed a few row of seats on one side of the car. Cyclists would simply roll their bike on and lean it against the wall, just as they are apt to do anywhere else. Nothing fancy, but it worked. It would accomodate lightweight bikes, bikes with panniers, cargo bikes, elderly riders and people with heavy department store bikes.

    Perhaps through a combination of sheer luck and lack of funds, LA has come up with the ideal on transit solution for bikes. You could easily accommodate 4-6 bikes on one side of the train, without fancy hooks and the acrobatics needed to stand your bike up in a phone booth.

    I bring this up, because I wonder if maybe the best way to accommodate more bikes in the future is to just have an open space that would cost less?

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    • Dave April 27, 2011 at 1:33 pm

      Russ, that’s just how the bike area on the Metro trains in Amsterdam was. You just roll your bike on, and roll it over to the designated bike area. They even had little ramps alongside the stairwells going in and out of the metro stations to roll your bike on while you walk up/down.

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      • Chris I April 27, 2011 at 1:50 pm

        The difference there being that the vast majority of people are apparently smart enough to park them at the station and not attempt to bring them on the train.

        Copenhagen was the same way. We boarded their light rail at a station with hundreds of bikes parked, and I saw one or two on the train.

        I don’t understand why cyclists here expect ample bike parking on transit, it just isn’t practical.

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        • Brad April 27, 2011 at 2:35 pm

          Transit is not very convenient if your office/home is a 10-15 minute walk from the train or bus. For many mixed mode users, not being able to bring a bike to cover that last segment will encourage them to drive.

          My home is about a half mile from a MAX stop and my work is close to a mile from MAX at the other end. Bringing my bike on the dark morning commute saves 25 minutes over walking. I am more than happy to find a long meandering riding route home in the evening but like using MAX in the morning for speed plus not having to shower upon arriving at work.

          If forced to lock up my bike at Sunset TC or not get it on a train, this suburbanite will go back to driving. Crossing the West Hills in the dark at 5:30-6:00 AM is a dicey proposition during the winter months.

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          • AK. April 27, 2011 at 2:52 pm

            I’m in the same boat as Brad. I’m 3.5 miles from the max station, which I’m not going to walk to in the morning, and my office is another 1.5 miles from where I get off of the max.

            Being able to take my bike with me on the max allows me to not drive my car to work, arrive at my office without being tired/gross, and gives me the freedom to enjoy a relaxing 15-30 mile jaunt home, depending on the route I take and how long I want to be out riding.

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          • Chris I April 27, 2011 at 3:04 pm

            I live about 3/4 of a mile from MAX, and I enjoy my 10 minute walk. People often make the mistake of thinking of a walk the same way they think about driving: as lost time. A brisk walk is good exercise, and a good way to actually see your neighborhood. Instead of driving or trying to find space for your bike on MAX, try walking faster, or just stop thinking of the walk as lost time…

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        • Charley April 27, 2011 at 7:14 pm

          Hey, if I could count on regular trains when I get off of work in the evening, bringing my bike wouldn’t be as necessary. But not anymore:

          I work downtown and often get done with work at about 10 pm. I used to be able to get out work, wait for the MAX at Pioneer Courthouse Square, and not have to wait much longer than 15 minutes. 15 minutes is pretty long, considering the fact that I’m hanging out at an uncovered, cold train stop with homeless people panhandling and young drugged up kids screaming and cursing at each other.

          Nowadays, thanks to Trimet’s defunding of current operations, the train comes every 33 to 35 minutes. If I get done with work at 9:30pm on Saturday, and get to Pioneer Courthouse Square at 9:46, I’ll see the MAX scooting off down the street, and then I’ll have to wait 35 minutes, in the cold, in the rain, and in the midst of a social disaster. Forget it, I’ll just ride my bike up to North Portland, even if I’d been planning on taking the train. That’s why I need to have the bike downtown with me.

          Honestly, for this very reason I’ve been driving downtown more often. I’m just too tired after a day of work, plus training rides or skiing, to wait 35 minutes for a train full of tweakers.

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        • Mindful Cyclist May 1, 2011 at 12:54 pm

          Because I am able to take my bike on the MAX, I am able to ride and save myself a lot of time. I am able to ride downtown about 2.5 miles (and it saves me about 20 minutes as the walk to the MAX is about .6 miles), put my bike on the train and have it go up the 750′ hill I need to climb to get to work. I don’t have access to showers where I work and a 10 mile, uphill commute would not work. Riding home the 10 miles takes about the same time as taking MAX and I get the added benefit of getting my cardio in for the day.

          Now, if I had to park my bike downtown, lock it up, and ride MAX back to it, I would think about driving more. Also, I don’t know if I would honestly feel all that comfortable leaving my bike parked downtown while someone had 8 hours to take a dremel tool to my u lock and ride off.

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  • Paulie April 27, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Personally, I don’t want to leave my bike locked up at a Park and Ride, I want to have it with me. I don’t think I’m alone.

    I’m not surprised the Sunset Bike Parking is under-utilized; people were complaining about the lack of space on MAX for bikes, not a lack of parking for them. Building a bike parking facility didn’t address what people were asking for.

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  • Jim Lee April 27, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Also against vertical hooks: It is difficult to remove the bike while the train is slowing, then maneuver it around the central post to get to the door. Both bike and rider get thrown around as the train is braking.

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  • David Haines April 27, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Russ Roca
    …I wonder if maybe the best way to accommodate more bikes in the future is to just have an open space that would cost less?

    Given TriMet’s tendency to cram seats in crazy tight places on the newer MAX trains, I’d think it would be easy for them to free up floor space.

    I’ve been on MAX cars where, even sitting fully back in the seat, my knees were hitting the wall in front. If I was an NBA star that might be understandable, but at 5’11 165 I think Trimet is more interested in counting that seat than in using it to transport anyone.

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  • marshmallow April 27, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    Folding bike, 20-24 inch wheels. I also wonder about ripping off the quick release wheels and boarding a full train or bus with a normal road bike.

    Seats are the problem and disallow diversity of use. Less seats and more overhead and vertical grab bars, saving seats for children and old folks. Max should be an expansion of efficient population movement without cars.

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  • Elliot April 27, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    Jonathan, I don’t think your headline accurately reflects the conclusions of the study. Neither does your third to last paragraph (“In terms of cost-effectiveness, the study found that “bikes on transit” ranked best overall.” From page 45 of the study:

    Cost Effectiveness Assessment
    “Bike TO transit” proved most cost effective on average across all seven focus groups.”
    Boulder County, Portland, OR, and Santa Clara County preferred “Bike TO transit.”

    [Underline emphasis mine].

    Also, in its cost-effectiveness measure, the study did not include consideration of externalities like reduced capacity as a result of adding space for taking bikes on transit. From page 46:

    “When the cost effectiveness was calculated with costs for a bicycle rack installed in a light rail vehicle the findings favored “Bike ON transit.” This alternative does not consider the limited expansion capacity associated with “Bike ON transit.”
    [Underline emphasis mine].

    Clearly, the cost of space in a train car is worth many times more than the cost of the small metal hook to hang a bike on, so the usefulness of the result is somewhat limited.

    Not everyone will go read the full study, so I hope you’ll consider updating the story.

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    • Elliot April 27, 2011 at 1:53 pm

      Oops, looks like bold and italics work, but my underlines are gone.

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  • Colin Maher
    Colin Maher April 27, 2011 at 2:07 pm


    The headline is misleading – the report concludes:
    ‘This alternative does not consider the limited expansion capacity associated with “Bike ON transit.” In summary, “Bike TO transit” and “Bike ON transit”
    proved most cost effective.’

    To grow bikes AND transit, you have to do it all. TriMet welcomes bikes onboard and is also developing a regional system of bike parking facilities (not to mention other options: station bikes, rental/shared bikes, folding bikes). Bikes on transit works for most people, most of the time, but you have to balance transporting bikes with other needs and there is little opportunity for expansion at the busiest times of the day.

    Colin Maher

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  • Jim Labbe April 27, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Interesting report and reporting.

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  • CaptainKarma April 27, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    I want my bike with me to use when the transit line stops. Not everybody only commutes the exact same route/routine every single day. I’d like to be able to travel around, not only back & forth. Do they want to decrease single occupant autos cramming up the infrastructure? Options, options, options.

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  • Bob_M April 27, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Through many articles the issue of bikes on transit has been discussed. There are usually many comments and the general consensus of commentary is that facilities are not adequate on the trains for bikes. There is sometimes someone with a long bike who will also chime in that his special needs bike has no accomodations. The folding bike as mentioned above it the proper bike to take on transit. The trains are for moving people. If it reconfigures the cars to carry small vehicles (bikes) then it carries fewer people. If you want to take a bike on your daily commute get the right bike. Sure they are ugly and dorky, but so what, they are the right tool for the job.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 27, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    Hi everyone,

    I’m aware of the issues w this story and I regret any confusion/inaccuracies. I’ve been meetings since posting it. JR is working to make edits right away. I’ll clean it up ASAP. Thanks.

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  • you_are_a_traffic_calming_device April 27, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    Everyone should ride their bikes everywhere, no matter the distance. A combination of bike and transit infrastructure will only hurt bicycle business.

    Go bike-related business! Death to other forms of transit!

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  • J.R. (Dir. Keeping Lights On) April 27, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    Thank you Colin and Elliot for alerting us to the error. The article’s headline and content have been updated.

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    • Colin Maher
      Colin Maher April 27, 2011 at 4:06 pm

      I appreciate your thoroughness, Jonathan and J.R. A thought-provoking discussion in any case.

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  • Colin Maher
    Colin Maher April 27, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    Now I have leave to ride my ugly/dorky bike to catch the MAX to Hillsboro for the Getting to Work in Washington County Panel Discussion:

    Hope to see you there

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  • Lisa Cobb April 27, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Thank you, Mr. Maus for posting this. Bike integration on transit is very complex and the main thing that transit providers are trying to do is provide seats, as one commenter aptly pointed out. Seats make parking bikes difficult, but they are sought out by the bulk of the tired transit-riding masses. A bike takes up the space of two seats, generally speaking, no matter how you do it, because you need space to maneuver them in and out as well. There just isn’t an easy way to fit them in, which is why you don’t see much space allotted for them in Europe, where transit demand is high. As a cyclist, I fully understand the challenges we all face when trying to combine bike and transit trips, but busses and railcars are a very expensive way to haul bikes when space is at a premium for riders who don’t use them.

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    • Eric Stonebraker April 28, 2011 at 11:34 am

      THe Caltrain in California is an example of where CALTRANS sought out bicycle integration as one of several solutions to solving the final mile problem — and increase transit ridership. Many of the ‘campuses’ are located ~2 miles away from CalTrain stops — generally too far for pedestrians but great for cyclists. Private feeder bus systems are more costly and require companies to spring for them.

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  • middle of the road guy April 27, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    We did research on this when i was at the USEPA like 18 years ago.

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  • single track April 27, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    I would totally leave my bike in Downtown PDX on my commute to Hillsboro for school IF it was secure. I have secure parking at school and I feel like an A$$ carrying my bike all the way to Hillsboro to just park it but it WILL be cannibalized if left in downtown PDX.

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  • Doug April 27, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    why not just put hangers on the outside of the cars?

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  • Al from PA April 28, 2011 at 6:37 am

    If one regularly rides to transit and then wants to take the bike on (the train, bus)–the easiest is just to get a folding bike. The Brompton is expensive but folds down to the size of a small piece of luggage. Dahon, Montague, etc. are cheaper and bigger but still could be practical alternatives for mixed mode use. Full sized bikes are just not the right tool for the job.

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    • Schrauf April 28, 2011 at 7:03 am

      Very true – the right tool for the job is key. Some people with only one bike might need two, or even three bikes to make biking convenient and practical. Hey, if those bikes end up replacing a car, you still save money and space, increase your health and fun… I could go on. And use Zip Car for the times you really need a car, and transit is not an option.

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  • Eric Stonebraker April 28, 2011 at 8:38 am

    Dear BikePortland –
    Thanks for the link. I am one of the coauthors of the research and just wanted to point out that the URL suggests that Bike ON transit is most cost effective — it should be Bike TO transit. Thanks!

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 28, 2011 at 8:54 am

      Thanks Eric,
      The URL has inaccurate information that we acknowledged and corrected in the actual story as soon as it was brought to our attention yesterday.

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  • Dabby April 28, 2011 at 10:52 am

    Sad to see that security issues are the true outcome of a study like this, for it could lead to the direction of less availability on the transit, and more secured parking next to it. IMO.

    Oh wait, that is happening here isn’t it?
    Well, partially so far.


    I for one do not leave my bike locked at a transit station/stop.
    Why would I wanna do that?
    It isn’t about getting it jacked, it is that I want to have it with me.
    To ride.

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  • Joe April 28, 2011 at 11:21 am

    I love having my bike with me, don’t trust parking it outside unless its is u-locked 2x and in a heavy ppl traffic area. on the MAX issue just nuts getting on and off, let alone someone making room for you. aka crap shoot daily. Side note WES is getting very busy too, but with the older train little better.
    Could we have a ” bike car ” like Caltrain? peds don’t like sharing in this current system.. just my 2cents

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  • Joe April 28, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Plus I pay for these park and ride sites and never use them.. so they should thank me..

    One Less Car with no benny’s for me except dont let your bike touch me.. had a dude kick my tire.. wild

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  • Jonathan R April 29, 2011 at 7:45 am

    It’s my opinion that bringing your bike on the bus or train is not scalable, and therefore is not a great option for long-term plans. I like the folding-bike idea however.

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  • marshmallow April 29, 2011 at 10:05 am

    Folding bikes are always conversation starters on max or bus — a lot of folks have never seen a fold in action. Many believe they cost thousands when camping world in wilsonville always sells one for 160 bux(and it’s actually pretty good, if not heavy.) Most don’t think you can go very fast on a folding bike, but if you bend at the hip and get into an aero position over the handlebars like flying scotsman Grame Obree, you can fly! I’ve raced people on full size bikes, though not uphill. I’ve noticed some bus drivers are appreciative of not having to wait for someone to use the bike rack, and some even have folding bikes stowed away in their on board lockers behind the driver for getting to and from their homes to the nearest bus stop to start work. In japan, the government funded a program for small wheeled lightweight titanium folding bikes for commuters to go to the bullet trains and subways. Not enough is being done to introduce cost effective folding bikes to the masses, and that is what’s hindering multi modal transportation from taking off en masse.

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  • Bob_M April 29, 2011 at 10:42 am

    I had never thought about the social implications of having the folding bike on the bus/train. Very cool.

    The cry from this BikePortland forum has consistently been “the transit must make compromises for cyclists”. Until this thread I had never heard that Cyclists should adapt for transit. We cyclists have the reputation for having a sense of entitlement that is off-putting to other transportation users. If a bike takes the space of 2 riders, the a cyclist with a full size bike takes 3 spaces. Do we really think we are that special? If riders value being able to use transit they should put their money into their priorities and just get the folding bike insted of complaining that TriMet does not do enough for them.

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  • GlowBoy April 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    For people for whom transit doesn’t work without bringing a bike along, Bob_M, it isn’t about entitlement or feeling “special”, it’s about practicality. People need to get to work and back, and they need it to not take too long.

    For many longer commutes, biking or transit alone just don’t cut it, often taking 2-3 times as long as driving. But a combination of the two, while perhaps not quite as fast as driving, can at least be competitive enough to meet many people’s needs.

    I’m not speaking from a sense of “I deserve it” entitlement when I lobby for a bike&ride facility near Goose Hollow, but practicality. I can’t securely park my bike there, but I’ve got to have my bike to get downtown in a reasonable time. If I bike to MAX, I can get my daily commute (both directions) done in under 90 minutes.

    With transit alone (or for that matter, biking alone), it takes me over two hours, and I can’t get to work in Beaverton at a decent hour after dropping my child off when school opens in the morning. I also can’t be home in time for dinner without cutting too much into the other end of my work day. Excuuuse me for my sense of entitlement. 😉

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  • GlowBoy April 29, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Oh, and I do plan to buy a folding bike within the next couple of years, because I do expect the crowding situation to get worse. As it is I have to let trains pass my by at least once a week, delaying my arrival at work or home.

    At the moment there are still plenty of places to stash a folding bike on the train, but they do take up space. It’s pretty darned awkward to try to squeeze into a seat with one (and really, only even doable with a Brompton). At some point this too will become a problem.

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  • GlowBoy April 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    Dabby makes a good point too. Even though I can walk to work from a MAX station, I often need to run errands during the day and like to have a bike with me. Fortunately my employer offers loaner bikes for this purpose, but most people don’t have that option.

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  • Aimee May 1, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    read through all these posts and one thing was never mentioned, which was the first thing i wished for with the new MAX cars (and could be done on existing ones) – TWO HOOKS instead of one! two bikes could easily fit in each space. seems cost effective and an easy way to double the amount of bikes that can get on. it’s a mad rush to find an empty spot on the MAX for my bike and often i have to wait til the next train because there are no spots left (because i am not one of those rude people who roll their bikes on and block the entrances because there is no hook). regarding bike parking at MAX stops, it’d a lovely concept but i know there is no way in hell i’ll park my bike outside a MAX station all day long (or in the late evening) because of how much crime happens at these stops anyhow. it’s a bummer but truth.

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  • Joe May 1, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    need to keep ppl away from the hooks, they hog the space up.. wake up peds.

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  • Joe May 1, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    read through all these posts and one thing was never mentioned, which was the first thing i wished for with the new MAX cars (and could be done on existing ones) – TWO HOOKS instead of one! two bikes could easily fit in each space. seems cost effective and an easy way to double the amount of bikes that can get on. it’s a mad rush to find an empty spot on the MAX for my bike and often i have to wait til the next train because there are no spots left (because i am not one of those rude people who roll their bikes on and block the entrances because there is no hook). regarding bike parking at MAX stops, it’d a lovely concept but i know there is no way in hell i’ll park my bike outside a MAX station all day long (or in the late evening) because of how much crime happens at these stops anyhow. it’s a bummer but truth.

    sooo true..

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  • Eric Stonebraker May 2, 2011 at 8:12 am

    One of the take home points is that increasing security for bicycle parking can be effective in making non-Bike ON transit methods favorable among cyclists. One of the ideas that is gaining traction is the installation of bicycle corrals (not like Portland’s) — essentially bicycle ‘cages’ that can hold ~10 – 30 bicycles that are locked at racks. The cages provide limited access just to users that access them via cell phones or credit cards, etc.

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