Innovative infrastructure and bikes on trains encourage commuting

By Robbie Webber

Cities and states are trying to make biking easier, safer, and more predictable. Across the country, improved connections with transit or installing cutting-edge, on-street bicycle facilities are encouraging more people to embark on non-auto commutes. Three examples illustrate ways to help bicyclists access transit and feel more comfortable on streets with traffic.

In California, Caltrain is helping train riders plan their trips. Pairing a bicycle with transit can help with the “last mile” problem of how to get to and from a train station. Caltrain allows bikes onboard, but limits the number of bikes per train, and only one or two cars per train allow bikes. 6,207 riders bring bikes on Caltrain on an average weekday, and a recent survey showed 214 bikes were denied boarding in one week due to a lack of capacity in the bike car.

The popularity of taking bikes on Caltrain has increased to the point where riders and Caltrain itself are trying to help each other figure out when there is not space. A user-generated Twitter feed tells other riders when the bike car is full. But Caltrain also has an official Twitter account populated by a new mobile-friendly form that aims to help bicyclists plan their trips by letting them know when bike cars are at capacity. The form will also help Caltrain track which trains might need the additional bike cars they have purchased to meet the demand.

On the infrastructure side, Florida is installing its first buffered bike lane on state roads. Although they will only be added on new and reconstructed roads, the state seems to be taking seriously its vow to change its reputation as the most dangerous place to bike in the country. Broward County led the way in Florida several years ago on local roads, but the lanes on State Road 7, State Road A1A, U.S. 1, and other major roads are the first under state jurisdiction to have these lanes. Still, these improvements are only appearing in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

The lanes will be separated from standard travel lanes with paint instead of physical barriers as have been seen popping up in cities. Both physically separated and buffered bike lanes have been shown to cut down on sidewalk riding and attract otherwise timid cyclists.

San Francisco is going one step farther by joining a handful of cities in installing a raised bike lane on Valencia Street. Although it will only run for one block and be elevated by only two inches, the city hopes to spread this design to other streets as well. Though common in other countries, raised bike lanes are almost unheard of in the U.S. Like protected bike lanes, they give bicyclists an additional measure of comfort, but they require less space than physically separated lanes.

Communication with transit riders who access stops by bike, as well as improved infrastructure, both encourage more bicycling for all types of trips. Bikes can have a complementary relationship with other modes, lessening congestion and providing more options for all users of the transportation system, and states and cities are making appropriate improvements.

Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.