Jarrett Walker, transit systems expert and author of Human Transit, talks about the intrinsic potential for cooperation between cycling and transit. “The bicycle becomes an ideal tool for extending the reach of rapid transit stations [as exemplified in many European cities], reducing (but not eliminating) the need for slower bus and streetcar services. …Many cities and agencies are looking at how to expand the potential for these ‘cycle plus transit’ trips. These efforts include enhancing bicycle storage at stations as well as allowing cyclists to bring their bikes on board. These strategies have the potential to build the market for both cycling and public transit.”
At Velo-city Global 2012, Aske Wieth-Knudsen, head of the executive office at DSB S-train in Copenhagen, reported that actively promoting and including bicycles helped attract more riders to the regional train system in Copenhagen. Faced with 13 years of stagnant revenues and dropping government subsidies, the transit company shifted their strategic focus from station-to-station travel to considering their customers’ door-to-door trip. Partly through offering better bike parking at stations, connecting stations to the Cycle Super Highways and allowing riders to bring bicycles on trains at all times, the company’s annual revenue grew by 5.8 percent. Improving station and train access for bicycles wasn’t cheap, but the passenger revenue growth provides a strong business case for doing so.
The popularity of the DSB S-Train’s new bicycle accommodations meant the transit company needed to consider ways to handle the continued growth. They worked with the city to encourage riders to use separate bikes at each end of their train trips by improving bike parking and placing bike shares in accessible spaces at transit stations.
Bike Share Systems Extend the Reach of Public Transit
In Canada’s second-largest city, Montreal, QC, the bike share system, known as BIXI, has demonstrated that cycling is an efficient, relatively low-cost and sustainable way of expanding the reach of public transit. “BIXI is not a bicycle; it is an application of new technology to a mobility system,” said Michel Labrecque, chair of STM. His transportation cocktail now includes improving integration between riders of the public transit system with taxis, car sharing and especially with BIXI. Through station improvements, universal passes and discounts for members and transit pass holders, the result has been an increase in transit users modifying their trips to include BIXI as part of their regular route planning.
Adding bike share stations in cities around the world has meant replacing some parking for cars. Park and ride facilities, where drivers come in to park at transit hubs, are costly. Beyond the land value taken up, the cost of constructing a surface parking stall can be more than $10,000, and structured and underground parking often costs more than double that. Bicycle parking and rental stations at hubs are efficient ways of using space and offer an effective connection to destinations when appropriate cycling infrastructure exists.
Small investments and policy changes can go a long way to support and celebrate urban cycling. More open helmet laws, bike racks on cabs, and bike-minded infrastructure like footrests and handrails at stoplights are all part of making everyday people like Megan feel comfortable and making navigating the city on a bicycle feel normal.
Røhl says that in Copenhagen they grouped policy changes into three classes: “sticks, carrots and tambourines.” With the sticks they restricted personal vehicle use through strategies like taxation, parking restrictions, and walking- and cycling-only streets. Carrots made cycling easier with protected infrastructure, clearly marked routes, easily accessible bike parking facilities and access to public bike share. The third element, tambourines, were ways of celebrating bike culture and “thanking citizens for riding their bikes” with festivals, public art, facilities for specialized cargo bikes, and simple actions like angling garbage bins to face cycle traffic. That celebration is about cycling being special and important, while at the same time promoting it as ordinary and everyday.
But all the sticks, carrots and vigorously shaken tambourines will not have any meaning if the network doesn’t connect people to places they want to go to.
Making and Linking Places
Gil Peñalosa demands “places with spice”: spaces with the vibrancy that comes from interacting with others. We want to be where the action is, and these attractive places define the positive nature of the city – Peñalosa’s “spice” of urban life.
Public spaces that are safe and welcoming for all ages are also connected to adjacent neighborhoods in safe and welcoming ways. In New York, where new real estate for public space is a rarity, pioneering NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has fostered a rebirth of public space in a car-congested city. Her pilot projects for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure are dramatically reframing the use of public space across the city. Pedestrian plazas, separated bicycle lanes and places for people to sit outside are taking over space previously dominated by motorized traffic. While these changes haven’t always been accepted with open arms, the explicit inclusion of people on bicycles and on foot as part of the formal transportation network is legitimatizing active transportation in a city previously known for its crawling motorized traffic and crowded subways.
The Ride Home
Holding her bike in the transit interchange, my understandably tired-looking girlfriend suggested we finish our long day of exploring and head home on the train. “I’m not feeling hardcore enough.” I agreed with Megan. The warmth of the train was far more welcoming than the darkness, rain and hills that awaited our trail-weary bodies. The small but increasing changes towards transit integration have made a world of difference for budding civil cyclists like us.
The bicycle infrastructure that passes by our house, connects us to where we live, work and play, and allows us to link to farther-away neighborhoods by transit has made using our bicycles feel like a normal way to get around. As the network outside our doors becomes more complete and easier to use, more people like us will see bicycles as an attractive transportation choice. We don’t feel like our transportation choice has made us “hardcore,” we feel like we’re standing on the edge of an exciting new normal.
Urban planner and designer Brendan Hurley focuses on adaptive urban change to make vibrant and sustainable communities. He and graphic designer Megan Finnerty live and work in Vancouver.