Bikes on a Train

Though that title is a cheesy allusion to “Snakes on a Plane,” the movie I’m really thinking about is in the John LeCarré movie “The Russia House” where the “good guys” (in the West) are trying to decide whether to take the bait and ask a Russian physicist a bunch of questions about Russia’s missile program.

At one point a naif asks, “What’s the harm of asking?”

Some crusty Cold War veteran responds. He says that by asking the questions, the West would be revealing all the gaps in its intelligence—in other words, it’s another way of revealing to the Russians everything they don’t know.

I had that in mind yesterday when someone handed me a Bikes on MAX Survey while I was waiting at a MAX (the local light rail) station.

First, there were two questions that simply framed the issue wrong: “How would you reach this station if you did not ride your bike?” And, “How would you get to your destination from this station if you did not have your bike with you?”

The error is in presuming that I’d be at that station to begin with. I ride to the Beaverton Transit Center because I can catch the red line train there to go downtown. During rush hour, the blue is too full. In fact, I’ll watch blue line trains go by to wait for a red. The same thing happens when I’m heading out of downtown in the afternoon.

If I weren’t on my bike, I’d have to go to a park and ride (different station) and connect to the Portland Streetcar (at a different station), and then reverse the process on the way home. But that takes me an hour, whereas my bike-MAX-bike connection takes only 45 minutes.

In other words, if I weren’t on my bike, I wouldn’t get to that station—at all! But of course that’s a write-in response.

There were a couple of questions that I thought (and other people thought) clearly indicated TriMet’s prejudices. Namely

  1. Is there was a bike locker available for you to use at the station where you got on MAX?
  2. If a covered and secure facility was available … would you use it instead of bringing your bike on the train?
  3. Would you ride your bike to a MAX station that was less convenient if that station had secure bike parking?

My answers: No, no, no.

I’m all for TriMet finding a way to do things as efficiently as possible (and trying to jam a bike onto a crowded train is obviously not efficient), but I’m surprised they don’t understand the basics about bike commuting. If someone doesn’t work or live really close to MAX, and that has to be a majority of commuters, then they’re going to need a bike at both ends (the way I do). Thus a boffo bike locker wouldn’t do me much good, since I’d get off the train and still be 10+ minutes from work.

A better system would be to put bike lockers and park and rides all over the place on the outer stations, and then put in a bike rental system so that people going downtown wouldn’t need their own bikes there.

That’s not a perfect system, because it still doesn’t help people going burb-to-burb, but at least it would ease some of the the inbound/outbound stress during rush hour.

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