A Humble Suggestion to Improve Beaverton Transit Center

Trimet opened a brand-spanking-new bike facility at the Beaverton Transit Center yesterday. Plenty of the local mandarins turned out and speechified, and for good reason. It’s a nice-looking facility, with lots of secure, covered parking for bikes that requires a card for entry. There’s even a bike repair stand, some basic tools, and an air pump. The Westside Transportation Alliance toured it with an representative from Trimet:

I have two problems with this set-up. First, I’m not sure it’s necessary, and it’s definitely not what cyclists want.

In a post at BikePortland.org, Jonathon Maus talked to TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane about the project: “There’s only so much space on the [rail] cars, no matter how many hooks we put on there,” McFarlane said. “If we’re really going to have a lot of cycling access to the MAX system we need to have a different way to solve the problem.”

By a different way, Trimet means the way they prefer. Just last month, Maus summarized results from a large study in Los Angeles that concluded,

Survey respondents overwhelmingly said that being allowed to take their bike on the train influenced their decision to travel by bike and rail. Of the 477 people who responded to the question, 65 percent chose “allowed to take bike on train” as a factor that influenced their decision. (my emphasis)

Trimet could not have known about those survey results before breaking ground on its two-bike and-ride facilities (there’s another in Gresham). But they actually did their own survey in 2008, one which produced even more definitive results:

more than three-quarters (76%) cited that they needed their bike to reach their destination, and indicated that they were not willing to use secure bike parking at their boarding station instead of bringing their bike onboard. (my emphasis)

I like that Trimet surveyed cyclists like me, but it’s discouraging to give them such a overwhelming mandate to let us take our bikes on trains, only to see them ignored because limitations they describe only a few paragraphs later:

However, several factors constrain expanding existing space dedicated to bikes onboard trains. The principal constraint is the space required to serve the growing number of passengers at peak hours.

To recap: more than three quarters of cyclists told Trimet they would prefer to take their bikes on the trains, and Trimet responded by … building an expensive facility to encourage people not to take their bikes on trains.

My second problem is that the station is still poorly designed for cyclists and pedestrians. Let’s consider a use case of a cyclist wanting to take his train on the MAX to head eastbound, where downtown and Portland State University are. First, the cyclist must walk his bike on the platform:

I don’t dispute the rationale for this. If I were a pedestrian, I wouldn’t want to be broadsided by a cyclist. But once the cyclist has dismounted, what’s the next step? He needs a ticket. Here’s the problem: for all eastbound trains, the ticket machine is at the far end of the platform.

The eastbound Blue Line track at Beaverton Transit Center. Note the ticket machine on the far left (with the blue and white signs on it), far from where cyclists and pedestrians enter the station. The machine for the eastbound red line train is also at the far end of the platform.

For every cyclist that needs a ticket for the eastbound MAX, they need to walk their bike the entire platform to buy one. Every pedestrian entering the station that needs a ticket to head eastbound needs to cross the platform, too. Now look at a map of the transit center:

The center is only accessible by Lombard Ave (unless you walk behind stores in an adjacent shopping center). So almost all the pedestrian and cycle access to the station–including people using the new bike park and ride–comes from the west, yet the ticket machines are on the east.

This seems like a small issue, until you multiply it. For me, it’s the same problem, multiple times a week. And I’m far from the only one using the station. In the video above, Trimet’s Colin Maher said that Beaverton Transit Center is the system’s busiest, with 18,500 MAX boardings each weekday, and 12% of those are cyclists. Unless my math is incorrect, that’s 2,220 cyclists who have to struggle every day with a poorly designed train platform.

Here’s my suggestion: Trimet, you spent $275,000 to build this facility, yet the positioning of your ticket machines is backwards. Please move at least one of them to the other side of the platform, the one where people actually enter the station.

How to Improve Your Commute

I commute to work by bike two to three times a week. After a couple of years of relying on the MAX (Portland’s light-rail system) for part of the miles, this past summer I started getting adventurous, and riding the whole way. With the help of the Bike There! map, I plotted a route, refined it a couple of times, and then I was off.

While there are all kinds of advantages to riding to work (fitness, happiness, saving money on gas, polluting less), I brought my camera along last week to show the two best parts.

Looking west

This is the Oregon Electric Railroad Right of Way Path, a 1.2 jaunt between a rec center and a street. It runs between properties, goes past a park and a golf club, and is just freakin’ gorgeous.

A bridge on the path

A bridge on the path

There are some nice roads in Portland, but I defy you to find something nicer than this on your way to or from work. But wait—there’s more! After about four miles of riding along with cars, I drop down to the river, and last week this is what I saw:

Bike path along the Willamette River, looking north

Bike path along the Willamette River, looking north

A little foggy that morning, but you get the general idea. That’s Hardtack Island on the right. A little farther up the path (I was headed north), I turned around and took a photo of the view looking south:

And a little farther still, I couldn’t resist this shot:

It’s not all that beautiful, of course. But it’s worth asking yourself whether you’d like to see something like this (above), or something like that (below):

The Marquam Bridge in Portland

The Marquam Bridge in Portland. Photo credit: Auraleius, via flickr

Evil Drives a Pontiac Vibe

I had a close call yesterday. I was writing my bike to work when a white car — this car — passed me, then pulled to the curb right in front of me without signaling.

I stopped. I had to, because she’d cut me off. She pulled away and I followed, and I caught up with her at the next stop sign. I waved and tried to get her attention, but her eyes were riveted on the road. So then she pulled away again, and then did the same thing.

But since I’m not an idiot, I’d decided not to ride alongside someone that dangerous, so I was still sitting at the stop sign. She pulled away again, and about a half mile later, I caught up with her and took a picture of her car.

What kind of person threatens someone with their 2,700-lb. car? When I participated in the first Bike Beaverton even this past summer, I saw a woman get impatient with a trail of cyclists at the side of the road. She honked, sped up, straddled the middle lane, and passed the cyclists. Just in case you’re keeping karmic tally, that’s dangerous, unbelievably uncool (speeding next to children riding their bikes), and illegal. And why did she do all this? So she could turn left a half-block later.

A friend of mine calls these people “haters.” I guess you can’t keep people from hating, but I sure with you could keep haters from driving.

I reported my incident yesterday on the BikePortland.org close calls thread (it’s distressing how many of them there are) and to the Beaverton Police. I’ll let you know what happens.

The First Bike Beaverton Event

I decided to make a detour on the way home and join Beaverton‘s Bike Advisory Committee in its first (hopefully annual) “Bike Beaverton” event. Mayor Rob Drake stood on a bench and gave us the official opening word (he also rode at the head of the peloton for a while), and then we set off on a 7-mile loop.

Word amongst riders was that there were 90 people who had signed up (i.e., signed waivers), including a good number of families with their kids. For the suburbs, it was a nice bit of civil obedience.

Jonathan Maus, who runs the Bike Portland blog, did a little advance journalism about the event:

Beaverton’s Senior Transportation Planner Margaret Middleton says the event came about because the advisory committee wanted to, “invite people to ride their bikes in Beaverton.” She adds that, “The ride will be a little bit of education, of course, a lot of fun and a lot of community interaction.”

That’s a pretty apt description of what happened. The most educational part of it for me was the cultural difference between riding in downtown Portland (where I work) and in Beaverton. On a seven-mile trip, I counted four cars that honked at us. In other words, in Portland there’s occasional friction between cyclists and motorists when sharing the road. In Beaverton, motorists are still secure in their delusion that they own the road.

I also watched one woman get impatient with a trail of cyclists at the side of the road. After honking, she decided to speed up, straddle the middle yellow lane, and pass all of them. That was dangerous, unbelievably uncool (you’re speeding? next to children riding their bikes!?), and also illegal. Oh, and that was so she could wait to turn left on the very next block.

Strangely, I was glad to be there for that. Why? A blogger named Colin Beavan, whom I admire, once mentioned that “biking on city streets is subtly activist (because statistics show that the more cyclists on the streets the safer it is for everyone).” So for this evening, even though I was riding at a fraction of my typical get-there commuting speed, I was happy to be one more cyclist by the side of that road, helping to complete the chain and being a subtle activist.

(One guy I was riding with had a sticker that said, “That SUV Makes You Look Fat.” That’s a bit too confrontational for me.)

But overall, the trip was still fun. One of the great things about cycling is you can ride alongside someone and chat. In a car? Not so much. I didn’t get to meet as many people as I’d have liked to, since I had to scamper home and have dinner and reset for the next day of work, but I was still glad I went.