November 3, 2009

Why Not Bike Lockers? (Updated)

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In response to a MetroLinks post last week regarding bike vending machines, commenter JimmyZ asked:

Instead of “Bike-share Vending Machines”, how ’bout just some simple bike lockers at suburban metrolink stations, available for daily or monthly rentals?

I thought that was a good question, so I spent some time thinking about it, and here’s my answer: Why not both?Denver, where Jimmy is from and which has a bike locker-rental system run by the RTD, is also putting in bike share bikes:

(Click here if you don’t see the video.)

Why both? Because one of the problems MetroLink has is capacity for bikes. For good or for ill, MetroLink LRV’s don’t have on-board bike racks, so according to Metro St. Louis’s website:

You should board MetroLink with your bicycle in the rear open area of the first car or the front or rear area of the second car. Do not use the kick stand or leave your bike for any reason. Only one bike will be allowed in each area.

That’s not a lot of room for bikes on the train, and at rush hour, it gets quite packed in some places where there are a lot of bikers. On the other hand, riding your bike (rather than driving) to the MetroLink station makes great sense. Locking your bike in your own personal bike locker is a great idea too – but what if your end point destination is far enough from your MetroLink stop that you want your bike available at the other end? That’s when bike-sharing starts to make sense. If the areas to which most bike-and-train users are commuting have bike-share bikes, then people could lock up their bikes at the suburban stations and use bike-share bikes to take them the last miles to their end-point destinations. Maybe you could even offer combo prices for people who use both services, as an incentive.

Another idea is to have a “downtown” bike and a “home” bike, such that you’d have one you use at home & for your morning commute, and another junky bike you’d just ride around from the MetroLink station to work (and at lunchtime). Don’t laugh – I knew people in Portland who did that.

Photo of Max light rail bike hook, courtesy of TriMet's website.

Photo of Max light rail bike hook, courtesy of TriMet's website.

And speaking of Portland, I think it serves as a great example of why taking your bike with you on the whole trip may not be the best solution. TriMet trains have bike hooks where you can suspend your bike, which is great for long commutes. I mean, look at that photo – doesn’t that look like a nice solution?

I was never a nine-to-fiver in Portland; being a grad student, I kept odd hours. In all the times I took the Max Light Rail, even keeping my odd hours, I never once was able to use the bike hook – they were always filled. What’s more, during rush hour, it is a battle to get one’s bike onto the train with all the people. During Portland rush hour, it is also hard to catch a bus that doesn’t already have two bikes on the rack. Sometimes I would wait for two or three buses to pass before I saw one with free rack space. Granted, that’s Portland – tons of bike commuters. But if we’re working towards a more bike-friendly St. Louis, and we don’t want to waste money, isn’t this the kind of thing we should think through first?

If you’ve ever used the Central West End MetroLink Station during rush hour, you know how full the trains are every day. Special events and certain stations make crowding a lot of bikes onto MetroLink impractical and inconvenient. As the number of bike commuters increases (as I believe it inevitably will, alongside fuel price increases), we want to make biking and transit more practical, safe, and convenient for everyone.

What do you think about bike share bikes? What do you think about bike lockers? Could the system I have described here work? Would you use it?

(Update: This thread is carrying on both here and on the original MetroLinks post from last week, if you want to see what other people are saying.)

5 thoughts on “Why Not Bike Lockers? (Updated)”

  1. RTBones says:

    Someplace to store bicycles (or 50cc scooters, which are close to the same size) would be fantastic. If the trains going through Forest Park Metrolink station are any indication, rush hour trains are packed. Having a bike or scooter at both ends of your train trip would keep you from needing to deal with the hassle of the bike on-board.

    I’m not (yet) convinced bike sharing stations here in St. Louis will work. The city is not the most bike-friendly of places. As we discussed in an earlier conversation, there are likely ways to discourage vandalism and theft. Requiring a deposit may or may not work. One issue I have with a deposit is that it may discourage legitimate bike users — if you cant just walk up, pay, and ride, I suspect many may not use the system (and, as discussed earlier, a deposit may actually encourage unlawful use). For a bike-sharing program to really work, the racks have to be plentiful enough and widespread enough that you can go where you need to and be confident that you can park/return your bike when you get to your destination.

  2. Jazzy Jeff says:

    St. Louis City received a Bicycle Friendly Community Award. So they are much further than they used to be in regards to Bicycle Friendliness. They have a Bronze level award and the best is Platinum which Portland has. I bicycle mainly in North County now due to my job change since last year to Earth City. I feel safer in the city / south city than in the County for the most part. Though I do see more cyclists in N. County over the past few years that when I started in ’03. But The city has wayyyyy more bicycle focused routes than the County. I don’t expect the County to ever get an award as a whole because it has like 90+ little munies.

  3. Jazzy Jeff says:

    I am all for bike lockers. The bike sharing is cool too but maybe a pilot program in the dense stations first. Like CWE, North Hanley etc. Also a pilot for the bike lockers too! But most of all I think that making sure that people that use them have good timely transit (bus, BRT etc) in the night time hours the better. I have given up my ride home at night (time change) due to the Metro schedule changes. Plus being in Earth City I have few routes to chose to get home. The Metrobus could work but I would get home probably an hour and a half to two hours later than if I get a car ride home which gets me home in 30 min or less (shows you the difference between our car centered St. Louis Area and our old out dated Metro Transit System / I only live like 10 miles from work / 270 is pretty much a straight shot to my workplace in Earth City). Until Metro can get consistent levels of service I don’t think these solutions will work at all stations effectively.

  4. RTBones says:

    Jeff —

    Agree the city has more routes than the county. There just arent a lot of places in the city to lock a bike if you are down there. I also think drivers (city and county) need a little education in sharing the road. I ride in and around the CWE, Forest Park, Wydown area, and around SLU. If I am out to get miles in, I’ll go to the flats out past the Mills Mall (drive to the soccer park, ride, drive home).

    Metro times…I feel your pain. When I am commuting via transit, I have to take the 45 bus after taking the train. If I have a “normal” day, it works out fine. If I have to go to another building, make a doctor appointment, work late, or take the car in for service, it becomes much more difficult given the gaps in the 45’s schedule.

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