Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bicycle facilities (Soapbox)

There has been some discussion in the Cascade Bicycle Club lately regarding facilities for locking up bikes. This is a subject near and dear to my heart as I have been a cycle commuter for over 25 years*. To properly lock a bike up involves locking both tires, the frame and the seat to a solid object that is hard to remove. The lock needs to be strong and any cable based locks are considered only a barrier to casual theft. Any bike thief who has equipment can cut almost all cable locks.

These requirements get to be pretty rough. I myself only deter casual theft as carrying the necessary 20lbs of gear to really lock up my bikes is too hard. Accessories like bike computers and lights are nearly impossible to protect, the standard rule is to strip your bike of accessories and carry them with you. This gets to be quite annoying. When I was commuting in Brentwood, NY to the train station I just used a beater bike and even then locked it up at the Library 2 blocks away, near the security guard smoking station. As it was the sad bmx bike was still vandalized and I had to deal with angry notes from the Library on occasion.

Nowadays my bikes have $400 or more of accessories on them. If you add up the cost of my garmin cycle computer and my lights you hit $500 retail without even counting anything else. My Corsa's front wheel is worth $400 as well. I find myself less willing to ride a crappy bike nowadays. Why should I ride a bike that is garbage so I can not worry about it being stolen or vandalized? Especially when even dedicated care can cause problems. I commuted for 2 months in Tel Aviv by bike. I locked the bike inside the office stairwell. It was stolen 1 month in. Our investigation came to the conclusion that a courier cut the lock and stole the bike from the stairs.

Parking facilities for automobiles are typically expensive and take up a ton of space. For instance a 725 car garage built for Huntington, NY LIRR station cost $10,000,000. A cost of $13,800 per space. Spending a fraction of that cost on bicycles could easily make mixed mode commuting much more accessible. For instance there are bike lockers such as this one pictured below.

There are also bike cover type lockers available at Tri-met stations in the greater Portland area. These are plastic covers that fold over a bike, you lock it with your regular U lock or bike lock. Most bike lockers today are rented out, though some like the plastic cover style are often free for use on demand. Bike Lockers could easily be stacked if they were equipped with a tongue that comes out as a ramp. Stacking would improve the space consumption. The cover and locker style facilities really help the theft issue, especially the accessory theft. They also protect against weather. Bike facilities are much cheaper than auto facilities and take up less space. A bike locker similar to the one pictured above ranges from $500 to $2000 per bike cost. That is less that 1/10th the cost of similar facilities for cars. You can fit 4 or more bike lockers in the space for 1 car.

The point is that bikes really make commuting easier. They are an excellent solution to the "Last mile" problem that you often hear in transit issues. A cyclist will happily ride 3-5 miles on each end of a transit based commute. That cyclist also consumes less resources and parking facilities. It makes a lot of sense to improve our parking facilities to encourage cycling. I would love bike lockers or fold over covers at light rail stations, at bus transit centers and at workplaces. For every converted car commuter you would save a decent chunk of money as well as lowering maintenance costs. Congestion would also be improved or at least congestion growth would slow.

Let me hear your thoughts on this subject.

* I do count my high school bike commuting here, but since I did it every day and rode even in snow storms, I feel it counts.

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