In the seven years I’ve been writing this column, I’ve offered my views on everything from trains and planes to trolleys and trucks. But I’ve missed out on a major revolution in personal transport: the bicycle.
Now personally, I’d sooner travel by limo than be perched on a bicycle seat, exposed to the elements, but that’s just me. Mine is not the generation that’s moving from four wheels to two.
And admittedly, the suburbs of Connecticut are not bike-friendly, but that, too, is slowly changing. So this week’s column is a chance to play catch-up on how bicycles are integrating into our transportation network and the work that’s still to be done.
Bikes on trains: Now that we have more rail cars (and seats for all paying passengers), it’s time to hold the Connecticut Department of Transportation to its promise of developing (not just testing) bike storage hanger-racks on our trains. Especially for people traveling intrastate, being able to bring your bike with you makes sense. And all trains should accommodate bikes, not just those in off-peak.
Bikes at stations: For those who want to ride to the train station and leave their bikes there, we need more and more-secure bike racks and lockers at stations. Westport has some great bike lockers, but most other stations lack this critical amenity. Biking to the station doesn’t require a seven-year wait for a parking permit, but it does require a safe place to lock your bike.
Bikes on buses: This was an early win for bikers as most local buses now carry bikes on front-mounted racks. (And no, that would never work on Metro-North trains.) Bus racks give bike commuters visibility and a secure ride for longer trips.
Bikes on the road: If bikers and drivers must share the same right-of-way, they’ve got to respect each other. Car-centric drivers are often to blame for accidents, but sometimes aggressive bikers are also to blame. New York City has even started a remedial bike riders’ course for offenders to teach them what stop signs and red lights mean. Better lane markings, signals and ways of separating cars and bikes should make both camps happy and safe.
Bike paths/lanes: By law, a 1% set-aside in highway spending goes to what’s called “bike-ped” access — building sidewalks and bike-lanes. Compared to rails and roads, building bike paths and lanes is cheap. But in our car-centric state, we need to do more.
Bikes at work: If we’re going to encourage people to bike to their jobs, they need a secure place to lock their wheels during the day — and maybe a place to shower and clean-up.
Bike sharing: Many cities offer racks of bikes available for pick-up and drop-off at nominal rates. New York City Bike Share will be among the biggest when it finally gets going, offering 600 stations and 10,000 bikes. But “software” problems are delaying the roll-out, which should have started a month ago. The city hopes to offer 1,800 bike-lane miles by 2030, rivaling even Paris.
Bike advocates: Here’s more good news. The folks who ride bikes by choice are well organized and very vocal. They’re even found official representation in state government with the Connecticut Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Board within the DOT. And in towns and cities large and small there are numerous bike clubs and organizations that can help you get started.
Bicycles may never replace cars or trains, but they are a common sense alternative for many of our transportation needs and need public support.
Jim Cameron is chairman of the Metro-North Commuter Council and a member of the Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area, but the opinions expressed here are his own. He may be reached at [email protected] or trainweb.org/ct.