‘Seamless’ integration of bicycles with transit – when?

One of the strategies resulting from the Translink Regional Cycling Strategy Stakeholder Workshop Summary held April 6, 2009, was to “make bicycle-transit interaction convenient, seamless and intuitive.” Good strategy, but what is being done to realize it?

One of the strategies resulting from the Translink Regional Cycling Strategy Stakeholder Workshop Summary held April 6, 2009, was to “make bicycle-transit interaction convenient, seamless and intuitive.” Good strategy, but what is being done to realize it?

services_bike_lightrail
Light rail cars in The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) can carry six bikes. Photo: VTA.org

I don’t mind carrying my bike up and down stairs or using the elevator, but if there is a more convenient way, I support it! Seamless, well that is a worthy goal! Wouldn’t it be cool to ride your bike right onto the train? I admit that’s overkill, but seamless … I like the sound of that.

Intuitive … hmmm … I intuit riding to the station, dismounting, following the bicycle symbols down a ramp to the platform and boarding the car that is marked with bicycle symbols, where I hang my front wheel from a hook where a dozen or so other bikes are hanging. I then join fellow cyclists seated at the front of the car to chat about the freedom from the stress, cost, and general lack of well-being (for the earth and its beings) generated when commuting by car.

Results do not always align with strategy. Some of the best laid plans reach unimagined destinations. This is reasonable and sometimes unavoidable. My question to TransLink is: what are you doing to implement your strategy?

Since the workshop mentioned earlier, I have witnessed two occurrences of the suspension of the policy of allowing bikes on trains. One was the closure of the Patullo Bridge, and the other was the Olympics. I understand and even support them both (personally I never considered going near a SkyTrain station during the Olympics, and the bridge was an unplanned emergency. Ideal or not, some decisions must be made hastily).

(Note: If accused of misdirecting my question, I confess my guilt. In my defence, I have posed it on three occasions through the Regional Cycling Strategy Public Consultation page, once on January 20, 2010 and twice since.)

On April 6, 2009, TransLink established a forward-thinking strategy to welcome a form of supplemental transportation that has so much to offer. It is now the anniversary of that occasion, and whether the Patullo Bridge closure and the Olympics were valid reasons to suspend that welcome, my unchanged question is: what is being done to transform the “strategy” into reality?

Travis Fehr

Travis Fehr is a really valued member of the Tenth to the Fraser community. Interested in joining our pool of writers? Please see these submission guidelines.

15 comments

  1. I agree that the bike's place as part of the seamless transit system needs to be better thought out in Metro Vancouver. One lingering issue with Skytrain and bikes (or even larger strollers) are the cars are extremely narrow, the technology was never designed to be a mass metro, only a small area people mover. So trying to cram all these new uses in is a challenge.

    The hooks you describe are a lost opportunity on the Canada Line. The "bicycle" space as it is currently configured takes far too much space. The few times I've taken my bike on it, I usually have to embarrassingly ask other passengers to move out of the bike spot.

    In that large space they could have fit 4 bicycles on vertical hooks as shown in your photo (I've seen similar hooks around the world from Seattle to Zurich). The other benefit being if there was only one bicycle on the train, the space it takes would displace far fewer people.

    We are behind other cities, and we have a very cautious management of our transit system nervous about trying new things. Part of that can be blamed on the overly politicized nature of our transportation system and not wanting to stick your neck out. BC Hydro/Metro Transit/BC Transit/Translink has a reputation for eating their own when a project goes wrong. However so much of this is a solved problem, if we just start observing and emulating what other cities around the world are doing (investing in expanded transit rather than roads being a common theme, but that's a topic for another time…)

  2. That's enlightening, Matthew! Not surprising that an overly politicized system is causing delay.

    I think the mention of the lost opportunity on the Canada Line is poignant, because opportunity to take carbon spewing cars off the road is lost in Metro Vancouver every day that bikes are not welcomed on board public transportation. By welcomed I mean signage, literature, etc. that educates and enables both bike riding passengers and all other passengers, in accomodating each other.

    Thanks for the comment. I for one won't be resting on this issue! Please forgive me if frustration has seeped into my words. Change is never easy—evidently even when it means protecting our home: planet earth.

  3. Hi Travis, Jhenifer here from TransLink's Buzzer newsletter and blog (buzzer.translink.ca).

    I sent your post along to our cycling planners and here is what they have sent you in response. I hope this helps somewhat.

    ——

    TransLink is indeed considering a strategy to "make bicycle-transit interaction convenient, seamless and intuitive" as part of its Regional Cycling Strategy.

    The Regional Cycling Strategy is currently being developed to guide bicycle investment and programming across Metro Vancouver through 2020 and beyond. The Strategy proposes strategic directions and opportunities for TransLink and other agencies and partners.

    In developing the Strategy, TransLink has held 3 stakeholder workshops and completed a number of background studies, many of which are now available on TransLink's web site. The final workshop, held October 19, 2009 helped confirm and prioritize the proposed strategies and actions – one of which is to "ensure seamless integration between cycling and transit services". For anyone interested in reviewing the comprehensive list of strategies and actions proposed, please follow this link.
    http://www.translink.ca/en/Get-Involved/Public-Co

    Staff are now finalizing the Strategy and expect to post it on the web site and present it to TransLink's Board for their consideration later this year.

    TransLink already does quite a lot to ensure integration of bikes and transit – all buses, SkyTrains, SeaBuses and West Coast Express trains are equipped to carry bicycles, and in recent years we've made efforts to increase the space available for bikes and to increase the times during which bikes are permitted. For instance, on new Canada Line SkyTrain cars there is a dedicated spot on each car for bikes. Bikes used to be prohibited on SkyTrain weekdays from the start of service until 9:30am and from 3 until 6:30pm in all directions. On Canada Line bikes are permitted at all hours in all directions. On Expo and Millennium Lines bikes are permitted at all times except on weekdays in the peak direction from 7-9am and 4-6pm. Bikes are also prohibited at other times as needed when the system is crowded (like during the Olympics). In addition, bike racks are available at all transit stations and exchanges, and most have bikelockers that are available for rent.

    Are there ways in which TransLink could do better? Absolutely: for example by increasing the bicycle carrying capacity of transit vehicles, by developing safe, convenient and legible bikeways to, through, and within transit stations and exchanges and by ensure that all transit stations, exchanges, and stops provide high quality bicycle parking and other end-of-trip facilities (like storage and change rooms). We hope to achieve these objectives through implementation of the Regional Cycling Strategy and with the cooperation and support of our municipal and provincial partners.

    We do want to thank you for providing comments regarding the Strategy. All of the comments received via the web site or by phone, fax or email are recorded and will be considered as we finalize the strategy. Please stay tuned to the Cycling links on TransLink's web site for more details – and thanks for riding!

  4. Hey Jhenifer – thanks for commenting here. I really appreciate you and the cycling planners taking the time to respond.

  5. Educating riders will make my life easier. I have been subject to open hostility and threat of violence from fellow riders.

    Make them understand that a bike is allowed at EVERY DOOR and at prescribed times and my life will be easier.

    Make people understand that the elevator will NOT fit two cyclists and your litter of children and resulting giant pram. Don't swear at me or get your freaky future weekend dad to harangue me? Am I stereotyping? Perhaps, but it is only from experience that I group and generalise here.

    Seamless? Make a spot for bikes during rush hour. Face it, the lockers suck Translink.

  6. Thank you, Jhenifer for your quick follow-up. I would like to respond to two points from the cycling planners’ response:

    1) “TransLink already does quite a lot to ensure integration of bikes and transit…”

    I know what the current integration of bicycles with transit looks like. It’s not good enough. There are models of the type of bicycle/transit integration you are strategizing, all over the world. I am asking what changes are being implemented in Metro Vancouver today, towards that integration.

    2) “Are there ways in which TransLink could do better? Absolutely: for example by increasing the bicycle carrying capacity of transit vehicles…”

    In reading through the proposed strategies and actions you referred to, I found the following:

    “Strategy 3.1.2—Consider ways to increase the bicycle carrying capacity of transit vehicles.”

    My question is of timeline for strategy implementation. The strategy was developed a year ago, but no new improvements to bike/transit integration are apparent.

    How much time is anticipated until changes are implemented? What is TransLink’s timeline for producing a new, tangible result of the strategy towards seamless integration?

  7. As someone who has been commuting with bikes on transit for 12 years I can say that TransLink has come a long long way from where things were 12 years ago.

    Is it perfect… no, but look at the progress:

    – bike racks on all buses

    – bikes on SkyTrain most of the time (not too many years ago they were not allowed at all, ever)

    – very good bike lockers at many transit centres and SkyTrain stns.

    – TransLink is now actively involved with developing bike facilities such as the Central Valley Greenway, and providing standards for regional wayfinding signage.

    None of this was around a decade ago.

    As has been pointed out, there's still lots that could be done but be patient, and make sure you write you local politicians and TransLink to support more of these developments. And get involved with a local cycling advocacy organization like http://www.vacc.bc.ca (much of the progress is thanks to lobbying done by the VACC)

  8. I really like the idea of hooks on Skytrain, but there's one small problem with that. Those of us who ride more inexpensive, heavier bikes (or are smaller people) will have a harder time getting their bikes onto the hooks. Same for the bike racks on the bus. They're actually quite heavy to lift with one arm when the other arm is holding your bike. I actually hurt my back a couple weeks ago while I was taking my bike off the rack. My dream is to have a Skytrain car that is JUST for bikes, perhaps one car every couple of trains. I'd be willing to wait a few extra minutes for it. Also, encouraging cyclists to bring their bikes on these cars during rush hour would be awesome. That way people could ride to work and Skytrain home if a round trip is too difficult for them. Halfway is better than nothing!

    Thank you for bringing up such an important issue.

  9. “Seamless” integration would mean that doing a combined bike-transit commute will be as easy and convenient as a walk-transit or car-transit commute. And yes, I mean commute. As long as there is insufficient capacity in the system to accommodate bicycles during commuting hours, that will be a big fat “seam”.

    The real thorn in my tube is the often-random closing of Skytrain to bikes during “busy times”. I have arrived at Skytrain with a bike to be told that I could not board because there was a Football game downtown. When I asked when I might be able to board, they said “a couple of hours… maybe”. No signage, no announcements in the morning, just me and a couple other cyclists unexpectedly stranded. This is, of course, anecdotal, but it shows an institutional attitude that bikes are to be tolerated when necessary, not truly integrated.

    I think the Bus side is well done, and they have taken the effort and spent the money to get the racks and encourage their use. There was a hiccup last year when the newer model busses couldn’t accommodate the bikes at night (headlight interference), but they seem to have solved that. I think the bike locker system is inexpensive and a great option for some people (I had a locker for two years at King George when I commuted from Langley to SFU). The problem is the Skytrain, and as long as it serves as the backbone of our transit system, that is a big problem.

  10. Thanks for the comments!

    Pat, I think you are right, the "institutional attitude that bikes are to be tolerated when necessary, not truly integrated", is a major hurdle in moving forward.

    Kathryn I think you represent many who have had difficulty with lifting and maneuvering heavy bikes onto transit. There are surely many more good ideas like yours for making improvements, but what's missing is the will to implement them.

    Jason I too have often felt unwelcome with my bike on Skytrain, even when I was doing everything I could to be courteous, polite, and considerate of other passengers.

    Andrew I agree there has been progress, and I plan to attend the local VACC meeting this month, and I promise I will write my politicians, and seek other ways to promote this change. I believe that bicycle integration with transit is an important way to reduce carbon emissions, and that reducing emissions is the most important issue facing human civilization and all of earth's inhabitants today.

    I will not patiently wait for change to happen, regardless of past progress. I seek action today that promotes bicycle integration. For instance, it has been mentioned that bicycles are not adequately welcomed by other passengers and Skytrain staff. What is preventing Translink from discussing this with their staff and improving communication efforts right now?

  11. Travis:

    Just wanted to let you know I have passed on your follow-up comments to the cycling folks, and will update you soon once I hear from them.

    Briana:

    It's no trouble! Tenth to the Fraser is always a great read and I'm happy to help out with answers where possible.

  12. Travis:

    Here's the responses from our cycling planners!

    —–

    1) “TransLink already does quite a lot to ensure integration of bikes and transit…”

    I know what the current integration of bicycles with transit looks like.

    It’s not good enough. There are models of the type of bicycle/transit

    integration you are strategizing, all over the world. I am asking what

    changes are being implemented in Metro Vancouver today, towards that

    integration.

    I agree that TransLink's integration of bikes and transit could be better. And I agree that there are models around the world from which we can learn. However, if you review our integration with other transit systems in North America, Metro Vancouver measures up pretty well.

    There are few other systems that provide free bicycle access to every public transit vehicle in their system, have bike racks at all exchanges and rapid transit stations as well as over 450 secure bike lockers at locations throughout the system.

    Since April 2009 TransLink has:

    * Added over 100 bike lockers throughout the system;

    * Ensured that bicycles are welcome on board Canada Line in all directions during all hours of operation;

    * Added a designated area for bikes on every Canada Line car;

    * Constructed a $10 million dollar bicycle and pedestrian only bridge over the Fraser linking Vancouver and Richmond as part of the Canada Line; and

    * Completed the Central Valley Greenway, a 24 km long, traffic protected bicycle route paralleling and linking to most stations along the Millennium SkyTrain Line in cooperation with the Federal government, the Province and Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminister.

    We are currently looking at ways to improve bicycle access to existing SkyTrain stations and exchanges, to upgrade the BC Parkway, a bike route that parallels the Expo SkyTrain Line and to construct on demand, secure bike parking at SkyTrain stations throughout the system.

    2) “Are there ways in which TransLink could do better? Absolutely: for

    example by increasing the bicycle carrying capacity of transit vehicles”

    In reading through the proposed strategies and actions you referred to, I found the following:

    “Strategy 3.1.2<Consider ways to increase the bicycle carrying capacity of transit vehicles.”

    My question is of timeline for strategy implementation. The strategy was

    developed a year ago, but no new improvements to bike/transit integration are apparent.

    The first preliminary vision, goals and actions were released in April 2009, since then we have refined the Strategy and we have sought input from stakeholders throughout the region. Now that we have reviewed the input received we are in the process of drafting the final Strategy. The Strategy will be presented to TransLink's Board later this year and if its approved, then we will begin implementation. Yet, even then we will need to work closely with our municipal partners since their involvement and investment is essential to the success of the Strategy.

    How much time is anticipated until changes are implemented? What is TransLink’s timeline for producing a new, tangible result of the strategy towards seamless integration?”

    Changes will begin immediately, but to achieve the goals that our stakeholders have requested will take 20 to 30 years. It could be sooner but the reality is that investment in cycling around the region currently amounts to less than 1 percent of the total transportation budget. If residents in the region want to see more rapid improvement, then funding from all levels, municipal, regional, provincial and federal will have to increase.

  13. Oh, forgot to add that I also asked the cycling team to review the rest of the comment thread, and here is the response to everyone else's thoughts.

    —–

    After reviewing the other comments – I'd add that notices concerning expected closures (like the day of a hockey game) is a great idea and TransLink will raise this idea with its operating companies to see if warnings could be issued. Removing seats to provide more room for bikes and standees is also a good idea but it is a bit of a balancing act since people prefer to sit whenever possible, especially if travelling for longer distances. But it is something that we will continue to consider.

    Thanks Travis for raising this discussion – its encouraging that people feel strongly about this issue and want to make changes. It takes time but the work that VACC and others are doing out there has been instrumental in making change happen – for instance – the bike ped bridge over the Fraser built as part of the Canada Line would not have happened without the efforts of the VACC.

  14. I would like to thank Jhenifer and the cycling planners for taking the time to respond.

    Through this discussion, I believe I have a clearer understanding of the process.

    However, I still believe that the key element of welcoming bicycles on Skytrain is needlessly inadequate. It’s not enough to just permit bicycles, in order for integration to occur, the welcome message must be overt and prominent, in the places and times where the service is meant to be used.

    It takes a measure of boldness to venture on board a Skytrain with a bike, and that is deterrent enough for most, keeping the integration of bicycles with transit artificially low.

  15. I work in Gastown – a decent commute by bike from New West. I don't mind riding in, but at the end of the day, I don't have it in me to ride home, up all those hills.

    Translink doesn't allow bikes on the Skytrain during rush hour (unless you are going against the flow).

    My way around this was to get a folding bike. Not the best riding bike in the world, but it folds up to be small enough that it can site beside me, and not be in any ones way.

    Another option I've considered is an electric bike to make the ride home a bit more enjoyable, but they are pretty pricey, and on days when it's nice in the morning, but pouring rain by 5pm, it could be a bit unpleasant.

    I'd like to see Translink put a bike-only car (or two) on every Expo line train. Remove the seats and there would be lots of room. The Expo trains are frequent enough that someone wouldn't have to wait more than a train or two. It would be a shame to tear up the Millennium line trains to do that…

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