Is an innovative bicycle parking solution implemented at Massachusetts rail stations a good strategy for New Jersey? Today, only a small proportion of rail-transit riders in New Jersey use a bicycle to arrive at the train station. According to a 2005 NJ TRANSIT survey, even at the stations most used by bicyclists, less than 5% of all passengers arriving at the station chose that mode for the first part of their commute.
One way to encourage more people to bicycle to transit is to provide safe bicycle parking. In a 2013 VTC study of rail transit commuters (found HERE), 71% of survey respondents said that the presence of bicycle racks were an important consideration in their decision to bicycle to rail transit stations as part of their commute. However, only 25% of respondents thought that stations provided “excellent” or “above average” security. As part of that study, a focus group was assembled as well; participants in that group were also concerned with the security of their bicycles at rail transit stations, reporting having had their bicycles or bicycle parts stolen. The participants cited theft as a reason to not recommend bicycling to transit to friends and family.
In the study, all 214 of New Jersey’s stations were found to have a total bicycle rack capacity of 3,361. However, none of the bicycle parking facilities included additional safety measure aside from providing a sturdy place to attach a lock.
NJ TRANSIT has looked to address this concern in the past by providing bicycle lockers at 23 stations, which provide an additional 244 parking spaces. Bicycle lockers have been built because they provide riders with the guarantee of a safe parking spot. Each locker is rented out to an individual who can then park their bike inside a secure storage space, for a small fee. Aside from providing a level of security beyond that of a standard rack, the lockers also protect the bicycle from the weather.
However, lockers have drawbacks. They take up a lot of space for one individual bike, and can only be used by the person who rents it out. Further, they can be costly to install, and many transit users may not understand their purpose and availability.
Concerns over bicycle parking at rail transit stations are not unique to New Jersey. Recently, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) has taken steps to provide their customers with safe, weather-protected spaces to store their bicycles, while addressing the limitations of bicycle lockers.
In September 2008, the MBTA piloted a “bicycle cage” at the Alewife station, which is the terminus for the Red Line subway. Two enclosed structures were built, each capable of storing 150 bikes. The goal was to combine the advantages of standard racks, which allow many bicycles to be stored, and lockers, which provide security. Inside the enclosed cage, traditional and bi-level racks were installed, along with six cameras. Entry to the bicycle cage is controlled: riders must apply for a free bicycle smart card that allows access to the cage. Registration deters thieves from acquiring a card.
While riders are still encouraged to continue locking their bicycles at the racks, the enclosed space, added lighting, and multiple cameras provide an added level of safety and peace of mind. Each structure also includes a police intercom, and the roof provides protection from rain and snow.
The pilot cages became so popular that the MBTA applied for federal funding to extend the program to other stations. The American Recovery and Reinvest Act provided the MBTA with $4.8 million, which they used to build the newly branded “Pedal and Park” bike cages at 12 additional stations. Six opened in 2013, with the remaining structures scheduled for 2014.
Unlike bicycle lockers, racks in the cages are not reserved, meaning they are used on a first-come basis. While this may result at times with the racks being at-capacity, it does allow for many more people to use it. A bicycle locker sits empty and unused on days when the person renting the unit chooses not to bike, but a bike cage is available to anyone who has registered an access card.
Bicycle cages should not be confused with “bicycle stations” such as “Bikestation Washington DC,” which holds 100 bicycles. Bicycle stations tend to be staffed, and offer additional services like rentals, maintenance, showers, and tours. Due to the added cost of staffing and the additional amenities, these facilities come with a monthly rental fee. The MBTA bicycle cages, on the other hand, are completely free for commuters.
Thanks to the efforts in Massachusetts, bicycle cages are a proven way to efficiently provide safe and protected bike parking for rail transit commuters. As New Jersey works to make bicycle commuting more attractive, the bicycle cage may be just the tool needed to convince more people that biking to rail transit stations is the right choice.