But did you know that regular bicycles are currently banned from Houston's light rail trains during the all-important weekday commuter rush hour?* Furthermore, only two bikes are allowed on per train car, which are as many as are allowed on the bus bike racks... and each rail car holds many more people than the bus.
These timing and capacity limitations exist because Harris County METRO chose not to install vertical bike hangers on its first fleet of light rail cars. It is vitally important to change this mindset now before the coming massive build-out of Houston's light rail fleet, which will take place during 2008 - 2012. If this once-in-a-generation opportunity is lost, we will not be able to have the same bicycle access to light rail enjoyed by other cities throughout the USA.
Phoenix Arizona will begin light rail operations in December 2008. It is a new, sprawling Southwestern city like Houston. Like Houston, the weather there is hot (although dry). Based on their fifteen years of positive bike-racks-on-buses experience, their Metro decided to integrate bicycles and train modes by putting vertical bike hangers on its light rail. Each of their rail cars will be able to carry eight bicycles safely out of the way of passengers, as opposed to the two which can be carried on our rail cars, and only during off-peak times, and our bikes can potentially roll and crash into other passengers, since they aren't in any kind of rack system.
Given the sprawling nature of Houston, it is important that our METRO makes decisions similar to that of Phoenix. It is simply unrealistic to expect people to walk a mile in the heat & humidity to get to the train. Several people at a recent METRO Board meeting asked the Board of Directors, "I'd like to use the train, but where will I be able to park my car near the station?" Obviously, they don't get it! The point of the train is that you don't use your car at all, you leave your car at home. But bicycle riding will indeed allow them to travel a mile or so from their home or office to the train station quickly, in five minutes or so, before they dangerously overheat in our sweltering climate.
If the train draws people riding bikes from one mile away to each station, it will be far more successful than if it were only able to draw pedestrians from a quarter-mile away. A one-mile radius circle has sixteen times more area than a quarter-mile radius circle, after all. It is extremely important that citizens make their preferences known to METRO. I am urging all cyclists, transit fans, and environmentalists to write to Mr. Frank Wilson, the CEO of METRO, to let him know that:
- The new fleet of light rail cars needs vertical bike hangers, which will minimize conflicts between cyclist and non-cyclist passengers
- The rush-hour bike prohibition needs to be lifted
- Ample safe and secure bike parking needs to be provided at all transit stops (a mix of regular bike racks and totally enclosed, highly secure lockers)
- The folding-bikes policy (unlimited times, unlimited numbers, must be covered) needs to be maintained
Please write a polite letter in your own words to Mr. Frank Wilson CEO, METRO, 1900 Main St., P.O. Box 61429 Houston, TX 77208-1429
Also send copies of your letter to your Mayor and City Council Member, your Harris County Commissioner, and your U.S. Congressional Representative.
I thank you in advance for your help. Please join with me in helping to make Houston and Harris County greener, more sustainable places. And please forward this message to anyone who you think will help in this effort.
Peter Wang, LCI
League of American Bicyclists Cycling Instructor, BikeHouston Advisory Board Member, Citizens Transportation Coalition Member
*Folding bikes are allowed on the light rail at all times, if they are covered