Swift Onboard Bike Rack, photo by acencini

I sometimes get the sense that the debate over bicycling infrastructure and bicycling laws is polarized between people who ride their bikes long distances nearly every day, and certain motorists intensely aggravated by a slight impediment to their commute. I’d like to spare a (self-interested) thought for the commuter that uses a bike as a means of extending their transit commute.

I have a, uh, gap in bike ownership from Age 16 to two weeks ago, so I’m hardly an expert on this subject.  However, at the risk of generalizing too much from personal experience, I think I’m an example of how bicycling interests can reach out to transit riders, transit can reach out to cyclists, and cities can help the two meet.

One major impediment to transit ridership is the atrocious land use in many housing and job centers.  In my case, my usual workplace is so poorly sited that the two miles between it and the Eastgate Park & Ride adds as much as 30 minutes to my commute, through a combination of transfers, milk runs, and extended walks.  For years I’ve searched for a solution, and I finally overcame some hesitation about road safety to try the two-wheeled alternative.  It saves me about 15 minutes each way.  More after the jump.

It’s important to note what a casual rider like me is willing to do.  I have no interest in buying hundreds of dollars of equipment (I spent less than $150 on bike, helmet, and lock combined; thanks, Bikeworks).  I had no interest in having to change or shower at the end of the ride, since that would annihilate the time savings; that ruled out buying an outfit or crossing the lake.  Lastly, I had no interest in playing roulette on the local arterial, and was saved by the City of Bellevue’s trail system and Google Bikes.  Thanks are also due to Metro for their idiotproof “Loading your bike on the bus” webpage and video.

If I had to summarize the keys in getting me to overcome inertia and start biking*, they’d be this:

  1. Helpful, understanding enthusiasts at Bikeworks who provided me with a low-cost entry point;
  2. The City of Bellevue, for providing a few key trails;
  3. Google Bikes, for letting me find that infastructure; and
  4. Metro, which does a pretty good job reaching out to cyclists.

At any rate, if you’re trying to get people to try cycling, and they’re well disposed to transit already, this might be an angle for you to try.

* I don’t mean to suggest I do this every day; sometimes I take the bus to an informal carpool, which also solves my last mile problem.

32 Replies to “A Bike-to-Work Month Anecdote”

  1. I think it’s really worthwhile to take note of this kind of thing. Even though it’s necessarily not a representative sample, it’s easy for experienced bike commuters to forget what it’s like being new. I feel like I see that happening every time I hear a hardened cyclist sneer about bike lanes and signs – they might not help me much, but they make cycling much more inviting to those who aren’t used to riding a bike on a busy street.

    Even as a long-time bike commuter, your footnote is important though: I’m much more comfortable knowing that there is an alternative to the bike available for when the bike needs maintenance, I’ve hurt my leg, or the weather’s just extra awful.

  2. This is very nice. A small amount of accommodation can make it far easier for people to move to bike commuting or multi-modal commuting. My office is a short 3.5 miles mostly flat from my home, a good hunk of it on the Burke-Gilman. It’s maybe 15 minutes (and one light!) by bike, while by car it’s 10 to 20 minutes in the morning (and the same one light on my preferred route), but perhaps 10 to 40 minutes in the p.m. because the U and Montlake bridges can be so congested on the evening commute. Biking, on average, saves me time because it’s just convenient enough on top of my interest in biking.

  3. Good post, I have not taken up cycling, I like the idea of it quite a bit but every time a see a rider in mixed traffic and seemingly the only thing keeping him safe is cars noticing him and giving him a little extra berth I can’t help but think that if just one of those passing drivers is inattentive it could lead to a dangerous situation, or worse.

    I really hope McGinn is able to get some funding for Walk, Bike, Ride and finally put in some boulevards and cycling traffic lights. Not only do those things help keep riders safe but they send a message to drivers that cycling is a legitimate mode of transportation.

    1. Two things:

      First most drivers don’t want to hit you, if for no other reason than it might scratch their paint. If a driver sees you he or she will try to avoid you.

      Second defensive riding is the key. Be aware of the other vehicles around you. Estimate where you are likely to cross their path. Try to figure out if they see you. Have a plan of action if they don’t. It isn’t as hard as it sounds, more a habit of mind than anything else.

      1. Chris is right, Most drivers don’t want to hit you. Trouble is they don’t see you until the last minute when they are already on top of you. To help that problem, making yourself more visible is the key.

        The first least expensive way is to add ridiculously reflective clothing. You’ve seen highway workers along the freeway at night, why? Because they wear stuff like this:


        It’s about $35 for a class 3 vest, the type highway workers wear. For bicycling get one with the mesh fabric so that it’s still comfortable in the summer. And big enough to go over you winter/warmer jersey. Pockets are handy but you’ll want to add some more Velcro to keep stuff inside.

        The next, is much more expensive, but if you want to commute in the rain, or dark, ie the Months of Jan, Feb, March, & some of April, and October, November and December. It’s worth it.


        Get the Road rider’s package, a 400L Red rear, and a 400L white light front, with battery and charger. It will last you 10 years of riding. And keep you from visiting the emergency room at Harborview.

        Lastly for a bike/bus/train commute with a short ride, even though they are expensive, a fast folding bike means you don’t have to mess with bike racks. But you are going to drop $1K for one. Compared to a car, it’s cheap but compared to a beater bike, it’s high. But if you ride both ends of your commute you either need two bike storage units at the P&R’s, or something that you can take along. I haven’t ridden one, but these bikes look like they are built for the inter-modal problem.


        Lastly, I’m a 7/8ths of the year commuter (I skip December and most of January..as I hate riding on frozen ground.) and I find the 14 mile ride (about an hour each way) to be the best exercise I have time for. Mixing the exercise and the commute means I have time for the exercise which otherwise wouldn’t happen.

      2. Oh, my employer is moving so that in about a year, I’ll have a last mile walk. So I’m looking hard at those folding bikes for the winter commute.

  4. “In my case, my usual workplace is so poorly sited that the two miles between it and the Eastgate Park & Ride adds as much as 30 minutes to my commute, through a combination of transfers, milk runs, and extended walks. For years I’ve searched for a solution …”

    The correct, sustainable, and most earth-friendly solution to your problem is moving to within bicycling/walking distance of work. Tens of billions of dollars of public transit and roads has to be built for commuters. Don’t be part of the problem. Be part of the solution, like I am.

    1. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Not everyone has the ability to move to where they work. Yes, it is preferable to commuting and should be encouraged, but there are other factors at work here, that is why we have public transportation.

    2. Its really not that cut and dry. I live 32 miles from where I work, because I got married and my wife owned a house in Bothell, while I work in Tukwila. I used to live in West Seattle, which was an easy commute. Now its much more difficult. But selling a house and moving in this housing market just isn’t a reasonable solution, either.

      So, my only point is that there are many situations that can cause the best solution to not be possible, at least not immediately.

      Until then, on sunny days, I actually enjoy the 3 hour bicycle commute. Otherwise I usually take the bus. Sometimes, I *gasp* even drive. Shame.. :)

    3. Many zoning codes prohibit or strongly discourage housing near workplaces.

      Things have been getting better in the past decade or two, but after WWII, planners idealized huge tracts of people storage facilities separated by greenbelts and freeways from the places people work and shop.

      Much existing housing stock has no employment within walking distance, and many existing jobs have no housing within walking distance. It will take a long time to change that.

      1. There is also the matter of affordability. In some places there is housing, but it may cost too much for the typical person, which is why many end up buying homes in Arlington or Auburn despite working somewhere else.

    4. And that’s the solution for those folks that drive as well – locate yourself close enough to your work so as not to require freeways, arterials, etc.

      My office is within 10 minutes by car, 25-30 minutes by bike (lots of hills) and worst case even a decent hike.

    5. This isn’t an option for multi-income households. Who’s job should “home” be close to. What happens when someone changes jobs? What about people who’s job site changes frequently like temps or construction workers?

      1. That’s right, there’s not one good option for all circumstances. Jobs change, households have more than one person employed. Probably the best answer is to find a place to live that has very good transportation options, including the ability to walk to some destinations.

    6. The transit has to be there anyway. Whether you ride it or not doesn’t affect its carbon footprint. But switching from SOV to any other mode makes a dramatic improvement.

  5. If you are *very* careful, Bellevue’s sidewalk network provides a decent alternative to certain high traffic roadways and can fill in for multiple “missing links” in Bellevue’s bicycle infrastructure. Riding on the sidewalk is *much* more dangerous and should not be done casually or at high speeds. However, since many sidewalks in Bellevue have relatively few pedestrians and long distances between driveway cuts, they can be used if the roads are unfriendly.

    I’ll emphasize that sidewalk riding, while perfectly legal in all parts of Bellevue, is not ideal and not a substitute for continued investment in Bellevue’s cycling network. I ride mostly on the street since that is safest in most circumstances. That said, I’ve made judicious use of Bellevue’s sidewalks for decades – Mostly these days to avoid chokepoints created by Bellevue’s traffic calming landscape islands or to get out of busy traffic on uphill climbs.

    Tips for successful sidewalk riding:

    . Limit to times when you really need it – riding properly in the street is almost *always* safer.
    . *ALWAYS* assume a car will cut you off at a driveway cut and check before proceeding
    . *NEVER* ride on a sidewalk at full riding speed
    . *DO NOT* enter crosswalks at speed – It’s seriously dangerous and illegal – slow to pedestrian speeds or walk your bike across

    Lastly, it cannot be emphasized enough that sidewalks are the domain of, and belong to, pedestrians. I *ALWAYS* yield to pedestrians, even if they try to yield to me.

    If you follow these rules religiously, you’ll get along just fine in Bellevue.

  6. Thank you very much for this article! It rings true and represents so many of the “Silent Bikocrity”.

    I am part of my local communities bicycle advisory board, and I play the role of “Common Man Biker”. I’m not the guy with the $8000 road bike, running over 4 year olds on training wheels on the Interurban Trail at 40 mph, or riding at night in the rain in heavy traffic in a yellow slicker.

    I just want to get on my bike and go around town, pick up some groceries and take some joyrides when its sunny (make that, partly cloudy).

    I would “bike to work” if there weren’t a 500 ft incline hill to deal with on a road with no bike path and hellacious traffic, that would take me to a train, which then brings me within a few feet of my workplace (so why put my bike on the train?)

  7. A friend of mine who walks to work every day posted on Facebook yesterday: “When’s National Walk to Work Day? I want free coffee and blinky lights and pats on the back. Pedestrians are at the bottom of the commuter totem pole.”

    It does seem that too often around here that the only voices being heard are those of the Spandex-clad ultracyclists. Multimodality is the thing we need to be encouraging, with an emphasis on all vulnerable users, which is pretty much everyone who isn’t driving something on four wheels.

    And Link (like every transit agency) should to have a “Loading your bike on Link light rail” video. I think stuff like that goes a long way to making people feel more comfortable and confident in trying a multimodal commute for the first time.

  8. I became a bike commuter when I lived in Wallingford and found myself commuting to Bellevue. The trip from the Montlake flyer stop to the S. Kirkland P&R wasn’t bad. However to catch the bus I faced either a 30+ minute trip to Montlake or a 30+ minute trip downtown. It also cut the 20 trip on foot from the S. Kirkland P&R down to 10 minutes.

    Since then I’ve been a bike commuter when I’ve had a “last mile” problem on one or both ends of my trip. Though I haven’t really needed to do it it the past 4 years due to having good transit service. I plan on riding more this summer though as I find I miss the fresh air and exercise.

  9. Bikes never really bother me in my car, the rare idiot flying through stop lights not withstanding, but on the sidewalk they often scare me. I find they act exactly like the drivers that are often criticized, putting their desire to get where they are going quickly ahead of the safety of others.

    We need a good bike infrastructure not just for cyclists, but also for cars and pedestrians. It does not make sense to mix things with vastly different speed and size in the same right of way whether it be bikes and cars or bikes and pedestrians.

    1. And yet I have argued this point until I’m red in the face to other bicycle advocates and they insist that the only way to do it is to put bike lanes along side traffic that runs at 50 mph!

      I have many times and even in several blog posts, proposed that we can build, at low cost, a separate, but equal, bicycle network — or topology if you will, that does not have to follow the main arterials. We don’t need to “pay for the roads” because we don’t need the same weight or grade of road. We can ride on paths that a few feet across.

      There are even differences between bike travellers. A road bike may need smooth asphalt, but my Trek 7000 can navigate fine gravel and some off road grass! Good maps that describe optimal routes around — rather than on — the main streets are what is needed.

      The last point is what gets me into the most arguments. I believe that there is inadequate highway infrastructure around Puget Sound which forces way more traffic than needed onto streets and neighborhoods. For example to get from I-5 to Covington, traffic travels nearly 15 miles on neighborhood streets once it leaves the highway! This is inexcusable. It puts people (school kids), bicyclists and local people in contact with drivers who only want to speed through to their homes! I’m not blaming anyone…I’m just saying there is a real break with reality when it comes to Puget Sound and civic planning….whether malicious, ignorant or just due to blindsightedness…I do not know!

  10. A quick comment on the “move close to work” solution to the commuting problem. Like a growing chunk of the commuting population of this area, I work in internet/IT. The job marketplace is as “dynamic” as they say, and even if I had organized my work/residential life around an easy commute, I certainly cannot rely on my employers to play their part in that game. Far more than half of the companies I’ve worked for (and I’ve worked for a great many of them) either no longer exist or moved their offices across Lake Washington over the past 15 years.

    We all must operate within certain parameters and optimize where we can, which I think was the spirit of this blog post. Very much appreciated.

    1. With Internet, any actual “work” can be done anywhere. In fact, there would be more productivity if people could grab a netbook and go work in Arizona for a week or Alabama…and so on.

      So what are the reasons for physical commuting. Two: group communications and hierarchy communications.

      In both cases, sometimes I think the mountain should come to Mohammed. For example, why can’t a manager “make house calls” and travel to each of his employees locations and synch up rather than making everyone come to him (other than the sheer power trippiness of it all).

      Groups. Groups can meet anywhere. Grab your netbooks, stick the Clear USB Wimax modem in the side of it and you can set up shop at any extra long table in Starbucks.

      What is keeping businesses from becoming totally mobile! Get with it! Wipe the 20th century sleep from your eyes!

      How about a totally mobile business experience where the whole office gets on the Sounder and plugs in and “meets” — or on the LINK…on a bus! On an Amtrak to Vegas for goodness sake!!

      I’m in Starbucks right now drinking a trip-espresso, using my instant on Linux Splashtop on my ASUS eee 1005 PE netbook and their wifi, ranting and raving like a madman! It works! GO MOBILE!!!

  11. I used to work in the industrial part of Redmond and commute from Georgetown. The bus commute required a 1.5 mile walk at the end, which would have been easy with a bike. If I could have securely stored a beater bike overnight at the P & R, I would have taken the bus more. But because the on-board bike racks were often full across the lake and there wasn’t secure storage for bikes at the P & R and I didn’t want to risk missing buses because the racks were full or risk losing my bike to a thief, I often drove the miserable commute by myself. Ultimately I decided that the job wasn’t worth the commute and moved to a job closer to home, but many commuters who aren’t well served by transit (or the freeways) will benefit from better bike service.

  12. I also got hooked up at Bikeworks about a month ago with a used hybrid and helmut. I live in Beacon Hill and work in the Kent Valley, so a few times now I’ve ridden Link to SeaTac and then ride down into the valley. I usually bring a change of clothes for the ride home as its mostly uphill and more of a workout. The route has bike lanes about 90% of the way.

    I’m a fair weather rider, however. I got completely soaked last Wednesday on the way home, so I either need to pay more attention to the weather or get some better riding clothes. I also frequently ride from Beacon Hill to Capitol Hill, which is an easy ride to get to dinner, coffee shops, etc.

  13. Great post! It’s a great reminder that even though I enjoy my 10+ mile ride to work each morning, not everyone can jump into it at that level. Many of my friends ride the bus religiously. I’ll think about taking this approach.

  14. I have to say, as someone who uses the bike-bus combo fairly often, that I have some issues with the new three-bike racks Metro installed. I love that they do three bikes, but I find them really annoying to use sometimes and am worried that they will only get more difficult.

    First, sometimes the racks are hard to pull down. I don’t know if the mechanism connected to the handle gets rusty or bends easily of something, but I have had to squeeze with all my strength to get the handle to move sometimes. Once it wouldn’t budge, and I had to shake the whole rack back and forth before the thing would let up.

    Also, the buttons on the arms are really finicky, and (like the video says) you have to pull perfectly straight out for them to work. If your pull is not perfectly aligned, it does not work at all.

    Many bikers I talk to are scared of the bike-bus combo because they don’t want to get stuck trying to load their bikes and make everyone wait. It’s embarrassing and annoying. The old style racks had loop arms that were really easy to pull out and over the bike’s wheel. I don’t really understand why they chose a style with a button (which is a whole new step), and I hope this experience of encountering tough (broken?) racks does not become the norm as they age.

    Has anyone else encountered what I’m talking about?

    1. Yes the new racks are harder to operate / stickier / more complicated. My bus driver is jokingly antagonistic when cyclists struggle with it, and while I know it’s not my fault the racks are more fiddly and I’m contributing to a delay and that she’s (mostly) joking, it’s not hard to imagine a bad experience putting off a new and less committed bi-modal bike commuter.

      When the first racks came out Metro had numerous demos (there was one on the UofW campus I recall) where you could try out the rack without the pressure of interupting an actual bus going about its route; I think they should do more of that with these new racks. I too love that the new racks take three bikes; in the past there were a couple of mornings on which the bus arrived with the rack full – off I’d slink to the restroom of a neighborhood Starbucks to change in to riding gear and just ride in, but as is pointed out in the article above – some people’s multi-modal commute are just too far for that option to work. There’s a lot more plastic in the new racks, I bet the tricky button configuration is related to that.

      Bicycling on the roadways is a topic rife with strongly held opinions: you should only ride foldable/you shouldn’t wear lycra/you should take the lane like a vehicle/there should be a separate network of paths, etc. I’m impressed at how productive and civil the discussion has been here.

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