Now that the major bus restructure has passed and questions about transit access to UW Station have been answered, it’s time to focus on another part of the access equation: bikes. While other Link stations (such as Rainier Beach) intersect some of our regional trails, it’s fair to say that the Burke-Gilman is in a league of its own, and that UW Station will be Seattle’s first high volume bike-rail transfer point. It’s important to get it right for several reasons:
- Taking bikes on Link is a niche option that cannot scale. Assuming no luggage in the bike spaces, Link can currently carry 2 bikes per railcar (4 including standees), at a small added cost to boarding/adboarding time. With thousands of commuters taking to the Burke-Gilman every day, it is both unrealistic to believe that Link can absorb the likely demand and inappropriate to allocate excessive train space to bikes. (I say this as a person who bikes every day.)
- Prior to Bicycle Master Plan implementation on Eastlake, switching to the train will be highly attractive for traffic-wary bike commuters from NE Seattle. Link represents a huge opportunity to expand the attractiveness of stress-free bike commuting, and it should be strongly encouraged by the city, UW, and Sound Transit.
- One year after U-Link opens, the “West Approach Bridge North” project will be completed, providing a brand new dedicated bike path across SR 520 that ends at Montlake. This connection will be likely be very popular and a significant number of these riders can be expected to transfer to Link.
- Access between the heart of the UW Campus and UW Station will always be fastest by bike, as transit services will skirt its edges on Pacific or Stevens Way. Pronto will help for pure last-mile connections, but we should expect a surge of riders on personal bikes as well coming up and down Rainier Vista.
So what is the current plan for bikes at UW Station? Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray told me that there will be capacity for 130 bikes at the station via ten Cora (coat hanger) racks. Unfortunately, Cora racks are generally recognized by bike professionals as not following best practices. Their top bar limits the size and style of bikes they can accommodate, they are generally awkward to use, and they never quite reach their claimed capacity limits. We can do better.
So what could we do? Sound Transit has two plans for improving bike access over time. First, Bruce Gray said that “we do have room to quickly expand bike parking capacity if/when we start to see the demand out-stripping capacity after the station opens…and I’m betting lots of folks will be happy to hear we’re looking at staple racks.” Second, Sound Transit is in the process of procuring 122 new Link vehicles for the full ST2 buildout, and “each of these 122 new light rail vehicles we’re ordering will have space for four bikes hanging per car and two standing. That’s a nice bump from the what we have today. We’ll start rolling those into service in 2020 and they’ll all be available by 2022.”
Much will depend on UW, as Sound Transit noted that the station plaza “is basically an easement from them.” Happily, there is no shortage of space around UW Station, both in the adjacent surface parking lots and on the expansive station plaza. There is space for lockers or a bike cage, and these would both be improvements over the planned status quo.
But if we are serious about scalable bike access, we could take a cue from Portland and build a bike valet. Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU) operates the largest bike valet in North America, with up to 300 daily commuters parking their bikes at the base of the Aerial Tram. It is free for users, staffed Monday through Friday from 6am-7:30pm, providing exceptional security, exceptional parking density, and (for a fee) bike mechanic services. A smaller version at UW Station could be set up and broken down each day or week, incurring nearly zero capital cost and being able to be moved or temporarily closed for university events as necessary. It could be operated by a local bike shop or by work-study students at very low cost; two employees at $18/hour, 13 hours per day, 5 days per week, would cost approximately $150,000 per year, a tiny sum for the access it would provide. The empty plaza space to the east of the south escalator would be a perfect place to pilot the idea next March.
What do you think?