April 21, 2008

Bicycles on Trains ?

Much has been written in recent weeks about allowing bicyclists to bring their vehicles on board Metro North commuter trains, and I wanted to add my two cents just as a commuter and not as Chairman of the Commuter Council. (Never be confused when I write here as I am always and only speaking for myself and not the many groups on which I serve.)

What is it about “bikers” that they feel their rights trump those of other commuters? How can such a well organized and vocal lobby be so blind to the sad realities of commuting on Metro-North that they would ask commuters to straddle their two-wheelers in standee-filled vestibules in the name of personal liberties and “being green”?

Bikers have no more “right” to bring bicycles on crowded rush-hour trains than I have to haul aboard a steamer trunk. (At least you could sit on a steamer trunk). Yet, they rant against everyone in their personal strivings for two-wheeled freedom.

In the interest of personal disclosure: I do not ride a bike, but I do commute and often must stand for an hour or more due to lack of seats.

Bikers… here are the facts of life:

Fact #1, there’s no room for bikes at rush hours. Heck, we don’t have seats for paying passengers, let alone space for bicycles. And the new M8 cars that are coming won’t change that crowding for many, many years given annual ridership increases averaging 5%.

Fact #2, bikes are already allowed on non-rush hour trains. And they’re carried for free. So quit your whining.

Fact #3, if you’re heading for New York City, you don’t need a bike. Mass transit is plentiful in the city, so leave your Cannondale in Cannondale.

Fact #4… or maybe an opinion… I don’t think there’s any demand for bikes among city-bound commuters.

The pro-bike lobby is well organized, very vocal and relentless. But they’re also unreasonable in their demands that every Metro-North train accommodate a special car filled with bike racks.

They point to such services in the San Francisco bay area, but Caltrain has only 37,000 daily riders carried on 100 double-decker passenger cars compared to Metro-North’s Connecticut ridership of 110,000 each day crammed into cars with much less space. If Caltrain’s ridership continues to climb, I predict they’ll rip out the bike racks and add seats.

If bikers really wanted to build support for their cause, I have a suggestion. Rather than rant against those who reasonably argue against bikes on trains, the bikers should instead lobby for bike racks and lockers at rail stations. Attract more people to two-wheeled transportation to catch the train by persuading local towns which operate those stations that this would be a great way to cut parking permit waiting lists. Towns like Westport do a great job with bike racks. Why can’t the other towns use parking revenue to similarly serve their residents?

The bottom line: until every paying passenger gets a seat for their Metro-North ticket, let’s allocate room on the trains to people, not their bikes.

April 09, 2008

Going The "Green' Way

Earth Day is coming and with the reawakening of the planet, our thoughts turn to “going green”. We drink our overpriced lattes in cups made with recycled material, feeling pretty good about saving our planet as we drive away in our SUV, getting 12 miles to the gallon. We’re in denial and reluctant to change our selfish habits.

As the US dollar plummets in value, we wonder why lower gas consumption doesn’t lead to lower prices. And we shake our heads in amazement as the third world mimics us by embracing the automobile, adding to competition for this dwindling resource of energy.

Transportation is one of the biggest energy hogs in the US. And now that gas has reached more realistic levels compared the rest of the developed world, we’re all wondering what we can do to drive and spend less.

A few ideas:

Live Closer To Work: If we didn’t have to travel an hour to get to and from our jobs, the savings would be immense. Of course, this assumes we can find affordable housing… another topic altogether. But if you’re house-shopping, factor in transportation time and expense into the “total cost of ownership”.

Car Pool: Even if just occasionally, share the ride to work or the airport. Check out www.nuride.com for an incentives-based solution. Or for regular commutation, www.metropool.com or www.rideshare.com can help you find someone to share the ride with. Even soccer moms have their own network to get their kids from games to dance class: www.dividetheride.com

Try A Bike: For local trips in good weather, the exercise will do you good. And if you bike to or from the train station you can chuckle as you skip the four-year waiting line for a $300 annual parking permit. Not enough bike racks at the station? Call town hall and demand they spend that parking money on this simple, green amenity.

Take The Bus: Our region’s bus service is improving and is increasingly popular. “The Coastal Link” bus from Milford to Norwalk along Rt. 1 runs seven days a week and costs only $1.50 (vs. $3.50 on Metro-North). And the “I-Bus” from Stamford and Greenwich to White Plains has been running now for a decade and still costs only $2.50. Coming soon, BRT or “Bus Rapid Transit” offering faster speeds in cool new coaches.

Put Your Kids on the School Bus: Your tax dollars pay for them, so why do so many moms insist on driving their kids to school each morning in “the SUV parade”? What are you teaching your kids about avoiding mass transit?

Walk: Health officials say Manhattan dwellers are healthier than their suburban counterparts because they walk so much. Cars offer convenience, but going to the store for a quart of milk doesn’t have to involve moving two tons of steel with you to achieve the purchase.

Take The Train: Commuter rail is the most fuel efficient transportation alternative, far better than even the bus. On longer journeys, an Amtrak Acela uses a third less fuel per passenger than a jetliner and emits 3 times less CO2 . And by train, you don’t have to take off your shoes or enjoy a TSA-massage on your way to the boarding lounge.

If You Must Drive, Plan Your Itinerary: Don’t just drive roundtrip from home to the store. Save up errands and plan multiple stops along the way.

Clearly, there are alternatives to the single-occupancy, gas guzzling automobile. What’s your energy-saving transportation tip? Share it with me and I’ll include it in a future column.


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