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D.C. Bike Station Proposed

Concerned about rising Metro fares and looking for an alternative way of getting into the city? Check this out:
The District government tonight will present its proposal to create a Bicycle Transit Center at Union Station.

The idea is to offer bike parking, rentals, repairs and accessories in a very modern looking structure of glazed panels and steel just to the west side of the train station. It's near where the Metropolitan Branch Trail, a planned bike route from Silver Spring, would pass by the station.

There would be parking for about 200 bikes, some changing rooms and lockers. Models for such centers exist in California, Seattle, and Chicago, says DDOT, but this would be the first of its kind on the East Coast. The center could be open in 2008.

DDOT is looking for suggestions on the plan, and will take questions and comments after a presentation about it. The meeting will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Room 1107 at One Judiciary Square, 441 4th Street NW. Use the south elevator to reach the 11th floor.

You'll find details of the proposal in a pdf document on the District Department of Transportation's Web site.

I'll be interested in hearing what bikers think of the idea for the new center. Can they use this? Are there other locations in our region where such a center would really help?

By Robert Thomson  |  December 12, 2006; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Biking  
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Definitely a move in the right direction, but i question whether people will use it in DC. i'm a bike/Metro commuter (ride 1.5 miles to Takoma Metro, where I lock my bike and take Metro into the city), so I wouldn't use a bike station at Union Station.

When I lived in the SF Bay Area and commuted to Palo Alto on Caltrain, a regional commuter rail similar to MARC and VRE, I used "Bike Station Palo Alto" all the time, which was great. It provided bike repairs, bike gear, and free indoor daytime bike storage. It was located inside the Palo Alto Caltrain Station so it couldn't have been easier to get to, and it was heavily used by commuters.

But here's the big difference: Caltrain had a BIKE CAR on every train - cars that had bike racks built inside of them - so it was easy to commute during rush hour with your bike, allowing you to bike to and from home or work on either end of your commute. so popular was the bike car, that it was often standing room only, and on really bad days, some cyclist couldn't get on because the car was packed.

I don't believe MARC or VRE has such cars on its trains so I don't really get the benefit of putting the "bike station" at Union Station. Metro is also not especially bike friendly.

Anything, however, to increase visibility as biking as a viable commute option is a step in the right direction, however.

Posted by: Eric | December 12, 2006 9:28 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Eric, although any support of biking over cars is encouraged, the Metro system is definately NOT bike friendly. Besides the fact that you can't put your bike on a train at anytime that even resembles rush hour, Metro employees are hostile and unhelpful during the times that you can bring them legally. I think more than a commuter station, better bike lanes and driver education is needed to help bike commuters.

Posted by: Christine | December 12, 2006 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Adding a bicycle commuting center in the district is not the best or even one of the better solutions for increasing the bicyle use in the Metro area. I see the center only helping NE commuters from the District and MD. I also do not believe the proposed location is centralized enough to promote efficiency. How much travelling would people still need to do to get to work after showering and locking their bikes at the center(i.e. walking distance, metro ride)? Finally, I think, more than anything, safety and distance is more of a deterance than whether the individual has a place to lock their bike and take a shower. An effort needs to be made to improve bicycle safety in the city and the surrounding area (VA and MD) with the current number of bicycle commuters before convincing others to commute by bicycle. Trail crossing signs in addition to pedestrian crossing sides need to be added at major intersections along bike trails (i.e. Custis Trail and N. Lynn St. in Rosslyn) as well as bike lanes in the city.

Posted by: va bike commuter | December 12, 2006 9:39 AM | Report abuse

This would be good just as a prototype for other stations, but Union Station probably isn't the most effective place. Are there many people who use a bike to get to Union Station so they can initiate their metro/train trip?

I could see this working really well near Foggy Bottom where almost all the bike trails currently intersect. Suburban bikers accustomed to trail riding in VA and MD don't like to bike on city streets, so they could terminate their bike trip and finish their commute on metro.

This design would be also be great for suburban metro stations like Bethesda/East Falls Church or Ballston, where you could have a large population biking from their homes to take metro.

Posted by: Arrrlington | December 12, 2006 9:48 AM | Report abuse

I might use that sometimes.
I live in Silver Spring and riding down to 14th & Independence Ave is torturous.

I could see myself riding along a nice bike path, parking my bike and then taking the train a few stops.

The return trip would be uphill but the grade is gradual.

Posted by: RoseG | December 12, 2006 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I think it is great they are looking at ways to expand bike commuting in the City, but I agree that Union Station is probably not the best bet. Easier ways to expand bike commuting would be to create more bike lanes, especially downtown. Or at least signs that clearly state how bikers should be in the road, not the sidewalk, and enforce the rule. Including ticketing cars that amuse themselves by gunning for cyclists. And also cyclists who stick to the sidewalks (as much I hate riding in the street, at least cars are more predictable).

Posted by: Alexandria | December 12, 2006 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I think it might be a weekend success.

If anybody rides on the Capital crescent Trail then they know that the area in Bethesda with the Barnes&Noble and bagel places is a hub for bikers. It's entirely possible a bike place might perk up foot traffic at Union Station on weekends when rec riders are out.

Posted by: RoseG | December 12, 2006 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Isn't Arlington discussing something similar to be located in Rosslyn?

Posted by: BC | December 12, 2006 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Actually Union Station is a great location for this. The bike racks there are beyond full as pointed out in this letter the Post ran recently

Many people take metro, VRE or MARC and THEN use their bike to finish their commute and the bike station will allow overnight parking.

The facility will not have showers as one commenter mentioned.

Posted by: Washcycle | December 12, 2006 10:43 AM | Report abuse

I definitely like the spirit of this project -- any concrete (no pun intended) move from state and local governments to support biking is, I think, welcome and perhaps even long-overdue.

As for the amenities, speaking only from my own (limited) biking experience, I live and work in Northern Virginia, and literally have the W&OD trail running behing my generally, when I ride, it's either a fitness ride in my neighborhood or somewhere like Rock Creek Park; in either case I wouldn't really need a whole facility for my bike...just a safe place to put it. I'd be interested to hear from people who do more riding in the District, though.

Some thoughts on what would also be helpful...

* More sturdy "locking stations" throughout the city, and a map thereof.

* More, and more clearly delineated, bike lanes. Better yet, follow the lead of one city...I believe it's Quebec...that actually has concrete barriers separating the bike lanes from the auto ones.

* Increased awareness of motorists AND bikers of the rules of the road. I've lost count of the number of times, driving in DC (especially at rush hour), when I've seen bikers running red lights, weaving in and out of traffic, riding in the middle of the street, slowing down all the cars behind them...all of which, aside from being dangerous as hell for the biker, is annoying as hell for the driver. If bikes have the same traffic laws as cars, then enforce the laws, and help us drivers and bikers co-exist without bloodshed...

* To look really far ahead, how about tax credits for people who actually can and do bike to work...or tax deductions for bikes used for commuting?

Some $.02 from a newbie biker and Prius driver...would be interested to hear from those who have done a lot more biking in urban areas.

Posted by: Benjamin Haag | December 12, 2006 10:43 AM | Report abuse

They may want to also consider allowing 50cc mopeds to use the bike racks. I think the use of these moped-type products would allow others who have a bit father to go a more practical alternative. Also, in congested cities throughout the world they are a very important piece of the transportation system.

Posted by: Chuck | December 12, 2006 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Just read the posting about the "Caltrain," and one poster's commuting experience in the SF bay area. Having a train car set aside for bikes, to me, sounds like an excellent way to facilitate bikers who live out in the 'burbs getting to and from the District.

Another thought....rather than one, or a few, large and elaborate bike station, why not a network of smaller ones? For that matter, why not incorporate them into existing Metro stations...?

Posted by: Benjamin Haag | December 12, 2006 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Washcycle: Thanks for pointing that out. I must have read the report and thought "all-inclusive".

Ben: Don't quote me, but I believe Metro stations already have covered bike lockers that can be rented out.

Posted by: va bike commuter | December 12, 2006 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Let me see if I'm getting this right:

Metro is losing ridership because of overcrowded trains, it can't fix the escalators, trains are always delayed - some even get into accidents, Metro doesn't have enough money to pay its overpaid managers and surly station masters, and it's begging for a "dedicated funding source" to make everything better.

And their creative minds come up with - bike racks.

THIS is our substitute for a decent highway network?

Posted by: CEEAF | December 12, 2006 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: washcycle | December 12, 2006 11:30 AM | Report abuse

This crafters of this proposal may want to think bigger, past 200 bikers ... it looks to me that there are easily 150 or so bikes locked in the racks at Union Station now, without the impetus of extra support.

This proposal would help those who MARC from Baltimore and points south into Union Station and could bicycle onward to work.

Posted by: Baltimore Biker | December 12, 2006 11:38 AM | Report abuse

How I wish the City of Alexandria would complete the Holmes Run train on into Old Town. I wouldn't have to drive to work then, taking one more car off the city streets. Add some bike lanes to Old Town as well, and you might just see congestion clear up along King Street and Duke Street.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | December 12, 2006 12:35 PM | Report abuse

...and here's what the bike car looks like on Caltrain - it was a simple system that allowed a maximum number of bikes that were stacked several deep on bike racks mounted to the train wall. Tags indicated to other riders which station you use so your bike didn't get blocked in. People figured out where to put their bikes based on who gets off the train first. Why can't area transit do something like that here?

by the way, I like the idea of a network of bike stations - makes more sense than having just one.

Posted by: Eric | December 12, 2006 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Isee this as a chance for Metro to add the $1.2 million into their budget for this project then take it out-save $1.2mil (less the feasabily study costs of course) and poof you have reduced the budget enough you don't have to cut out a couple of bus routes capable of carrying 60 people.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 12, 2006 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Benjamin Haag wrote:
"I've lost count of the number of times, driving in DC (especially at rush hour), when I've seen bikers running red lights, weaving in and out of traffic, riding in the middle of the street"

What do you mean by "the middle of the street?" If you mean literally the middle of the street, on the yellow line, that's illegal -- every one is supposed to drive on the right-hand side of the road. But from your context I think you mean in a traffic lane -- which is a perfectly legal place to ride a bike.

Maybe you wouldn't get so worked up at others' perceived voilations of the rules if you knew what the rules were.

Posted by: DC Cyclist | December 12, 2006 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I agree, DC Cyclist. Bike riders often have to ride in the "middle of the street" to be in a turn lane. It amazes me how cars will honk or threaten me when I am in no way slowing them down, such as on the approach to a red light where I need to make a left-hand turn. In fact, often, I'm able to ride faster than cars can drive on certain streets. Additionally, not all red light running is the same - I'm sure that's a controversial view to many - but there are instances where it is safer for me to go through a red light cautiously in an effort to avoid cars at a difficult intersection than it is for me to stay in the mix of cars around me. Like some car drivers, some bikers are always going to ride like idiots, but the majority ride responsibly and the focus should remain there.

Since leaving San Francisco, the thing I notice as the biggest difference in riding culture in DC is the lack of awareness among drivers that cyclists truly share the road. In the SF area, many more people bike as a commuting means. A fair number do here, too, but not nearly as many. If there are more people out there biking (and it will take more bike lanes, more bike racks, and transit systems that are more bike friendly), it will ultimately be easier to coexist with drivers.

Posted by: Eric | December 12, 2006 1:22 PM | Report abuse

OK, I'm not a biker and worse I'm one of the crazies on 270S BUT...

Why do bikers need a coverd area??

If it's raining don't you get wet riding the bike??

Please don't slay me, I'm just curious.

Posted by: Germantown | December 12, 2006 1:35 PM | Report abuse

For everyone complaining about how Metro is missing the point, take another look at the original blog entry. It's DDOT (DC Dept. of Transportation) that's looking into this, not Metro. Don't fault Metro for something it has nothing to do with.

Posted by: DC | December 12, 2006 1:39 PM | Report abuse

This would be a great benefit for someone like me, who commutes downtown 3 out of the 4 seasons of the year. However, I think Metro Center or Gallery Place/Chinatown would be much more centrally located and more useful for people who would then transfer onto Metro to get to their end destination.

I would also want shower facilities as part of the "changing rooms" and would be willing to pay for this feature.

PS: To answer the question about why covered areas are necessary - while your bike might get wet while riding in the rain, the gears keep moving and don't necessarily get soaked plus there is lubrication to help protect them. Prolonged exposure to wet conditions can cause the chain to rust.

And who likes to sit on a wet seat? :)

Posted by: Rachael | December 12, 2006 1:46 PM | Report abuse

To Germantown:

Ask why people would park a convertible...with the top down... in a garage. Then see why people like to keep bikes inside, or at least under cover. :)

Also, for the record, there are extensive waiting lists for the metro bike lockers at almost all stations right now. They have proven enormously popular, especially to riders who can't take their bikes on during rush hour.

Posted by: Why covered parking? | December 12, 2006 2:29 PM | Report abuse

I am a little torn at this proposal. I had wanted to go to the meeting tonight, but don't think I can make it.

Union Station is kind of a strange choice for this. I agree that somewhere downtown, like Farragut West, McPherson Square, or Metro Center would be good. But, I also think that the empty corner along Union Station where the ramp from the entrance lanes to the parking garage does need something and it might as well be something for bikes.

Dear DDOT, keep moving forward with developing transportation infrastructure that is friendly to bikes and bicyclists.

Posted by: TonkaTruck | December 12, 2006 3:33 PM | Report abuse

I think this is a terrific idea. Sure, similar stations in other areas would be nice too, but Union Station seems like a logical place to start to me, especially since that space there really is underutilized. Plus, the funky shape is really sortof nice, and astonishingly daring for DC. There's a ton of new development going in right behind Union Station, so they may be thinking that this location will help serve those office and residences.

All in all, I'd like very much to see this go in.

I say take what you can get now, which is this project at this location, and lobby for more later. If you nix this project now because you'd prefer another location, I'm betting DC govt types get their pants in a knot and refuse to do anything else for years.

Posted by: Hillman | December 12, 2006 3:41 PM | Report abuse

The Old Dominion bike trail literally runs 50 feet from my back door in Leesburg, and 30 feet from my office building in Reston. I never ride my bike for my commute. Why? Because my office doesn't have showers, and it's too far not to have a shower afterwards. A changing station without showers is a changing station not going to be used. Most people still work in professional environments where body odor isn't acceptable.

Posted by: VA biker | December 12, 2006 3:44 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: BC asked above if Arlington has something similar going. It does, and here's a link describing plans for the Ballston Bike Center:

It will more than triple the bike parking spaces at the Ballston Metro plaza to 100 bikes, says Paul DeMaio, Arlington's bicycle promotions manager.

Posted by: Dr. Gridlock | December 12, 2006 5:03 PM | Report abuse

This spot, though not ideal, is the only one the bike programs could get. They fought for and looked for a lot of different places, but this was the only one available. If it's a success it will be easier to get other locations - like Dupont Down Under - up and going.

Showers would be nice, but they bring in all kinds of maintenance, liability and space issues. Of the 10 bike stations in the US, only one has showers. At the others, the changing rooms definitely get used.

Posted by: washcycle | December 12, 2006 9:07 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Andrew | December 13, 2006 3:06 PM | Report abuse

I'm a former DC bike messenger and now commmute 3-5 times a week from Fairfax. My building has showers and they're nice to have. But baby wipes and a (arm) pit stick will get 'er done 90% of the time; riding in from ~7-9am if I dress correctly I won't sweat except for the worst summer days.

I think it addresses some problems, it is progress, and it definitely should be done.

BTW I too advocate 'First Strike' red-light running. If the intersection is clear I will always do it to out-run the traffic queued up behind me, which will often race me for position if I'm in a pack with them. If there were bike lanes this would be unnecessary.

Posted by: flythebike | December 13, 2006 3:31 PM | Report abuse

I attended the meeting with a friend and fellow rider/commuter. when we got there, it had a very weird vibe. there were several people presenting but they appeared to be mostly answering questions. and the questions being asked appeared to mostly come from people who were interested in managing this facility. many of the questions dealt with costs, overhead, ownership, subsidies, real estate, and regulations.

i'm not entirely sure what _was_ going on so i am going to offer my best guess at what _is_ going on. i think that some money to build something has come through. this money is (federal?) pollution abatement money and someone has decided that a bike parking facility is the best way to spend it. the money will be spent. and it's very, very probable that it will be spent on this product. i'm not saying i think this is right or wrong. i'm just sayin.

again, i may be misreading the situation, but that's what i'm getting from it. the stated purpose of the meeting was to get input. but they already have plans, technicals, scale art models, traffic flow ideas and what not. it looks like most of the decisions are made. what i find troubling is that i think this particular idea is a solution in search of a problem. when general interest questions were asked, there were really no answers. what happens if this thing fills up? there will be more street parking nearby. what will happen to the existing bike parking? unclear, it will probably be lost or moved. is this supposed to be a service for existing commuters or is it meant to be something to convince non-cycling commuters to give it a try? no answer. with the prohibition of bikes on marc and metro during rush hour, is union station the best place for this? no answer. will there be showers and changing places in the facility? no, there will be no running water. so there will be no toilets? correct. what happens when the "attendant" needs to go the bathroom? does she/he just lock the place up and go into union station. awkward silence. no answer. giggles from bikers.

maybe i'm being way to cynical. i don't think so as i chatted with several others right after the meeting and they had even more and better questions. but i don't get the feeling that there's much discussion at this point. which is a shame.


p.s. hey mark, let's keep the red light running on the down low for now buddy.

Posted by: dear leader | December 15, 2006 11:11 AM | Report abuse

DC Cyclist:
What do you mean by "the middle of the street?" If you mean literally the middle of the street, on the yellow line, that's illegal...

Maybe you wouldn't get so worked up at others' perceived voilations of the rules if you knew what the rules were.

The rules I was thinking of are these:

By "middle of the street" I meant, in a few instances, literally the middle of the street, as you described, and in others, riding in the middle of a traffic lane on a road with a 35 mph speed limit or higher, when there was enough room to keep to the curb while not slowing down the cars that actually could maintain that speed.

My point being only that riding in traffic while darting around cars, suddenly swerving in front of a car when the light goes green, without warning, and the above, enganger the biker and annoy the driver...and being both, I neither want to get squashed under a Lexus (or any domestic or import model, now that I think of it) nor be the squasher. "Share the road" is a two-way street, so to speak...

Posted by: Benjamin Haag | December 20, 2006 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Regarding the above, I'm writing both as someone who drives with bikers and rides with drivers...and emphatically agree that too many of the latter drive as if pedestrians and bikers were obstacles -- or invisible, or in some cases, targets...
so, perhaps it would help all of us if we had a clearer picture, as I'd said, of what the laws and rules are.

Posted by: Benjamin Haag | December 20, 2006 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Ah well..Merry Christmas, Happy Channukah, Happy Festivus, Happy Holidays...!

Posted by: Benjamin Haag | December 21, 2006 2:15 PM | Report abuse

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