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MTA Riding Momentum of Commuter Bike Station

November 05, 1996|JANE SPILLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Is the mighty MTA putting some of its considerable weight behind pedal power?

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is showing interest in duplicating the Long Beach Commuter Bike Station--where riders can valet park their bike for free, fix a tire, change clothes, grab a cup of coffee and hop on a bus or train.

Saying it is "committed to encouraging increased bicycle commuting," the MTA sent a notice to 88 cities and other interested parties asking for proposals for bike station sites to be located near bus or rail lines. The prototype Long Beach station, the nation's first, has been operating for six months.

Japan created 8,500 bike stations and about 2 million bike commuters out of the oil crisis in the 1970s. In Holland, there are lots of bike stations connected to transit.

How far are we from seamless transportation--being able to transfer easily from a bike to a train or a bus?

When John Case, the entrepreneur who dreamed up the idea for the Long Beach station, offered me a tour, I looked into getting there by bike from the Westside--about 22 miles as the crow flies.

First, like a lot of people, I needed to borrow a bike. Only about 2% of the population in Southern California rides a bike, the MTA says. This figure goes up to about 15% near the beach, where traffic is often congested and there are bike paths.

To get to the Metro Rail Green Line by the most direct route meant getting in the thick of traffic on busy Lincoln Boulevard and surviving the harrowing Sepulveda tunnel under the LAX runways--or finding a way to go around.

Could I ride a bike to a bus that would take me to the Green Line? Not yet. The MTA buses don't have bike racks. The Santa Monica Big Blue Bus has added a route that connects to the Green Line, but the buses don't have racks. I also would need a bike permit for Metro Rail, so I called the MTA Cycle Express line--and got a recording. I left my name. The application arrived a week later. It requires a $6 fee, a photo ID and an annual renewal.

The final blow for many bicyclists is being banned on Metro Rail during commuting hours from 6 to 9 a.m. and from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. (Folding bicycles are allowed at any time.)

So I gave up and ended up driving to the Green Line station near LAX, parking, catching the train and transferring to the Blue Line, which let me off by the bike station in downtown Long Beach. The whole trip took an hour.

For people who live near the Long Beach station, commuting by bike to the Metro Rail system is much simpler. Case conceived the idea for the bike station when he saw his neighbors getting in their cars and driving four blocks to park and catch the Blue Line. It took 4 1/2 years to drum up support and get the city to open the station.

It took up 16 spaces in a parking lot to create the station, which accommodates 150 bikes. The station has a bike repair and rental shop, changing room, bathroom, cafe and patio. It is two blocks from the Long Beach Convention Center and one block from the popular Pine Avenue area of sidewalk cafes and movie theaters.

The Long Beach Redevelopment Agency provided the site. Federal transit money funded the $279,000 cost of construction and operation for 18 months. Marketing was left out of the budget, and Case says the biggest problem has been getting the word out and getting people to try the station. It serves about 25 bicyclists a day.

"If the MTA was really encouraging bicyclists, it wouldn't have restrictions on Metro Rail," said Tim Price of Long Beach Cyclists. "What bicyclists want is seamless transportation."

Across town in the San Gabriel Valley, that dream is starting to happen. Foothill Transit became the first bus line in the county to install bike racks on all of their buses this summer. Herberth Higueros of Foothill Transit says the agency's buses serve 700 to 800 bike riders a month and the numbers are jumping.

"I never thought this would be so exciting for our customers," he said. "Some bicyclists are connecting to Metrolink, which allows bicycles during commuting hours, and the San Bernardino Omnitrans bus line, which has bike racks."

Public Places writer Jane Spiller welcomes comments or ideas. Contact her c/o NEXT L.A. or by e-mail at Jane.Spiller@latimes.com

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