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Bikes Plus Racks Equal Bus Riders
By Melinda Tuhus

[This article ran in the Hartford Courant August 02, 2001]

In mid-July, I wheeled my loaded touring bike into the baggage car of the Amtrak train I was taking from New Haven to Burlington, Vt., for a cycling vacation.

The train was due to arrive around dusk, and I pictured myself riding a few blocks through the streets of that small city to my friends' house. But the train was an hour late, and it didn't go to Burlington as I'd thought, but to Essex Junction, almost 10 miles away.

I was faced with the unappealing prospect of riding a convoluted route in the dark down a highway with no shoulder, with rain threatening - not an auspicious beginning.

Then the station master said, "Or you could wait 20 minutes for a city bus."

All buses serving the greater Burlington area are equipped with front racks to hold two bikes. A little before 10 p.m., the bus rolled up with one bike already aboard. In 15 seconds, I had secured mine to the second rack, paid the standard bus fare of one dollar - no charge for the bike - and 20 minutes later arrived at my friends' house.

As a lifelong pleasure cyclist and a daily bicycle commuter for the past 15 years in Connecticut, there have been plenty of times when I would have appreciated being able to throw my bike on a bus rack - when it rained, when I got a flat tire, when I made some bulky purchases in town that wouldn't fit in my backpack.

Yet Connecticut is one of just a handful of states that provides no bike racks on its fleets of buses.

Federal transportation data show that commuters will walk an average of one-quarter mile to a bus stop, but they will bike up to 2.5 miles to a stop. They could then either lock their bikes at the stop and hop on the bus, or put their bikes on a rack and continue their bike commute at the other end of the bus ride.

That option would increase commuter flexibility, but would only be feasible if all the buses in a region were fitted with racks.

Many large cities have equipped their entire fleets with bike racks, including Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Tucson, Ariz.; Miami; San Jose, Calif.; and San Diego, according to Sportworks, the largest provider of such racks. A company spokeswoman says 40 percent of public buses in the United States and Canada now have bike racks - double the number of five years ago.

This "multi-modal" transportation model contributes significantly to easing traffic congestion, as well as increasing recreational options.

So what's up with Connecticut? Connecticut Transit is scheduled to do a pilot project this fall, putting bike racks on all 36 buses in Stamford. Most of the money for bike racks comes from federal transportation dollars funneled through the states.

Transportation planners and state officials are wringing their hands over the gridlock in our state. But when it came time to create a transportation strategy board in the General Assembly this year, no cycling representatives were included, although the Connecticut Bicycle Coalition and the newer, broader Transportation Choices Coalition of Connecticut have been working to improve bike access to mass transit and thereby ease congestion.

Bicycle advocates need to increase their outreach and keep up the pressure on elected representatives and regional planning bodies to come up with workable solutions to our transportation woes.

Let's hope the bike racks on Stamford buses soon multiply to all our urban areas.

Melinda Tuhus of New Haven is a free-lance writer and communications director for Connecticut Fund for the Environment, which sponsors the Transportation Choices Coalition of Connecticut.

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