Monday, July 19, 2010

Of course you can bike with luggage!

On my neighborhood listserv, there has been a debate raging about the best location for the new intercity rail station. (This despite the fact that that decision has already been made.)

One person said she was very happy with the downtown location, because she could easily get there by bike. Another person scoffed at the idea of people carrying their suitcase to the train via bike.

That's when I had to jump in.

I wrote:
OK, I have to defend getting to other modes of travel via bike.

I have biked to the airport with a small backpack or set of panniers. You know, about the size of an airline carry-on. No sweat. I have also taken the bus to the airport many times with a suitcase. Ditto for taking the bus to downtown to catch the Van Galder (to O'Hare.)

Carrying the stuff by bike is really not a big deal, especially if you have a trailer or rack on the back of your bike. However, the bus or bike to the airport is a lesson in inconvenience. Two buses to get from campus to the airport, less than 10 miles away? Insanity! And biking there takes self-confidence on the roads and a knowledge of the back ways that most bicyclists don't have. (Cabs from my house are well over $20 with tip, and for that price, I might as well take the bus to Chicago and avoid one connection.)

However, getting to downtown by bike or bus is definitely easier and less stressful. Obviously, the farther you get into a car-dependent environment, farther from regular bus routes and nice bike options, the less convenient the downtown looks.

But I will gladly trade a bit longer on the bus or train for being stuck on the Beltline or any major arterial during peak hour. One advantage of rail - either within the city or between cities - is that they don't get stuck in traffic. On one memorable Badger Bus trip, I was walking distance from my destination - 84th St in West Allis - but could reach it because we were stuck in Brewers traffic.

What many people forget is that there are already many people traveling from Milwaukee on a semi-regular basis just for day-trips. You would be amazed at the number of people that commute to or from Milwaukee EVERY DAY. Those people aren't carrying anything more than a shoulder bag or laptop. State workers, lobbyists, researchers at the University, private business people, etc. head both ways 2-5 times per week.

I was fine with the station being either downtown or at Yahara Station. As long as it wasn't at the airport, we could have made it work. There were advantages and disadvantages to both urban locations. DOT picked downtown, likely because they already owned the property, which obviously makes moving forward faster and easier.

Whether you agree with the location or not, the decision has been made. If you want rail to succeed - and I think most people in this neighborhood do want it to succeed - our energies can best be spent now in making the location chosen as attractive and accessible as possible.

Go to the public meetings. Ask the DOT questions. Tell them what you think. And keep up with when and how further decisions will be made, because yes, things are going to happen pretty fast. Although I will be the first to criticize the DOT "public input process" in most cases, and I think they could be doing a far better job with this one, I have seen evidence that public input is being considered and incorporated into the plans.

By the way, the Long Range Transportation Plan Committee meets the third Thursday each month, and the DOT has committed to coming and giving us an update on this project each month. This is also an opportunity for public comment, as is true with all city meetings. 5:00 PM in the Municipal Bldg. Rooms may change in the fall, so check the city's web site.

The Council will be getting updates for 1/2 hour before their first meeting of the month: First Tuesday in Aug, Sept, Oct, Nov. At only 1/2 hour, I don't think they are taking public comments, but you can go and listen in. 6:00 PM in the Council Chambers - 2nd floor of the City/County Bldg.

Thanks to John Luton for photos (and for travel advice in Victoria, BC)