The Integration of Bikes and Transit: Multi-modal goes the distance

By Yvonne Bambrick (Published originally in the Canadian Transit Forum Magazine June 2016 edition)

Urban Cycling Survival Guide Cover – Yvonne BanbrickThe mutually beneficial connection between bicycles and public transit has grown stronger over the past two decades in Canada. From bike racks on buses, adding bike repair stops at subway stations, and allowing bikes on transit at certain times, to installing quality bike parking and opening secure bike stations, bicycles and transit are more integrated than ever. But we’re not done yet. 
Using a bicycle as a mode of active transportation has been growing in popularity across North America since the ’90s, and the last five to ten years have seen an even greater surge.  More people are starting to bridge long distances with a multi-modal approach that combines travel by bicycle with various forms of transit. 
Biking to or from the nearest train station allows commuters to avoid the hassle of car traffic, the costs of gas and parking, short trips that are far enough to be a burden on foot, and trips that may not be adequately serviced by transit. 

Urban populations are growing rapidly and our public transportation systems, persistently the victim of short-term and political decision-making obscured by the lens of modeism, are dramatically underfunded, underdeveloped, and therefore increasingly unable to meet demand. Urban roadway networks are more or less fixed and can barely accommodate the current number of motor vehicles, let alone the ones set to arrive with a larger population, driverless or otherwise. 

The only way to increase capacity on existing roadway networks is to find more efficient ways to use the space. While still comparatively limited in their application, most large Canadian cities have some combination of typical painted bike lanes, signed bike routes, off-street bike paths, sharrows/shared lanes, and bi-directional bike lanes. Newer and higher-quality infrastructure has also started rolling out, including contraflow bike lanes, physically separated cycle tracks, and public bike-share systems. Unfortunately, these on-street cycling facilities don’t yet connect seamlessly to public transit stations in networked grids that would allow both to thrive.

We are, however, seeing some progress::

  • Ontario’s Metrolinx agency recently announced plans to double Toronto’s in-demand year-round bike-share system with a contribution of $4.9 million to make more bicycles available at GO Transit stations by the end of 2016. 
  • The March federal budget announcement of $3.4 billion for public transit in short term stimulus funding presents an opportunity to include passengers arriving by bike or boarding with a bike amongst the considerations being given to how stations are repaired or retrofitted. It is worth acknowledging that many of the accommodations and retrofits that are now being made for passengers using mobility assistance devices will also be of benefit for those arriving with bicycles.

Additional improvements for consideration as transit funding opportunities increase include:

  • Bike slides along the edge of stairs at key access points
  • Bike specific symbol-based way-finding signage outside and within transit stations
  • Covered and secure bike-parking facilities near the station with access to basic bike tools and air-pump
  • Extended hours during which bicycles are allowed on transit once service levels are increased
  • Cargo compartments that can accommodate bicycles more regularly for tourism and inter-city transportation

Although perhaps not explicitly part of their mandate, transit operators across the country can further strengthen their advocacy by working with municipalities to ensure the addition of on-street bicycle facilities onto the roadways leading to and from their stations. And, wherever possible, surface transit project design would be wise to adopt a Complete Streets approach in order to accommodate and incorporate active transportation priorities.

Transit agencies and operators will continue to play an important role alongside municipal transportation and planning staff in shifting people away from the idle single-occupancy motor-vehicle use that is suffocating our cities and onto more sustainable, pleasant and active forms of transportation. 

Read more in the June edition of the Canadian Transit Forum magazine.


Yvonne Bambrick is the author of The Urban Cycling Survival Guide: Need to Know Skills & Strategies for Biking in the City (ECW Press, 2015). Yvonne is also the Executive Director of the Forest Hill Village Business Improvement Area, an Event Photographer, and Urban Cycling Consultant.

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Spadina Avenue Toronto by Yvonne Banbrick