Nearly all Sound Transit buses will soon be able to carry 3 bikes instead of 2

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 10.27.24 AMSound Transit operates many popular regional express bus routes connecting major employment and residential centers quickly and easily.

But, as express routes, getting from your home or workplace to the bus stop or transit center is often the most difficult part. Taking a slow local bus, then waiting to transfer is one way to get there. Driving to a park-and-ride is another.

But many people have figured out the best way: Bike there.

Unfortunately, for many popular routes, so many people want to bring their bikes on the bus with them that the racks are often at capacity.

Well, Sound Transit is trying to help by replacing nearly all their two-bike racks with new ones that can hold three bikes. And unlike the three-bike racks installed on King County Metro buses, the newer SportWorks model is easier to use (the arms that hold the bike steady tend to be less “sticky,” at least the couple times I’ve used them).

UPDATE: Sound Transit sent us a correction to their earlier statement that all buses would be upgraded: “One thing we should correct about new bike racks – they won’t be used on the MCI buses (some Pierce Co. routes).”

Bike use is growing so quickly in the Puget Sound region that adding one extra bike spot to each bus is not going to completely solve the bike + transit capacity issue. But it could very well save you from waiting in the rain for the next bus.

Bringing a bike on a bus is an awesome stop-gap solution for areas that are in the early stages of developing a culture of using bikes for transportation. Indeed, King County and Woodinville-based rack maker SportWorks pioneered the bike-rack-on-a-bus concept in the 90s. The concept is now in use by hundreds of metro areas all over North America. This might be one of the Seattle area’s most awesome and overlooked cultural exports.

But there is a clear problem of scale: A bus can really only carry a couple bikes, but it can carry a lot of people. If more than two or three of those people want to bring a bike, someone has to be left behind. Too many people wanting to bike is a good problem to have, of course, but it means that we need to come up with a more scalable solution.

Enter: Puget Sound Bike Share. With plans to launch in spring or summer, PSBS could provide public bikes near the end of trips in major destination areas and near transit centers. This way, there is no need for everyone to bring their own bikes on the bus.

Combine bike share with King County’s and Sound Transit’s recent investments in secure bike storage at major transit centers, and the bike + transit equation becomes a lot more complete.

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22 Responses to Nearly all Sound Transit buses will soon be able to carry 3 bikes instead of 2

  1. Bellinghammer says:

    AFAIK almost all ST buses already had 3-bike racks, with the exception of some of the MCI buses used between Seattle/Tacoma/Lakewood/Olympia.

    • William C. says:

      All the Metro-run routes I’ve seen have had them, but none of the Pierce Transit-run routes. I’ve been on several 566’s with only two-bike racks.

  2. mimi says:

    great news! honestly, I have never had to wait for the next bus because of the two racks being full, but i am short and not super strong, so I am excited about the new racks!!

  3. One historical note for the record: The first Washington state transit system to put bike racks on every bus in the system was the Spokane Transit Authority, making it a contributor to the “cultural export” point of origin.

  4. Peri Hartman says:

    Bus bike racks have come a long way. Back in the ’80s I was (and still do) living in Seattle and contracting at Microsoft. During the summer, I decided to bike once a week. That, of course, meant crossing 520 on a bus.

    One day, when I had worked late (like 8pm), I biked to the east terminus of the bridge and waited for my bus. At that time, there was only one bus per hour with a rack (it was shown on the schedules). The bus came, but for whatever reason, it didn’t have a bike rack.

    The driver would not let me put the bike on the bus so I waited for the next arbitrary bus, knowing it wouldn’t have a rack. It came. It didn’t. I simply barged in and put my bike on the bus. The driver called transit security, even after listening to my story. I think he was paranoid about losing his job if he violated procedure.

    Security came in a few minutes. I had to get off. Of course, the security driver had no choice but to cross the bridge in my direction. I asked him for a ride. Denied.

    So, I walked on the miniscule shoulder all the way to the arboretum exit. Hope to never have to repeat that!

  5. Taylor says:

    This is great news. I ride the 512 daily, and on my return trip to Seattle in the evening, the 2-bike rack was often full. Community Transit, which operates that route for Sound Transit, told me this when I complained:

    “The new Sound Transit buses operated by Community Transit have 2-poistion bike racks due to a safety issue. From that issue a policy decision was made by our Risk Management and Transportation Departments to not use the 3-position bike racks that are currently available.

    The 3-position racks have been deemed unsafe because it requires a person to load and unload a bike in the center position while standing on the street side of the bus. This can easily place the bike rider into the next lane of traffic placing the bike rider and other motorists into a very unsafe situation. Safety of our riders and other motorists is our top priority.

    We will continue to evaluate new racks as they are brought to market with the hope that we can add to our bike capacity as soon as possible.”

    I was very happy to see these new racks on the 512 this week. I noticed that on this new model, only the front bike has its front wheel on the traffic side of the bus. The middle and back positions have their front wheel on the curb side, making loading/unloading easier. Of course, I still had to wait in the rain yesterday afternoon, because all three spaces were full.

  6. Steve says:

    I know down here in Phoenix Az. All of the buses have three racks on the front. When I would have to take the bus, I would see at least three or four bikers at one stop and one would have to wait. I don’t know how it is up in seattle but down here busses only run every half of an hour, and on sundays every hour. So it does make it hard for people still. Maybe they should have a little trailer on the back to put the bikes on. Or maybe a spot on the inside like how we have in the light rail that we just put in a few years ago.
    BlameTheBiker

  7. Teri says:

    I have a friend who takes Sound Transit Route 510 (Everett to Seattle) daily. He goes back home to Everett at night, often on the last run of the night. He says there has been such a problem with lack of bike capacity that they sometimes dispatch a supervisor’s van to drive behind the bus and pick up the extra bikes. (I think they only do this because it is the last run of the night.) I wonder if it has been worsening since they changed the bus route to only drop off at the Everett Transit Center, and not continue on into downtown. These buses already have 3 bike racks, but it just demonstrates how on some routes the demand already far exceeds the supply.

    • asdf2 says:

      On the contrary, I would guess that the recent route reshuffling would have helped. In the evenings, the 510 and 511 each ran just one trip per hour. The 512 now does two.

    • William C. says:

      The last couple evening 512’s still continue into downtown Everett; it’s marked as a footnote on the schedule.

      I’m glad to hear about the supervisor’s van, though.

  8. Teri says:

    Oh, after looking at that photo, I realize I used one of these new racks recently. The mechanism seemed smooth and not “sticky”, like you already mentioned. It seemed sturdy and well built. The extendable arm was easier to activate than the kind with the black “button” which is at a weird angle and sometimes hard to get good leverage on. My favorite kind to use are still the 2-bike racks, just because the mechanism and handle are very simple and not over engineered. However, obviously I am in favor of finding a good model which can accommodate more bikes!

  9. Janine says:

    In less-lean Metro times, like times when we might have a functional and partially-sane state legislature, I would fantasize that these racks’ (purported) excellence would inspire the replacement of the current Metro racks, which are a major bane of my existence. Not only do at least half of the ones I encounter have really cranky arms, but the middle rack puts part of your body outside the protection of the bus as you are loading it. On Lake City Way in particular, this is really scary.

  10. Joseph Singer says:

    If the racks that ST uses are like the one in the illustration they will be OK. The three bike racks that are on the majority of KC Metro buses are just plain horrible. Many of them you could pull a muscle just trying to mount a bike on the carrier. Sportworks as far as I’m concerned did a complete fail when they made these carriers. I don’t know if it’s because KC Metro does not do periodic maintenance on these carriers, but many of them are either very hard to use or are just impossible to use for a person with normal strength.

  11. Neal says:

    ST are idiots but operated by other transit agencies. They take away buses then don’t accommodate the riders the people that pay their wages? I have been left downtown or the U district for hours wIting for a bus with a free rack. What am I to do ride too 4th and Jackson to get my bike on.

    It is like not MY PROBLEM but give us ST more tax dollars. CT allows bikes on buses how about doing it for ST IF OPERATED by CT.

    Why confuse the public ST little secret.

    ST to Snohomish county is operated and ran by Community Transit and the buses to the Eastside is operated by Metro. So Sound Transit has NO COMMITMENT or INCENTIVE to the public….

    GIVE ME MORE TAX DOLLARS …………

  12. Scooter says:

    Bus drivers not allowed to waive rules, such as a bike on transported on a bus when when the passenger load is low. The driver could have the bike strapped in, like a wheelchair. Its the nature of goverment. It’s big, it’s stupid and it’s thuggish.

    Metal side hangers could have been put on the 520 bridge years ago to allow for a lightweight aluminum walkway. But that would just be too simple, too reasonable and too low cost.

    To repeat: Its the nature of goverment. It’s big, It’s stupid and It’s thuggish.

    • JAT says:

      Big, stupid, and thuggish perhaps (though I’m not certain I agree), but there is no other entity I’d rather have in the position of administering programs for the public good and general welfare.

      who else? Enron?

    • Al Dimond says:

      Whatever the “nature of government” might be, bus drivers here are some of the most reasonable people you run into on a daily basis. I’ve seen bus drivers waive the rules and let people bring bikes on board many times when the conditions were otherwise right.

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