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SMART seeks input on bike parking planned at train stations

  In the not-too-distant future, the phrase “bike-to-train” will be introduced to the North Coast lexicon for the first time.

  But as the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit Authority ramps up for the start of passenger service later this year, there are concerns whether the rail agency has enough parking for those who will get to and from stations on two wheels.
bike rack
  Under current plans, SMART will offer parking for up to 100 bikes along the entire 43-mile route extending from north Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael. Each of the 10 train stations will have five inverted “U-racks,” with each rack accommodating two bikes, a total of 10 bikes per station.

  SMART released a draft plan about 10 days ago outlining the need for additional bike parking. But some SMART board members, as well as cycling advocates, fear those proposed upgrades won’t happen in time to meet initial demand.

  “We feel that it’s critically important that what’s proposed in the investment plan is on the ground at the start of train service,” said Alisha O’Loughlin, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

  David Rabbitt, a Sonoma County supervisor and SMART board member, shared that sentiment.

  “I think this is one thing I’d rather see them provide more of, not less,” he said. “This is relatively cheap parking as compared to automobile parking. God knows, we don’t have enough automobile parking. Let’s at least make sure we have enough bike parking.”

  Jeanne Belding, a SMART spokeswoman, confirmed current plans call for passenger service to debut with the 100 bike parking spaces already accounted for in station designs. She said SMART is open to installing additional bike parking before the start date, subject to public feedback on needs and funding availability.

  In a 2014 phone survey, 9 percent of respondents who are planning to use SMART for their morning commutes said they plan to bike to and from stations. The majority — 51 percent — said they planned to arrive by driving alone in their own vehicle.

  SMART projects a total daily ridership of 3,070 passengers and about 300 on each weekend day.

  To date, the rail agency has identified 331 parking places for vehicles along the rail line. In Sonoma County, 108 spots will be available in Rohnert Park and 66 in Cotati. None has been identified for stations in Petaluma or Santa Rosa.
bike racks
  Belding said on-street parking will be available near some stations and more parking may become available as new development emerges around stations.

  Rabbitt said no matter how people access stations, the experience should be “seamless and offer the best customer experience possible from day one.”

  SMART’s “Stations’ Bicycle Parking Investment Plan” is intended to provide a framework for defining bike parking supply “at the outset of rail services.”

  The report recommends more parking for bicycles be made available at each of the 10 train stations, and that such parking include a range of options, including U-racks and longer-term storage lockers and high-capacity shelters.

  For instance, at the downtown Petaluma station, which SMART projects will see the highest use of any station in Sonoma County, the bike report recommends adding 26 U-racks and eight to 12 lockers.

  SMART appears unlikely to make such additions by the time passenger service debuts. The agency is seeking public comment on the bike plan before bringing it back to the board of directors in October. That would leave a short window of time to install the additional bike parking prior to the start of passenger service.

  The agency is seeking feedback from future SMART riders on whether they think the amount of bike parking is adequate, and the type of parking they prefer for securing their bikes.

  “Once we get that information and feedback from the public, we’ll see what funding is available,” Belding said.

  Funding could come from grants or Measure Q, the 2008 sales tax measure that provides the bulk of support for the rail service.

  Under current configurations, up to 24 bicycles can be accommodated onboard the two-car trains.

  Meghan Weir, senior associate for Nelson/Nygaard, which prepared the bicycle parking report for SMART, acknowledged there are “a lot of unknowns” in planning for adequate bike parking, given that SMART is a new service.

  Weir and her staff reviewed bicycle parking at BART, Caltrain and transit service areas in other parts of the country for guidance. But she said the Bay Area transit systems were not of particular help because they have been around a long time and serve urban centers, with higher daily ridership than forecast for SMART.

  The 9 percent of bicyclists of SMART’s estimated 1,474 morning peak period commuters — excluding the Larkspur station which opens in 2018 — is 120. She said all of the station-specific recommendations for SMART contained in the bicycle plan exceed that standard.

  She said in the case of the downtown Santa Rosa station, the recommendations exceed that standard by a “significant amount” because of the station’s location in a regional employment and economic center.

  Other factors in the analysis included the presence of bicycle infrastructure, such as off-street paths and dedicated lanes, population density and employment.

  The bike parking plan calls for a combination of short-term U-racks and longer-term lockers and high-capacity shelters at stations.

  O’Loughlin, with the bicycle coalition, said riders’ preferences depend on how long they plan to park their bikes and how nice of a bike they ride.

  “If a person wants to leave their bike overnight, or if it’s in a place where they perceive there is a lot of crime, they are not going to want to lock their bike on a U-rack,” she said.