Bicyclists who use the MBTA are finally seeing an unprecedented expansion of bike parking facilities planned in the next few years. However, to those who are still waiting for those facilities to open, I will try to help answer any questions as to why Alewife station was the first to get a bike cage over other locations with little or no bike parking. Another question one might have is why a standardized bicycle rack is not a more cost effective and flexible solution to provide bike parking throughout the system.
On September 18, 2008, two bike parking cages opened at the Alewife station, five days after the MBTA announced a completion date for the Ashmont Station sometime would be sometime in 2009. However the planning and construction of the renovation at Ashmont predates any thoughts about a bike cage at Alewife. I am not sure if the MBTA figured bicyclists using Ashmont, (or Shawmut , Fields Corner, and Savin Hill) would simply have to find another means bike parking to their neighborhood station while other stations which already had ample bicycle parking were given even more, and very secure, bike parking.
Defenders of Alewife say that the justification for the placement of the cage was based on demand which is probably a good methodology, but the MBTA was presented with two different studies at their MBTA bike advisory committee that based priorities according to existing capacity and minority demographics in their request for outside input for parking prioritization. I will cite specifics of those studies later in this response. I also need to point out that the money used on those two cages could just as easily been used to purchase a large quantity of standard bike racks to be used throughout the whole system.
Defenders of Alewife also point out that there was not much political will in Boston to demand bike parking infrastructure, but there was ample opportunity to fund racks at Alewife using match grant money from MAPC via the town of Cambridge and that was not sought at this location. My own observations have identified numerous rack spaces taken up with abandoned bikes at Alewife. Clearing those bikes and storing them at another location for possible claim or recycle would not have cost any capital expenditures, although it would mean someone at the MBTA would have to do that job instead of something else.
As for political will not existing in Boston, that changed the day Mayor Menino decided bicycling every morning was such a life changing event for him, he decided to share it with the rest of his constituents. But despite this epiphany, Boston did not need to depend on Menino for the planning and installation of bike racks at MBTA stations in Boston.
Going back to May 2002, Tim Baldwin the Executive director of Massbike approved of a joint venture with the MBTA to formalize the MBTA Bikes and Transit Committee. They met at least quarterly every year at the State Transportation building until dissolving sometime in 2008 after the committee chair David Loutzenheiser orchestrated the spending of available CIP money for that year for bike parking racks to be spent in Cambridge and not Boston. The current director of Massbike, David Watson who sat on the MBTA Bikes Advisory committee during its existence has denied an invitation by General Manager Richard Davies to reinstate this committee.
Here is the chronological summary of events leading to the first bike cage installation :
First, you may want to check these Ashmont Station renovation plans dated September 2003, where is the bike parking?
On March 10, 2005 Massbike presented their bike parking survey results to the MBTA in which they found there to be 8 bike parking spaces available at Ashmont and was under the assumption that the design/construction of the Ashmont Station would expand upon that. The same Massbike survey found there to be 174 spaces available at Alewife.
Actual Construction of the Ashmont renovation began in August 2005:
And it was stated there that: “Ashmont Station is an intermodal station, serving the Red Line subway, the Mattapan Trolley, and buses. A construction contract was awarded to Barletta Heavy Division, Inc. in August 2005.”
On August 16, 2006 The CTPS presented a Title VI (something to do with minority demographics) bike parking survey to the MBTA Advisory Committee which verified the 174 bike spaces at Alewife and rated it a LOW priority (the ratings were Low, Medium, High). In the same survey, Ashmont was also verified to have 8 parking spaces but was rated a C for under construction with the assumption that the station would be brought to current planning/architectural standards and surveyed needs before completion.
Jonathon Niehof resubmitted the results of the Massbike survey in December 2006 in his role as MBTA Bike Advisory Chair to reassert where parking was deficient.
I spoke to Darrin McAuliffe of the MBTA via phone while he was in an onsite construction trailer in the fall of 2007 to ask where the plans for bike parking were at Ashmont and how many bike racks would be installed. As the initial construction budget did not include bike parking, he stated that bike parking could be accommodated through a form cost overrun requests which was the existing practice at the MBTA. The MBTA board of directors opposed this cost overrun procedure general somewhere thereafter when they came under scrutiny for their fare hikes and an 8 billion dollar deficit. So somewhere in the shuffle, bike racks were never actually located or committed to construction when the project broke ground in 2005. That condition existed for a few years thereafter and I pointed this out to the MBTA many times while I was on the committee. Bicycle parking in a bike cage, now called a “pedal and park” facility has at last been slated for completion sometime in 2011 at Ashmont.
On September 28, 2007, the MBTA reminded the bike advisory committee about the CIP hearings at which there would be an opportunity to testify for funding of bicycle needs. I attended one such CIP hearing in December and requested as a member of, but not on behalf of the bike advisory committee for more bike parking everywhere its needed (and the completion of the bus racks). I reported back to the committee of my testimony on Dec 17th, 2007. At that meeting the chair, David Loutzenheiser presented a plan for a bike cage, and suggested it location to be at Alewife to be approved for funding through the CIP program. The committee approved of this request to be submitted, later than the December 31rst deadline if necessary, to the CIP review program.
The chair, David Loutzenheiser risked not getting any bike parking infrastructure at that December 2007 meeting. I inquired that if in asking for both bike racks to be completed on the bus and two bike parking cages at Alewife we could risk asking for too much money and being denied anything. Eric Schier of the MBTA didn’t see this as a problem, neither did David Loutzenheiser. That may in fact have been the case because I don’t see either expenditure being mentioned in the final 2008-2012 CIP budget summary. It’s more likely the funding came in from another source in 2008 to get the bike cages paid for and I recall they may have been paid for by Economic Stimulus funds. In any case, the conclusion is the same regarding how the decision for parking rack type and prioritization of location were decided upon.
On January 7, 2008 David Loutzenheiser submitted a letter to the MBTA CIP hearing administrator stating the MBTA bicycle committees request to install two Bicycle Cages at Alewife (and the completion of the bus racks). The deadline for requests and testimony at public hearings had expired on Dec. 31rst, 2007.
On September 18, 2008, two bike parking cages opened at the Alewife station.
On Sept. 23rd, 2008 an MBTA release posted at: http://mbta.com/about_the_mbta/news_events/?id=15779&month=&year=
stated that the Ashmont station was slated for completion in 2009. With all that is going on there with Mixed use Transit Oriented Development and antique trolley turnarounds I am not sure when it will be ready for an official groundbreaking ceremony which to my knowledge has not occurred to this day.
In the final analysis, Federal Funding dictated when but not where bike parking would be located. My first point was that the MBTA was consistently reluctant to spend its own money (from fares, state sales tax, etc.) on bicycling facilities. Secondly I wanted to assert that that compliance with laws regarding demographic analysis in the planning of public facilities should be adhered to if government money was obtained with that contingency. Failure to comply with accepted standards in the Architecture of Transportation facilities with regards to providing bike parking was also an issue at Ashmont, but who in Government is overseeing that activity anyway? I guess that’s where bloggers come in.
At least one blogger shares my sour grapes in a story was posted on the Bostonist at:
Where Rick Sawyer stated on Sept. 9, 2009:
“Bike riders in Boston got the short end of the stick with the MBTA opened its first bike cage in Alewife, the last stop on the Red Line, in the city of Cambridge”
In deference to the larger scheme of things making everything work out in the end, the next bike cage was constructed at the Forest Hills, Boston Orange line station on October 9, 2009.
Disclosure: I served on the MBTA bicycle advisory committee for over three years from 2004-2008 and filed a complaint to the Attorney General for its potential violation of the State’s open meeting rules during that term. My goal in writing this blog is to encourage the MBTA to rejuvinate the MBTA Bicycle Transit advisory committee and keep it within their auspices.