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TriMet Tries To Keep Up With Needs Of Bike Commuters

High gas prices are getting more Americans out of their cars, and some are even plotting a new course to work.

That could mean jumping on public transit, or hopping on a bicycle.  In Portland many commuters are combining those two options.

As Andrew Theen reports, TriMet is wrestling with what to do with more bikes on the MAX.

It's a Tuesday morning, and the MAX Blue line train from Beaverton to Gresham is packed.

In fact ridership on TriMet has jumped more than 10 percent over a year ago.

Colin Maher: "This is where we have our highest ridership, on these crowded rush hour trains."

That's Colin Maher.  He's the Bike Programs Planner for TriMet. 

Maher says the relationship between high gas prices and record ridership is obvious.  TriMet is facing high fuel prices for its buses, and is increasing fares by a quarter in a month. 

Maher says right now four percent of MAX users bring a bike, but that number is rising steadily.

Colin Maher: "There's no way you know we could pack more bikes on here."

No, more bikes are definitely out of the question headed into the city, but 20 minutes earlier, Cameron Adamez was doing a head count on her westbound train.

Ten cyclists, with only four bike hooks to fight over.  Adamez just joined the bike commuter movement a few months ago.

Cameron Adamez: "I hardly ever like get to bike except on the weekends cause commuting took up a chunk of my time.  But I found that when I took my bike I felt better in the morning, and I felt better in the afternoon, and it took me only an hour."

Adamez said she usually doesn't get one of the four precious bike hooks.

TriMet allows cyclists to use spots usually reserved for seniors or disabled passengers if available, and they can be elsewhere if they aren't blocking aisles.  But Adamez said she's been kicked off trains despite complying with those rules.

Cameron Adamez: "I was coming home, and the TriMet official stopped us at either El Monica or Willow Creek.  And they were like, everybody has to get off all the cyclists.  There were about 19 of us I heard."

Adamez said it's frustrating to deal with when you've  already  paid  your  fare.

Colin Maher with TriMet says technically bikes aren't allowed on packed trains.

Colin Maher: "We're looking for ways, you know how can we accommodate growing ridership, but how can we work together and get more people to transit on bikes."

TriMet is in the middle of a systemwide bike plan.  It's looking at adding bike racks and other bike-friendly  facilities. 

Maher says the ultimate goal is to emulate the Netherlands, where over a third of rail users ride a bike to the train station.

He says  Trimet encourages cyclists to leave one bike if possible at a destination and use a two-bike system.

Cyclist Cameron Adamez said having multiple bikes just isn't practical for her, she suggests doubling the amount of bike hooks.  TriMet officials say that would pose a safety hazard with handlebars protruding into aisles.

Colin  Maher: "You know given the demand it's not going to meet the demand for everybody and it's certainly not going to get us to those Netherlands type numbers."

TriMet is still an ocean away from matching the Netherlands for bike and transit use.

Maher says TriMet should be ready to release its systemwide plan in about six months.