Despite New Jersey’s large commuter and light rail network, a very small proportion of commuters travel to or from rail stations by bicycle, and little is understood about their travel behavior. To fill this knowledge gap, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center undertook a series of primary data collection tasks to document the current levels of travel by rail transit commuters who bicycle to rail stations, to learn about the conditions they encounter during their trips and at stations, to understand their motivations in choosing this means of access to stations, and to learn in more detail of the travel behaviors of those who make these kinds of journeys.
BPRC conducted several data collection activities: 1) counts of bicyclists at 35 stations (those stations that were known to have a large bicyclist population) who were riding to for from the station by bicycle; 2) inventories of 214 stations and the adjacent roadways; 3) a survey of bicyclists who travel to stations; and 4) a focus group with rail passengers who travel to stations by bicycle to learn first-hand about their experiences. Together, these activities benchmark the current state of rail transit commuters who access stations by bicycle and provide a resource for the evaluation of future conditions.
From May through July 2013, 619 bicyclists arriving to or departing from 35 stations train stations were counted during a four-hour observation period between 6:30 am and 10:30 am. Most bicyclists were male (89%) and about a quarter were observed carrying their bicycle onboard the train.
Station & Road Inventories
Inventories of New Jersey’s 214 rail stations were also taking between May and July 2013, between 10:30 am and 2:30 pm. The stations were found to have 3,361 parking spaces in bicycle racks. However, at the time of the station inventory, only 49% (1,645 spaces) of this capacity was utilized. The inventory also found that parked bicycles exceeded available parking capacity at some stations while few or no bicycles were parked in racks at others. Further, 19% percent of stations had no available bicycle parking, while six stations had more bicycles parked in the racks than they were designed to hold. This data indicates a mismatch between bicycle parking demand and its availability at some stations. Finally, only 2% of all bicycle rack parking spaces were occupied by abandoned bicycles, suggesting that, statewide, this is not a big concern; however, at some stations abandoned bicycles is a significantly bigger problem than at others.
The characteristics of roads adjacent to rail stations were also recorded, during the same period as the station inventories. Overall, roads that bicyclists use to access train stations are not very bicycle-friendly. Just 2% (17 roads) of the 720 inventoried roads have bicycle infrastructure (i.e. sharrow, bike lane) and many have physical road conditions that could be dangerous for bicyclists (i.e. potholes). However, most of the roads observed are designed for low automobile speeds, making them relatively safe for bicyclists: 82% have speed limits of 25 mph or below and 77% have two or fewer travel lanes.
An intercept survey was distributed to individuals observed riding bicycles to 27 high-ridership stations. A total of 158 respondents completed the survey, for a completion rate of 50%. The results indicate that the surveyed population – typically commuters taking trains to work during the morning peak hours – tend to be White and male, be well-educated, and live in high-income households. More than 80% of the respondents travel between one-half mile and three miles to the train station and 60% typically bicycle to train stations five or more times per week. Eleven percent carry their bicycle onboard the train. The most common motivations for bicycling to train stations are for health/fitness benefits and for enjoyment. The biggest concerns respondents had regarding station facilities and surrounding bicycling conditions are about policing/security at stations and motorists on the roads.
Finally, the results of the focus group echo those of the other methodologies. Participants choose to travel the first and/or last mile(s) of their commutes by bicycle for a number of reasons. Seven of the eight do so by choice and generally enjoy bicycling. Additionally, they cited the savings in time and in fuel and parking costs. They raised concerns as well, especially with regards to inadequate street lighting, safety when riding on busy streets, and a lack of adequate law enforcement. Some participants said they would not recommend bicycling to train stations unless road and station conditions improved. They offered several recommendations, such as educating drivers about bicyclists, adding bike lanes or other infrastructure, and increasing the presence of police or other security methods.
This report establishes baseline counts of the number of train commuters that depart and/or arrive at train stations via bicycle, as well as of the bicycle parking capacity of all train stations in New Jersey. This data will be most beneficial if future bicyclist counts, inventories, and/or surveys are conducted on a regular basis. Such efforts would determine typical bicyclist counts, trends in bicycling to train stations, and changes in behavior and demographics of bicyclists and of bicycle facilities and on nearby roads.
To read the full benchmarking report, click here.