Thursday, January 5, 2017

Bus bail out

Sequoia may not look it, but in this week's cold weather, she's much happier to ride a warm bus than to ride a half hour on the back of a cargo bike.
Some unusually cold weather struck Portland as school opened up after the holidays, making the morning commute a bit of a trial.

Normally, I take our first grader, Sequoia, to school on a cargo bike. It's about a half-hour journey and in good weather it's a pleasant way to start the day. But the temperature on the first day of school this year was below freezing and the howling wind coming down the Columbia brought the "real feel" down to the mid-teens (about -10° C).

Sequoia was a trooper that first day on the bike, but the next morning, she was begging to go by bus. And with the temperatures dropping rather than rising, I could hardly say no. My selfish hesitation was that the school commute is the only exercise I get all day. But then I remembered that Portland's buses have bike racks, and that would allow me to take along my bike so I could cycle on the return trip home from Sequoia's school.

When the rack is not in use, it folds up and out of the way.

When you need to use it, you unlatch the rack at the top. It folds down,
you pop in your bike and then pull a spring-loaded, extendable arm over
your front tire to secure the bike. Easy when you get the hang of it.
In Budapest, city buses are not equipped with bike racks, and I was told this was because of a European regulation that forbids it for safety reasons. Despite this, bike racks are a common feature on American public buses, and Portland is no exception.

The racks on Trimet buses are mounted on the front and have capacity for two bikes. They're quick and easy to use, although the first time I tried it I couldn't figure it out and started panicking because I was holding up the bus. The driver came out and did it for me, and the lesson stuck -- precisely because it left a lasting scar on my delicate male ego.

One limitation with the racks, of course, is that they hold only two bikes. In times of high demand -- like in a torrential downpour that coincides with rush hour -- these racks quickly fill up so you can't count on Trimet to bail you out of a wet commute. I've also discovered that the racks are not big enough to accommodate my Kona Ute longtail cargo bike -- one reason I'm using a regular-sized bike this week.

But for this cold spell, the bike racks have been very handy and there have been no capacity problems (knock on wood). Until it warms up, the plan for our school commute is to bus one way and bike the other.