The transit walk and the bike lift

Further study reconfirmed recently what makes sense intuitively: moving your body as part of your commute or running errands is healthy. The “transit walk” is the focus of a new study in the March 2013 edition of the “Journal of Public Health,” which found that people who live in cities with public transit systems that include rail tend to walk 30 minutes more than those without a rail system.

“Transit walkers in large urban areas with a rail system were 72 percent more likely to transit walk 30 minutes or more per day than were those without a rail system,” the study noted.

Nationally, the number of “transit walkers” — I am loving that term — rose by 28 percent between 2001 and 2009, while the number of people getting at least 30 minutes of “transit-associated walking time” rose 31 percent. Transit walking, the study concludes, “contributes to meeting physical activity recommendations.”

There you have it! Feeling in need of some exercise? Getting the signals that some activity would be good for you? Hit the rails, ride the bus! Happily our regional transit system qualifies (barely). We have one light rail line, with another almost open, and others in planning stages, not to mention connecting bus service. (Places like Denver, Salt Lake, Dallas, and Seattle have some really healthy people, judging by their rail lines.)

But what about upper-body workouts? If the train or bus is the new gym, how’s a person to buff the biceps, trim the triceps? I recommend the bike lift, though I don’t have any studies to back me up. 

I get at least two daily reps of the bike lift on my way to work. During winter, I often also get a round of evening reps, putting my bike on the bus to reach the bicycle paths along the Mississippi River (thereby giving myself a break from cold weather and sometimes snowy streets). I’m not sure how much my bike weighs, but let’s just say the beater bike I purchased for winter commuting is not carbon-intensive in more ways than one.

So, what are the basic steps to the bike lift? Here’s a brief guide to putting your bike on the bus for those days when you are not getting in your transit walk. 

Step 1:  Waiting for the bus. Ride your bicycle to the bus stop, arriving a few minutes before it is scheduled to arrive. (Tip: if your route tends to have a lot of bicycle commuters, try riding to an earlier stop on the route to see if you can beat the competition.) If that fails, you can ask the bus driver if you can bring your bicycle on the bus, but it is totally up to the driver. Sometimes the driver will instruct you to get on and off via the back door. Sometimes the answer will be no, in which case, you have to wait for the next bus or lock your bicycle at the stop and return to it later via bus.

Step 2:  Position your bike for the lift. When the bus arrives, roll your bicycle in front of the bus so it’s parallel to the front of the bus. Stand back about 3 feet. If the rack is closed, position your bike so that your front wheel faces left as you face the bus. To release the bike rack, reach up and squeeze the bar in the top center of the rack. It will open towards you. If the rack is open with a bicycle on it, position your front wheel facing to the right. This left/closed, right/open positioning is important for the lift to come.

Step 3: Lift and place the bike. Facing the bike, I grab the front stem and the seat post to lift it up, then place the wheels in the tracks or slots on the rack. That’s the lift! It gets easier over time. And, it’s always good to use the power in your legs to assist with the lift.

Step 4:  Secure your bicycle. There is a metal arm by the front wheel that pulls out horizontally (if it’s stiff, yank it) and then raises up to clamp over the top of the wheel near the brakes. Once this is in place, check to make sure any packs or other gear on your bike is secure as well and board the bus.

Step 5:  Don’t forget your bike. When your stop comes, get off via the front door and let the driver know that you will be taking your bike off the rack. (You wouldn’t believe how many people get off by the back door and watch their bicycle depart with the bus.)

Step 6:  The down lift. If two bicycles are on the rack and yours is behind, lower the metal arm and roll the bike toward you as you stand near the curb (the arms are positioned to keep you out of traffic when you unload the bike). If yours is the only bike on the rack, take it off and return the rack to the closed position by squeezing the bar in the front center of the rack and lifting it up. It sometimes takes a push to get it to click into the locked position. Take your bicycle onto the curb to wait till it’s safe to enter the street or bicycle path for your ride.

Hilary Reeves is communications director for Transit for Livable Communities.