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Want to bike and ride on Metro buses in St. Clair County? Forget it

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 23, 2010 - Maybe you live in St. Clair County and you'd like to "bike 'n' ride" to work. Or maybe you're just an avid cyclist and you'd like to take your cycle on MetroLink over to St. Clair County and ride a bus to your cycling destination.

In either case, you're out of luck.

That's because you can't take your bike on MetroBus in St. Clair County even though Metro operates MetroLink and MetroBus service there.

While riders can take their bikes on MetroLink anywhere in the system and they can store bikes on racks on the front of buses in the St. Louis area, bus riders in St. Clair County can't transport their bikes on MetroBus. The buses don't have bike racks, and there's no other way to take your bike along for the ride, as Steve Patterson reported earlier this week on the Urban Review STL blog.

Why don't St. Clair County MetroBuses have racks?

Delores Lysakowski, chairwoman of the St. Clair County Transit District, says the racks damage the buses when they go through the bus wash.

"When they go through the wash rack, they tear the heck out of the bus," she said.

But Bill Grogan, managing director of St. Clair County Transit District, has a slightly different tack. He says the racks damage the bus wash brushes. "The washers don't damage the racks, but the racks can damage the washers," he said. "They get stuck in those spinning brushes."

The bus wash uses large brushes similar to a car wash, he said.

"These racks get hooked up on those things occasionally and that causes some issues," he said. In addition, when bike racks are folded against the bus, they block the cleansing action of the automatic brushes, creating added labor costs, Grogan said.

"They have to pay a guy to lower the bike rack, wash the front of the bus by hand, then put the bike rack back up and then let the machine wash the rest of the bus," he said.

"Sometime back, the board of trustees decided the costs associated with the continuing repair of those things was something they didn't want to do."

Lysakowski said it would be impractical for workers to remove the racks each day for cleaning. "Every time that bus goes through a wash rack, which is every night, you're not going to stop and take a rack off and then put it back on again when it gets off of the rack," she said.

The five-member transit district board never has allowed bike racks on buses in St. Clair County and isn't considering changing its policy, she said. "It's been a policy that we don't have them so we don't discuss it," she said adding that the district receives few complaints about the policy. "Maybe one every five years," she said.

All 11 MetroLink stations in St. Clair County have had bike racks since they were built, Grogan said. The racks at Belleville and Shiloh/Scott were "overcrowded" when the stations first opened in 2001, but more racks were added because of a "fair amount of ridership there," he said. "I don't think that's an issue any longer."

All St. Clair County bus routes converge on at least one MetroLink station so cyclists could leave their bikes in the racks there, he said. Bus riders don't have that option.

"It's not uncommon to see them locked up to a bus stop sign either," Grogan said. "That's not the ideal circumstance, but you see that periodically."

He conceded bicyclists wanting to go to or from a bus stop in St. Clair County have a problem.

"If you need the bicycle at both ends of your trip and part of your trip involves the bus, there's a piece missing for you," he said.

Lysakowski was less sympathetic. She suggested cyclists "ride their bikes someplace and park it and get on the bus without (them).

"They are Metro buses, but St. Clair County pays for those buses and runs the St. Clair County side. We do not want them on our buses. It's just that simple."

All MetroBuses in Missouri have bike racks. "Every one of them," Ray Friem, Metro's chief operating officer of transit services, said.

Metro has had some problems with the bus wash brushes. "They can get entangled, and there can be damage there," Friem said. And the bike rack can be a "complicating thing" if a bus is involved in an accident, he added.

Still, Metro continues to use the racks because of their popularity.

"Our customers in Missouri are saying this is something they'd really, really like to have," Friem said. "It's a part of our system they enjoy and my observation is that there's enough use to justify what we're doing. That use includes riders commuting to work daily and weekend users who bus downtown or to Forest Park and then bike around," he said.

"Our experience has been that they haven't damaged the buses to the point that it's a losing proposition for us," Friem said. "We just feel that bikes racks add sufficient utility to the system to justify dealing with the problems they create.

"We felt it was a good proposition for the Missouri operating area but everybody comes to their own conclusions. St. Clair is not the only bus system around without bus racks."

Some bicyclists were surprised to hear St. Clair County buses don't have bike racks.

"I am surprised that all of the Illinois buses that are part of (Metro) system are not bicycle friendly," Jeff Jackson, an avid cyclist, said. "Since I have a map of trails from (Madison County Transit) showing racks, I assumed all of the Illinois side was bicycle friendly."

Michael Crump, a biker from St. Clair County, uses MetroLink and his bike to get to work most of the time.

"Even using MetroLink has been more and more of a challenge with Metro's rules of only one bike at the end of the first train, beginning or end of the second train," he said. "Not only does Metro need to make sure all buses have the bike rack, but they need to make additional provisions for bicycle commuters using MetroLink."

"Although I live in St. Louis, there have been times I would've liked to have gone somewhere on the east side," cyclist Joseph A. Brown, said. "Sure, I can get to a large shopping mall like St. Clair Square because I know bikes are allowed on Metro-Link. Other than that, I simply don't know.

Patterson, who uses a wheelchair, used bus bike racks often before he became disabled. "It just seems amazing," he said. "We have 15 counties in the region and of those we have four with transit. But then one of the four with transit doesn't have bicycle racks on the bus. That's 25 percent. That's pretty huge, I think."

Kathie Sutin, a freelance writer in St. Louis, writes frequently on transportation.