When was the last time someone you know began a story with, “I just biked to the airport and…”? Never, right? Well, it’s for a really good reason: the lack of inter-modal (using several forms of transportation to get from point A to point B) infrastructure and support for non-automobile travel in the United States. It’s also a huge pain in the ass and a symptom of a much broader problem with our fundamental unit of measurement in urban development.
To those who might argue that many American cities are making progress in supporting bicycle traffic, let me say this: there are two major problems with the current approach most cities are making: they largely treat bicycling as a form of recreation and not as a serious form of transit, and they do not actively develop models of inter-agency government cooperation that truly support inter-modal transport.
To date, a number of airports in the United States have specifically created both bicycle access paths and bicycle parking facilities: San Francisco, Portland, D.C., Burlington, and a few more. While this indicates a positive and active support for bicycles as a legitimate form of transport, missing from this list is the more than 300 other major U.S. airports that don’t support bicycle access and parking at the airport.
I should know about how frustrating it is to try to park bicycles at airports#&8212;I’ve tried. I scheduled a flight from LaGuardia to Chicago last year. Since I was traveling for only two days, the obvious solution was to take my small duffel bag, hop on my bike and pedal to the airport. I was guaranteed to be there within 20 minutes, regardless of traffic. This sounded like a great idea for a number of reasons: it was free, it made me completely independent of traffic, there was no airport parking fee, and it was healthy.
Indeed, I got to the airport in exactly 20 minutes, and then it happened: there was no bike rack to be seen. Not even one single lonely metal loop in the parking garage as a concession to the few and intrepid travelers who bike to airports. I asked a police officer where I could park my bike. He looked at me, sort of smirked, and then told me: “Nowhere.” If I chained it up against a parking sign, it would be cut and confiscated by the Port Authority Police Department (how ironic). I ended up pedaling out of the airport, crossing the Grand Central Parkway, locking up the bike under a tree at 94th Street and then walking the quarter mile back into the main terminal building.
Parking my bike wouldn’t have been a problem if I could have realistically taken it on board with me and then biked out of O’Hare in Chicago. And that’s where the broader question of institutional support for inter-modal bike usage comes into play. It’s not that major U.S. cities are not aware of bikes or aren’t “bike friendly.” It’s that bikes#&8212; and the addition of bike lanes and going green#&8212;are consistently seen as a cost to the city and not as a creator of value.
For business travelers, for example, transport to and from the airport is a business deduction. However, we are compensated the same (dollar for dollar) for taking the bus or train as we are for taking a taxi. A smarter approach to green transport would create a system of business deductions on the basis of CO2 emissions, where for every reduction in emissions in your choice of transport there was an equivalent increase in deductible amount.