Monday, September 17, 2012

Six Fewer Minutes

On weekday mornings, like many of you, I am owned by my clock. Often, I'll finish getting ready for the day and my clock will tell me whether I will ride my bike to work or whether I will drive.

It's three and a half miles to get to work. At a pace that won't later draw my co-workers away with my body odor, it takes about five or six minutes longer to ride the bike than to drive. And that's just what I can measure in riding time. If the bike isn't ready, I have to carry it up the basement stairs to the porch, and if the tires need inflating, that takes a little time too.

Naturally, I'd bike to work every day if I could. It's better for my health and it's better for my fellow commuters when they don't have to contend with a slow-moving 3,300 lb. Element that doesn't run yellow lights and never races up to a red. But sometimes, I need that extra five or six minutes each morning.

I got to thinking about the 'extra five or six minutes' recently when I learned that the Connecticut Department of Transportation was thinking about selling the land the Stamford train station parking garage is on to developers, and thus moving the parking garage away from the station.


See the little hamster Habitrail-like tube sticking out of the left side? That's the tunnel that leads to the parking garage, located conveniently across the street from the train station. When you park in the garage, this is what your walk to the station looks like. I wish bike parking was in there, too, but one thing at a time.


If the garage moves, it may scamper up to a quarter of a mile away from the station. That means no hamster tube, and that isn't sitting well to a lot of commuters. But seriously, though: how long is a quarter of a mile? I don't mean that in a how-many-beers-are-in-a-six-pack sense, I wanted to find out how much of a time commitment Stamford commuters would truly be in for.

So, around high noon on Sunday, I set off on a bike to find out. I took the Mystery Guest from South Norwalk because of its small size. However, I had added a key piece of equipment to the handlebars.


Yes, an old Micronta (does that brand even exist anymore?) G-Shock wristwatch with no band but a functioning 1/1000 of a second stopwatch. Plus, I had my Garmin bike GPS.

I knew the Garmin would do fine for the ¼ mile journey, but first I wanted to find out how long it would take to get to the parking garage under the existing system. For that, I reached into my backpack and pulled out another piece of equipment. I started my stopwatch and walked casually across the tube that connects the station to the garage.


Yes, my Measure Master from the Rolatape Corporation of Spokane, Washington (Like many of my tools, I really have no idea why I have it, but I do) gave me my first result: the length of the tube connecting the station to the garage measured about 71' and 6”. Barely a 20 second stroll. It's an extra four feet from the water fountains in the station, which was where I wanted to start the next test.

I returned the Measure Master to my backpack and stood once again at the water fountains, reasoning that commuters, when walking to the new parking garage, would probably have to start there unless the train had arrived on track four (I know my beloved Stamford train station).

I started the stopwatch and GPS at the same moment and strode to the escalator. I didn't walk down the escalator, reasoning that during rush hour it would be clogged with people. I learned two things while I did this: first, when you are paying attention to the time, escalators are slow. Second, the Mystery Guest of South Norwalk, with its 14” tires and short wheelbase, is made to ride on escalators.


The bike is also easy to walk, and walk it I did. With normal strides I headed past the hopelessly inadequate bike rack and made it to the end of the cab line. I easily crossed the street and headed down to the next one. I pushed the button and waited for the signal to cross. If I had a lot more time I would have made several walks and recorded the average, but the wait I had before crossing seemed neither long nor short.


I walked past the sign that read 'WELCOME TO THE DIYBIKING.COM TRANSITWAY' (or, rather, could say that someday) and noticed the sign for the bike lane. I remembered the days the transitway was being built in order to make it easier to get to the station, and I hoped that the nice bike and car lanes would continue to do that instead of bringing travelers to something like Starbucks or a Baby Gap.


I walked on, and the GPS passed the .22 mile mark. Keeping one eye on the sidewalk as I turned the corner onto Pacific Street and waited until I hit a quarter of a mile. It took some doing to keep the bike upright, but I was able to stop the stopwatch and the GPS counter at the same moment, just a short walk from Pacific Swim Bike Run.

The results?


The person who estimated it would take about five minutes to walk a quarter mile was only a little off. 5 minutes 40 seconds and 607/1000's of a second is closer to six minutes, but I give that time with an asterisk, which is:

*a donut-appreciating but otherwise fairly healthy 5'11” man in his mid thirties, walking without having to contend with a lot of other pedestrians, on a beautiful day, who didn't have to worry about rain or avoid puddles, easily crossing the Station Place road normally filled with traffic, and doesn't have to walk slower on snow or ice, can walk a quarter of a mile from the station in about six minutes.

I also need to point out I had absolutely nothing better to do that day but walk from a train station pushing a strange folding bike with a stopwatch and write a blog post about it. I don't have to do it every day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year. Not only would it be like having to pick the car instead of the bike to get to work every day but six more minutes to get to work each morning would mean six fewer minutes at home, six fewer minutes sleeping next to your spouse, and six fewer minutes to enjoy the last cup of coffee.

Six more minutes going to work also means six more minutes going home, which means six fewer minutes asking your loved ones how their day was, six fewer minutes to plan dinner and six fewer minutes to read your favorite cycling blog. It adds up to just over two full days a year a given Stamford car commuter would have to give to get to work (and that, of course, is if they stick with using the train. I worry a bunch of them will pick the car to get to work over the train, and that'll put more cars on the road – and that's something I certainly don't want).

I hope my state has the good sense to take the advice of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council and others and keep the parking garage connected to the station. And if anyone reading this has an opinion I hope they attend the public hearing this Thursday in Stamford. Thanks for reading.



3 comments:

  1. Check out a great counter-argument from Small Streets.org.

    http://blog.smallstreets.org/post/18496915718/turn-this-parking-lot-into-a-village

    Land near the station is incredibly valuable and ultimately it is far more productive to use it for housing, retail and jobs. Building communities around transit hubs ultimately leads to much better ridership and fewer vehicle trips than using that land for parking.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks David. The argument is well made, but it is specific to a massive outdoor parking lot, not a garage that doesn't take up as big a footprint. Also, they recently built a nice apartment building just behind the station with retail nearby, so people who want to live right near a station can do it and people who come in from further away aren't stuck with spending an extra 12 minutes to commute. The garage where it is (with, someday, indoor bike parking) helps the largest number of commuters, not just the ones right at the station.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks David. The argument is well made, but it is specific to a massive outdoor parking lot, not a garage that doesn't take up as big a footprint. Also, they recently built a nice apartment building just behind the station with retail nearby, so people who want to live right near a station can do it and people who come in from further away aren't stuck with spending an extra 12 minutes to commute. The garage where it is (with, someday, indoor bike parking) helps the largest number of commuters, not just the ones right at the station.

    ReplyDelete