Beginning Oct. 2, the Port Authority of Allegheny County will try to make a five-year-old program finally useful, reviving its Rack 'n Roll program by installing more bike racks on buses.
The program began in 2001 with a grant from the Richard Mellon King Foundation, but has benefited mostly East End routes: 54C North Side-Oakland-South Side; 71A Negley; 77D Highland-Friendship; 77F Morningside-Friendship; 77G Stanton Heights-Friendship; 500 Highland Park-Bellevue; 11D Perrysville; and 21A Coraopolis.
Yet there aren't enough racks to ensure that every bus serving a route will have one, making the entire program unreliable. As a result, some bikers have been stranded, while others have given up on the program entirely ... leaving bikers without bus racks, and bus racks without bikes.
Marc Yergin of the cyclists' advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh says he sometimes counts on rack-bearing buses to save him from a nine-mile ride home from Allegheny General Hospital on the North Side, where he is a medical technologist, to his home in Squirrel Hill. He says buses are missing the racks about one-third of the time.
"It's not a lot of fun riding long-distance in the rain," Yergin says.
A federal grant of $290,000 will add 100 racks to the 158 already in place, an expansion the Port Authority says will ensure every bus on each designated route will be equipped with one. In addition, four more routes ... 26A Ingram-Sheraden, 26D Chartiers City, 56C McKeesport-Lincoln Place, and 59U South Side Works-Oakland-Waterfront ... will gain racks, adding to the eight currently designated routes. (The "T" has always accepted bicycles.)
Although the Port Authority has not been tracking rack usage and has no plans to start, "We're recommitting to the program," says spokesperson Carmen Bray. "We're doing our best to guarantee the routes that we've designated will have buses with racks. We can't guarantee anything 100 percent."
They could make such a guarantee by installing racks on every bus, as is the case with all regular routes in metropolitan areas such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Minneapolis-St. Paul. But Allegheny County, like all transit systems in the state, is still seeking steadier funding from the legislature in Harrisburg. Having a rack for every vehicle, says Bray, will remain a distant dream as long as funding "continues to be a challenge."