By Tom Held Special to Published Sep 21, 2012 at 1:06 PM
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes.

Bikes and buses have become a popular combination in Milwaukee County, based on new figures from the Milwaukee County Transit System.

Use of the racks, installed in 2009, has increased significantly, and bus riders are on pace to load their bikes on a bus more than 130,000 times in 2012, based on a conservative projection. The usage would top 150,000 if the momentum continues along a trend recorded in the statistics provided by MCTS.

That would match the projections cited by advocates who lobbied the Milwaukee County Board to approve the bike rack installation, which cost $405,000. Funding came from a $384,750 federal grant and $20,000 from MCTS.

During the debate, MCTS officials calculated usage would reach 100,000 per year and a report from the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin projected 200,000 per year. (Those predictions were based on total ridership numbers of 51 million; total bus ridership has dropped since then to 44.1 million.)

Early on, critics noted that the usage figures fell far below those projections, but the trend has shifted. Even in the winter months, thousands of bus system users have combined their rides on the bus with a ride on two wheels.

Transit system drivers recorded 89,190 riders racking a bike on a bus in the first eight months of 2012, through August. That's a 58 percent increase compared to the usage in the first eight months of 2011, and more than triple the usage in the first eight months of 2010.

In August, MCTS drivers recorded 16,950 bikes on their buses, the highest monthly tally to date.

"It is phenomenal to see the bike rack use soar in just three years," said Jacqueline Janz, marketing director for MCTS. "More and more individuals continue to see the value; buses having this capability only make MCTS more beneficial to the community. Buses not only save individuals money, but also support a healthy and sustainable lifestyle."

Janz and advocates for more transportation options have said the bike racks extend the reach of the bus system by making it easier for commuters to travel one to two miles to a bus stop. It also provides an option for workers, who may take the bus to work, then bike home at the end of the day.

"It is great, but not unexpected news to hear more and more people continue to use the bike racks on Milwaukee County buses," said Dave Schlabowske, communications director for the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.

"It can be a bit intimidating to try it the first time, but as more people see how easy it is to put a bicycle on the rack, those numbers should continue to rise," he said. "That is certainly in keeping with what we have seen in all the other cities that have made the important inter-modal connection between bicycles and transit. It also makes sense when you consider all the new bike lanes in Milwaukee and the census data that shows bicycle use in Milwaukee is up more than 200 percent over the last handful of years."

Tom Held Special to

Memories of running cross-country for the Slinger Owls motivated Tom Held to get his body moving again when he turned 30. Almost two decades later, he's still on the move. The 49-year-old bikes, runs and skis, and covers news for similarly active people as a freelance writer and blogger.

He spent 26 years as a daily news reporter, and applies that experience to dig out stories about athletes, races, endurance sports, fitness and self-propelled transportation. His work has appeared in Silent Sports Magazine, Wisconsin Trails and Cross-Country Skier.

Held lives in the Bay View neighborhood, where he counts being Dad to twin daughters part of his daily workout.