When it comes to bicycle commuting in cities, Americans are earning their training wheels.
City bridges are often off-limits to bicycles, and clogged roadways can hinder all but the most dedicated cyclists. But some cities in the United States and Canada have moved recently to give bicycle riders access to mass transit.
The ability to take a bicycle onto city subways and buses is important because urban bikers can cover great distances quickly while avoiding potholes and heavy traffic.
One city that accommodates bicycle commuters very well is San Francisco. The city's advanced subway system, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), allows bicycles on all trains except during peak hours on weekdays (6:30 to 9:00 a.m. and 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.), according to Alice Delgado, a spokeswoman for BART.
Each train can carry up to seven bicycles. They must be brought onto the last car, and they require a special permit. BART has issued about 8,000 of the $3 permits, which are good for three years.
San Francisco has solved the peak-hour problem for cyclists commuting to work across the Oakland Bay Bridge, with a shuttle service. During weekday rush hours , when the subway doesn't allow bicycles, CalTrans, a state agency, provides a van that can carry 12 riders with their bicycles. The cost to passengers is only 25 cents.
The Washington, the New York-New Jersey (PATH), and Atlanta rapid transit systems all offer some access to cyclists, but compared with BART, access is considerably restricted.
''(US and Canadian) cities are built for cars,'' rather than for bikes, says Bob Silverman of Le Monde a Bicyclette in Montreal. Bridges in Montreal, for example, were designed for and restricted to automotive traffic. Cyclists thus had no way of getting across the St. Lawrence River. Cyclists with permits may now use the Montreal subway system on weekends.
Massachusetts state government is studying the possibility of a bike-subway program in Boston.