Most buses in Prince George’s will have bike racks next month. (Prince George’s County)

If you travel with your bike in Prince George’s County, you probably know that you can’t transport it on a county bus.

That’s about to change.  The county’s bus system, TheBus, is becoming bike-friendly and finally installing racks to offer an option that other local transit agencies in the Washington region have made available for more than a decade.

Prince George’s transportation officials say the county is spending $116,000 to retrofit 91 of the system’s 93 buses with front-end racks that can accommodate two bikes.  The installation, expected to be completed next month, answers the growing demand for an amenity that has become the norm elsewhere in a region of multi-modal commuters.

Metrobuses, for example, have had bike racks for years.  The agency considered racks that could carry three bikes, but determined they were too long. It uses the two-bike version, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.

The feature is so popular that bus riders with bikes often wait longer for rides to get a bus with an open  slot on the rack.  Metro estimates that hundreds of riders use the racks daily. (In 2009, the estimate was 650 people).

Elsewhere in the region, the bus systems in Arlington and Montgomery counties also have offered the option for more than a decade. Montgomery County began to install them back in the mid-1990s and every Ride On bus in the county has had a bike rack since 2000, county spokeswoman Lorraine Driscoll said.

Arlington’s transit system, ART, started adding them in 2003. The bike racks are also available on D.C. CirculatorAlexandria’s DASH and Fairfax Connector buses.

Why it took Prince George’s so long to make the move is unclear. County officials say they’re excited to provide the option and that it’s an important step as the county continues to push for more transit-oriented development.

“Mass transit as well as pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure will play a key role in our planning going forward,” County Executive Rushern L. Baker said. “These racks will provide people with another option as we continue to focus on diversifying our transportation options.”

Paulette Jones, a county spokeswoman, said getting to the point of installation “has been a process and we are just very happy that it has come to fruition.” She said that while demand for bike infrastructure may be greater in other areas in the region that are more urban and more densely populated, “in Prince George’s County we are growing and the demographics is a community that is requiring more options.”

The bike racks are helpful for those who like to do part of their trip on two wheels and part via transit, advocates say.  Often, bicyclists choose to take the bus when weather conditions are poor.  It’s also not uncommon for new bike commuters who are still building their strength to bike one way and take the bus to return home.

Greg Billing, with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, said the investment in Prince George’s completes the push to have every bus in the region with a bike rack.

“Finally we are getting this necessary transportation infrastructure that the rest of the region has had,” he said. “Hopefully it is a sign of things to come in the county.”

For those new to bike commuting, and those in Prince George’s who will be boarding with a bike, here is a demonstration from Metro on how to use the racks. The steps should be the same on buses across the region, officials say.  Remember, bus operators can’t assist you, so you might as well know how to do it and avoid holding up the bus for other riders.

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