BY ANGIE JACKSON
TRAVERSE CITY — Three times a week when weather permits, Pete Ostrowski catches the public bus to work in Traverse City and pedals his bike 15 miles home to Suttons Bay.
That's been his program for five years, save for the winter months.
There weren't many others who made the alternative commute, Ostrowski said, until the fully paved Leelanau Trail opened in July.
But Bay Area Transportation Authority buses come with limitations for commuters who want to split their trips between bus and bicycle. Racks on the buses can only fit up to three bikes, a barrier that left Ostrowski "hopping mad" last summer when a regular bus rider was turned away, thanks to a full bike rack.
"I almost got out to give my bike up," Ostrowski said. "She had to turn around and get somebody to drive her ... which is defeating the public transportation purpose."
Come summer, that should no longer be a problem. Talks between BATA and TART Trails officials led to recommendations to accommodate the influx of cyclists who take the Village Connector Northport Route, said Doug Dowdy, BATA's transportation services manager.
Dowdy said a proposal is near complete, with changes expected to be implemented in time for the trail's high-traffic summer season. Dowdy would not detail bus changes because the proposal awaits approval by BATA's top officials.
But buses equipped to handle more bikes could mean greater convenience for cyclists who don't want to make the 30-mile round trip between Traverse City and Suttons Bay.
"What we're finding is people start to ride and it's a pedal," said Wally Delamater, Suttons Bay village manager. "They get up here and realize, 'Oh jeez, I'm pretty worn out. I came up here and had a hamburger, now I want a nap. I don't want to ride back to Traverse City.'"
BATA's 75 buses currently have racks that carry at least two bikes, and 24 buses have racks that hold three bicycles, Dowdy said.
Changes were made last summer, at the recommendation of a bus driver, for a zone bus to pick up riders whose bikes could not fit on a connector bus.
Kevin Pryor, who owns Get Outside Rentals in Suttons Bay, said bicyclists don't wait around if they're unable to board the connector bus. If they're tourists, "they do something different."
"People commuting to work don't have that option," he said. "And also, people that go into work, they like to ride one way but don't have the time to go both ways."
Increased capacity for bikes on buses would complement the Leelanau Trail as it heads into its first full season, said Lee Kurt, TART Trails planning and program director.
There's a "known need" for more opportunities for residents and tourists to experience the trail, Kurt said.