Planes, Trains, and Bicycles: The Pleasures of Car-Free Multimodal Travel

Riding my electric cargo bike is my favorite thing

Paul Tolmé

  • Cascade’s partnership coordinator lives a car-lite lifestyle that involves lots of multimodal trips, mixing bikes with trains and mass transit.
  • Multimodal travel involves more planning, but the benefits are abundant: exercise, fresh air, friendly interactions, and money in the bank.
  • Join Andra Luca as she takes a multimodal trip to visit the in-laws–and scores some free salmon from fellow train passengers.
By Andra Luca

I love bicycles, both for their utility as transportation vehicles and also as recreational tools that enable me to explore my city and destinations far from home. I commute to work by bike and ride, walk, or use mass-transit for most of my daily needs.

My bike life began with a bang at age 35, when I purchased my first bicycle and bought a plane ticket to Central America for a trip from Nicaragua to Panama. In the years since I have traveled with my bike by plane, train, or boat to Norway, New Zealand, and locations throughout the Pacific Northwest. 


Andra's "Bluette" on a beach in Tofino, British Columbia. Header photo: Andra's "Broomstick" on Lopez Island.

Planning car-free bike trips to far-away locales is a blast, but accomplishing mundane day trips via bicycle and multimodal transport is what brings excitement to my everyday life. My husband, Michael, knows that I will go anywhere if a bike is involved. 

Thus, our recent trip to visit the in-laws in Burien.  

Burien or Bust

While Michael looks forward to our monthly trips to spend time with his parents, I dread the drive down Interstate 5 from our home in Seattle.

To me, weekends are for recreation, relaxation, and avoiding stress. Spending time in the car amidst crowded roads and dangerous highways filled with unhappy drivers is not my idea of fun.

When the time came for a recent weekend visit to the in-laws, we decided to skip the boring and stressful car trip in favor of a multimodal train and bike adventure. 

To my delight, I discovered that the Tukwila/International Boulevard Link light rail station is less than three miles from my in-laws’ home in Burien. Bingo. Now we had a plan.

We left our home in the Central District neighborhood, pedaled three miles to the Mount Baker light rail station, tapped in with our Orca cards, and took our bikes up to the train platform. 

Sound Transit encourages people to take their bicycles onto its trains, although large cargo bikes, tandems, and oversized bicycles are prohibited. 

Boarding the train, we found space near a couple that was traveling to the airport after visiting Seattle from Anchorage, Alaska. We struck up a conversation and talked about our love of bikes.

Nearing our destination, they asked if we would do them a favor by accepting a package of frozen salmon they had caught themselves but didn’t want to pack back to Alaska. 

Yes! It felt like Christmas. 

Disembarking from the train in Burien, we thanked our new Alaskan friends and wheeled our bikes out to the street. 

To our great surprise, we learned there is a smooth bike path along South 154th Street that travels most of the way to my in-laws’ home. The 2.5-mile ride was so pleasant that I barely noticed the three hills we climbed and descended on the way.

After a nice family visit, we returned home the way we came. For me, the trip felt like a victory. Instead of a stressful and tedious car trip, we got some exercise, explored Burien by bike, and scored some fish.

The next day, we put on our aprons and cooked a delicious salmon meal.

The Journey is the Destination

Traveling at slow speed comes with unforeseen pleasures and serendipitous experiences. On a bicycle, the journey is the destination. 

When traveling up or down the West Coast I use Amtrak whenever possible and bring my bicycle. The abundance of ferries in the Puget Sound region offers many opportunities for car-free day trips or overnight excursions to or from our region’s many beautiful islands.

Multimodal travel can sometimes take more time. That’s fine with me. Traveling at a slower pace and with more stops means that I spend my money at local businesses, hotels, restaurants, and bike shops rather than supporting the giant oil companies whose gasoline is polluting our air and wrecking our climate.

The rewards of a bike-forward lifestyle are abundant: I’m happier and healthier, and I save a lot of money on gas and car maintenance. 

Sure, traveling long distances without using a car can be challenging in our car-centric society, but it’s possible with a little extra planning, creativity, and imagination. Odds are you won't score free salmon, but you will meet kind strangers whose generosity will leave you with lasting memories.

Tips and Links for Creating Your Own Multimodal Bike Trips:

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