Tagbike rack

Bike parking distance being put to test in Tucson

Work is underway to implement strict (but appropriate) rules about where Tucson, Arizona, businesses must install bike racks. This news comes from Tucson Vélo. It first came to my attention in May when I was creating and expanding my definition of Bike Parking Phenomenon A, which I now call the “50 feet rule.”

3 of4 bikes are parked on hand rails within 20 feet of this Seattle Whole Foods entrance while one bike is parked more than 50 feet away at the City-owned bike rack.

I left this comment on yesterday’s article from Tucson Vélo:

“Distance is more key to bike parking usage than the quality of bike parking fixture. Bicyclists prefer to use an easily removable sign pole that is closer to final destination than lock to a permanent bike rack further away.”

Some businesses there are complaining that devoting room in front of their business to bike parking removes space available for selling goods. I encourage everyone to support rules requiring bike parking within 50 feet. If installed further away, it simply will go unused.

I’ve written about distance parking many times:

After new bike racks were installed within 10 feet of the Logan Square Chicago Transit Authority entrance, no one parks at the original spots. See how the foot makes a difference?

“Unavailable” bike parking because of Transformers filming

I have more photos of Transformers 3 filming in Chicago.

You’ve probably seen “No Parking – Parade Route – Police Order” signs directed at motorists.

But check out this sign: It informs bicyclists that because of filming on this block, their bike could get in the way and would be removed. So everyone should be gone by 6 PM on Friday.

Michael Bay’s Transformers 3 started filming in Chicago two weeks ago. Additional filming will take place this weekend on part of LaSalle Street. The Chicago Film Office put up these signs (with CDOT’s cooperation) to alert bike riders that they should not leave their bikes here over the weekend. When robots run around, things get messy!

Bike parking phenomenon A

If this photo doesn’t demonstrate to you the idea behind Bike Parking Phenomenon A, then I don’t know what will.

“A bicyclist will choose an inferior, unsanctioned, or inappropriate object to which to lock their bicycle if said object is closer to their final destination than a superior, sanctioned, adequate, or appropriate object.”

Read more about Bike Parking Phenomenon A on my Master’s Project website. Or continue reading to learn more about the photograph above.

The owner of the red bicycle is taking a large risk by locking their bicycle to the sign pole. These are easily removed – unscrew the single bolt and the bicycle is yours. It’s called “sucker pole” for this reason. The sign pole is inferior to the immediately adjacent bike rack. The bike rack (a u-rack or staple rack) offers the bicyclist a much more secure place to park their bike. Distance is not a factor here.

Granted, I was not there when the owner of the red bicycle arrived at this location and proceed to lock their bike to the sign pole. The bike rack MAY have been full. However, I do not believe this to be the case because I have never seen more than one bike rack locked to this bike rack. This intersection sees a lot of bicycle through traffic and not very much destination traffic.

Distance is a factor at this Whole Foods on Westlake in South Lake Union, Seattle, Washington. Read more about the importance of distance in a previous blog post.

Notice in the photo above where bicycles are locked. What does this mean for people who aren’t using bicycles, like pedestrians and people using wheelchairs or walkers?

Benefits of bike parking

I’m working on my master’s project about bike parking distribution and equity in Chicago and while working on a section in the paper, I decided to get some help from readers. Many transportation projects are measured on predicted changes like trip travel time savings or trip cost savings (I give two examples below the photo).

My question is this: What are a bike parking installation’s measurable benefits to a traveler or a community?

Photo: Portland has installed 40 on-street bike parking “corrals” since 2004. What does a traveler or community gain from this bike rack installation? Photo by Kyle Gradinger.

To figure equity (fairness) for these project types, you measure these impacts for different groups (often high, medium, and low income), either in the alternatives analysis, or project selection phases. So, converting a lane on a highway to charge tolls for the lane’s users will have a certain benefit for many trips: a lower trip time. A new bus route may be convenient enough for some travelers to switch from driving to taking the bus, possibly reducing their trip cost.

Successful bike parking

UPDATE, 04-23-10: I start to further address distance in the discovery of “Bike Parking Phenomenon A.” Also on my Master’s Project website.

Not every concept, skill or tool can be further and further simplified. Does anything really take just 3 steps?

1. Set it, 2. Forget it, 3. No third step! (This article is about bike parking, not Ron Popeil’s Showtime Rotisserie!)

I believe I can simplify bike parking. Here are my two rules to have successful and well-used bike parking:

1. Put bike parking as close to the front door as physically possible. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen bicycle riders use a substandard sign pole or tree instead of a high-quality bike rack because the bike rack was an additional 20 feet from the front door. UPDATE: As Dave Reid points out in the comments below, close parking increases security. Additionally, I’ve now written about the phenomenon where people lock to inadequate fixtures when high-quality bike parking is nearby, what I call “Bike Parking Phenomenon A” or the “50 feet rule.” Every foot makes a difference!

The bike parking in this photo sits only 20 feet away from the front door to a popular Chicago, Illinois, restaurant.

The bike parking in this photo is too far away from the store entrance for bicyclists to consider using it.

2. Choose the right bike rack. How do you know? Give bicycle riders a bike rack that’s easy to use and secure (i.e. don’t let the bike rack be the weak point in the bicycle’s security).

Six u-racks (also known as inverted-u, or staple racks) line the sidewalk in front of Kuma’s Corner in Chicago, Illinois.

If these two tips aren’t good enough, read through the online brochure, Bicycles at Rest, from the Capital Bike & Walk Society, in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Bad and great bike parking

How can you tell the bad and good of bike parking?

By inspecting a few examples! Check out my photos and descriptions of good and bad bike racks and parking spaces. I took all photos of bike parking in Chicago, Illinois, except where otherwise noted. I’m the expert because I’ve installed hundreds of bike racks for my employer, where I also developed an innovative web application, and I’ve locked up to to so many bike racks over the past four years I’ve lived here.

Good

Bike parking is best installed within view of a business entrance, and within 50 feet. If the bike parking is too far away, bicyclists tend to lock their bike to the closest object which isn’t as suitable as a heavy duty U-rack. The U-rack is a great bike rack: it supports the bicycle at two points (no kickstand or juggling necessary) and and users can lock the wheels and frame easily; square tube is best. See the action at Kuma’s Corner, in Chicago, Illinois.

Near the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota, bicycle riders will spot these decorative, but still useful, bike racks in front of a large office building. The post and ring style can still accommodate locking the front wheel and frame. Users should use a second cable or lock to grab that rear wheel.

Indoor bike parking is always the best! This surface-mounted U-racks (arranged in a parallel series on rails) and the wall-mounted bike rack provide multiple options at the Skokie Yellow Line station in Skokie, Illinois. When installing wall-mounted bike racks, always install surface-mounted bike racks because some bicycle riders cannot lift their bikes.

See plenty more examples on my Flickr. UPDATE: Check out John Luton’s collection, Bicycle parking 101.

Bad

It’s hard to tell, but this round-tube wave rack is installed too close to the curb at the base of this wall, preventing a bicycle rider from using a U-lock to grab the bike rack, front wheel and frame. Most bike rack types should be installed at least 3 feet from any obstructing object.

The grill rack (typically seen at elementary and middle schools) is the worst bike rack available. Bicycles fall over. The design prevents users from locking their frame and front wheel to the bike rack. The tubes for locking have a very narrow diameter and thickness. This photo shows the odd ways people use the grill rack – thankfully, everyone locked their bicycles correctly, but not according to the bike rack’s design!

A garbage bin is not a good place to lock a bicycle. The bicycle will likely be in the way of pedestrians or people who want to throw away garbage. Also, as you can see in the photo, bicycle riders can only lock the frame to the garbage bin. This particular location is a strip mall in Chicago, Illinois, that does not provide any bike parking for the thousands of customers each day (a small portion of which would like to ride their bicycles).

There might be more examples of bad bike parking than good. See more photos here. UPDATE: Check out John Luton’s collection, Bicycle parking 101.

Improving bicycling to airports

An airport may seem like the last place to which you would ride your bike. You still want to ride there: It’s an alternative to driving (either by yourself, or getting dropped off), taking a taxi, or riding transit. It’s an ideal destination to which to encourage bicycling: Thousands of passengers move in and out, in addition to thousands more workers – switching just a portion of these trips to bicycling would reduce congestion and damaging demands on the transportation system. I see two major issues that stifle the frequency of biking to the airport: how to get there, and parking.

A photo from Jonathan Maus’ first trip to the airport via bicycle. See links in “Getting There” below.

Many cities have airports far away from population centers. Think Denver, Colorado (a commuter rail will reach DIA soon). Kansai near Kobe, Japan, is on an artificial island two miles from shore. A causeway carrying high-speed trains and a highway gets passengers to KIX.

But what if you live in a city where the airport is in town, accessible by city streets (either minor or arterial), or is even a short train ride away? It seems more plausible to bike there. I’m thinking of airports like Midway in Chicago, Illinois (MDW), or Portland, Oregon (PDX).

Getting There

In Portland, bicyclists can either take the MAX light rail train, or bike all the way (PDF map). At the airport, the path leads right into a bike parking area. Photo of bike parking at PDX and Read Jonathan Maus’ experience.

In Chicago, bicyclists can ride directly to Midway on any street (Archer provides a direct connection, but has high-volume traffic on many segments), and there are many north-south and east-west streets with marked bicycle facilities. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Orange Line terminates at the station. Bicyclists will find sheltered bike parking outside or inside the train station.

Neither situation assuages my concerns about bike parking security.

Parking: Lockers

Cities, transit agencies, and airport operators should work together to provide secure, electronically accessed bicycle lockers either on airport property, at adjacent transit centers, or at key stations on connecting trains. Electronic bike lockers will provide bicyclists with the convenience and security necessary to encourage them to ride. I would ride to the train station nearest my house if I knew I could store my bike in a locker for seven vacation days.

A bike locker at the Victoria International Airport available for cheap use near the departures entrance. Photo by John Luton.

The airport in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada (YYJ), provides bike lockers for $2 a day. It’s not as convenient as one that’s accessed electronically; it requires you visit the security office to get keys. The manufacturer, Cycle Safe, offers an electronic option.

This photo shows the BikeLink electronic card access solution for bicycle lockers. Load a magnetic stripe card with cash and control any locker in the network. Photo by John Luton.

I think BikeLink is a great solution in providing electronic bike locker access. It would work like this: The local airport authority, in collaboration with the city and transit agencies, would install BikeLink lockers at several, various locations at the airport, and transit centers (both bus and train). Users purchase a smart card and load it with cash. It now works like a debit card. Users insert the card into the locker they want to use, open the door, store their bike, and lock the door. Days later, when your vacation is up, re-insert your smart card to unlock the door. The BikeLink network operator debits your card for the amount of time you used the locker.

So far, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and nearby Silicon Valley cities have installed these lockers at many train stations, parking garages, ferry terminals, libraries, and university campuses. Find a map on BikeLink’s website.

BikeLinks works similar to pay-as-you-go cellphones or RFID transit passes (like ORCA in Seattle, Washington, or the Oyster card in London, England). The BikeLink smart card differs in that it uses the traditional magnetic stripe. However, enterprising agencies could build an integrated RFID card (much like the I-Go car sharing program and the Chicago Card that opens car doors and bus doors).

I’ll be waiting for this to happen. In the meantime, on Monday, I’m going to hop on the bus and transfer to the train, a journey that costs a reasonable $2.50 and takes 30 minutes.

Bike parking news for Chicago and NYC

First, let’s talk about Chicago’s bike parking news.

The Chicago Bicycle Parking Program, in August 2008, launched a web application that “does three things” (straight from the website) for Chicago residents: allows them to request a new bike rack; allows them to track their request; allows them to find existing and requested bike parking locations.* We call it the “Public Interface” in the office.

In the past three weeks, our “bike parking locator” was featured on:

  • Chicago Reader
  • Cyclelicious
  • GapersBlock (via Chicago Reader)
  • RedEye – “How much bike parking is in your ‘hood?” – This piece excited me the most. It was printed and distributed to thousands of Chicagoans on Friday, December 11, 2009! The article included a map based on the data that anyone can download from the Public Interface’s advanced search page.

Scan of article printed in the 12/11/09 publication of the RedEye, a Chicago Tribune tabloid-style newspaper.

Screenshot of the Advanced Search page in the Bike Parking Public Interface web application.

Now let’s move on to the news in New York City. The Bicycle Access to Office Buildings Law went into effect on December 11, 2009. Briefly, the law says buildings with at least one freight elevator and without listed exceptions must create a “bicycle access plan” for residents/tenants upon request. For interested tenants of building owners and managers, the NYC Department of Transportation’s “Bikes in Buildings” website is the first stop. It describes the process and offers tenants and building owners and managers an automatic request generator or plan builder. This also helps the NYC DOT track requests and deal with exception requests. In the spirit of President Obama’s desire for government openness and the Office of Management and Budget’s recently released “Open Government Direction,” I hope NYC DOT publishes the information it holds.

Streetsblog has posted a roundup of its previous articles leading up to the bill’s passing in July 2009.

*Disclaimer: I coded the web application. My boss was also involved, mainly in directing how it should function and what it should say (he’s way better at copywriting than I am). I also got help from someone who’s blind to test the accessibility of the website.

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