Tag: bad bike parking

Enter the Houten Fietstransferium, and other bikes and transit commentary

Video by Mark Wagenbuur, aka markenlei on YouTube. See his original blog post about it.

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that “Fietstransferium” means “bike transfer building”. It’s a structure underneath the train tracks at the Houten (in the Netherlands) main railway station (it has a secondary station on the same line a little bit south of the main one). You roll in directly from a car-free street in the center of a town, park your bike, and walk up to the platforms. Also available in the Fietstransferium are bike rentals (likely OV-fiets) and bike repair. It wasn’t open when I visited Houten in January 2011.

From the video (and from other sources) 60% of NS passengers arrive by bike. Good connections between bikes and trains helps maintain that access rate, but probably also helps increase it. Bike connections to major train stations in Chicago is woeful, even at the stations that are new enough to support a good connection. Let’s call Houten’s bike to train connection quality “roll in, walk 100 feet, service”: you roll into the bike parking area, and walk upstairs to your train (there’s even a ticket machine in the bike parking area). This differs from “roll on service” as that means you roll your bike into the train.

One shot from the video was taken from this vantage point, showing the bike parking, the staircase, the platform, and a train. Photo by Vereniging van Nederlandse Gemeenten VNG (Dutch Association of Municipalities). 


The LaSalle Street Metra Station got an upgrade in bike connections this year when the “intermodal center” adjacent to it on Congress Parkway and Financial Place was added. It came with bike parking, an elevator, and a staircase with bike ramp. The station has other access points, which are very well hidden. Unguarded.

The LaSalle Street intermodal center. 

Northwestern Station lacks indoor and guarded bike parking, and any that’s available is far away from the tracks. The sheltered bike parking is very undesirable, dark, and dirty; I don’t recommend parking on Washington Street. Nor do I recommend parking on any of the sidewalks surrounding the station block.

Union Station is similar to Northwestern Station: all bike parking is unguarded and far from the tracks. Millennium Station. Same problems.

The nexus of bikes and transit is something I enjoy planning, and talking and writing about. Read my past articles on the subject. I’ve created the biggest and best collection of bikes and transit photos in the eponymous Flickr group. It’s an important part of the Chicago Bike Map app. You can load train stations on the map, search for them, and get information about when and how to board a train or bus with your bike. Coming soon is information on accessible stations (which have wide gate turnstiles making for self-service bike entry) and stations that aren’t accessible but have the same wide gate turnstiles (called TWA, or turnstile wheelchair accessible).

Additionally, none of these stations are accessible by good bike lanes. Only Union Station and Northwestern Station have adjacent bike lanes, and then only ones that are north-south (Clinton and Canal). As the Chicago Department of Transportation noted in its multiple presentations about the upcoming installation of the Union Station bus intermodal station, biking on Canal Street is not good and the bike lane will probably be reconfigured during the Central Loop BRT project. To summarize, the connection quality that Chicago’s downtown train stations provide is “confusing service”: where does one park? will the bike be safe? how does one get to the platform now?

Biking on Canal Street outside Union Station. It has multiple entrances and access routes but which one is best?  Another photo from biking on Canal Street.

Near Northwestern Station, the Washington Street bike lane ends abruptly three blocks away at Desplaines Street. The Madison Street bike lane doesn’t reach Northwestern Station, nor would it be effective with its current design, as it would constantly be occupied by things that aren’t bicycles.

Biking on Washington Street, a very wide fast street, whose bike lane ends very soon (in the middle ground) where then you find yourself competing for space with buses and right-turning cars. As soon as one is “competing” on a street, the street fails to provide good space for either mode. 

Harrison Street just south of the LaSalle Street Station is usually a good street to bike on, but it lacks the kind of bikeway infrastructure that attracts new people to transportation bicycling, and more trips to be made. (I’ve lately been thinking of ways to synthesize the argument about why protected and European-style bikeway infrastructure is necessary, so here goes: Bicycle usage will not increase without them.)

San Francisco

Photo of a man walking with his bicycle in a BART station by San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. 

BART in the San Francisco Bay Area tested in August policy of having no bike blackout periods on Fridays. That meant people could bring their bikes on the trains at all times on Fridays in August, and not just outside rush periods. Showing their high level of attention planning and policy, the agency evaluated the program with a proper survey. There’s a meeting tomorrow with the BART Bicycle Task Force; Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority should have such a group!

Looking at multi-unit residential bike parking

Residential complexes with eight or more units are required to have bike parking because they’re required to have parking. The zoning code requires a ratio of 1 bike parking space to 2 car parking spaces (the quantity of car parking spaces it needs is a determination the Department of Housing and Economic Development makes).

A Grid Chicago reader recently sent me some photos of the bike parking inside the parking garage at the 900 S. Clark AMLI South Loop Apartments (see map). I was not surprised by what they showed based on what I’ve seen at other residential complexes in Chicago.

The photo above shows a double-decker bike rack with height alternating bike parking slots. This means that bikes can theoretically be spaced closer together because one bike’s handlebars won’t interfere with the bikes on either side of it. The bike rack has 10 slots. There are at least 16 bikes in the photo (it’s hard to count them from just the picture) and it seems only 5 are actually in slots.

The Chicago zoning code that applies to this situation is section 17-10-0207-C. As the complex is providing over 200 car parking spaces in this garage (I counted them in Google Earth), the AMLI South Loops Apartments must be providing 50 bike parking spaces (17-10-0301-B says max 50). Granted, the remaining 40 spaces could be inside the apartment tower, I highly doubt it. I don’t have enough information about this location to know if zoning code was not correctly or fairly applied.

Aside from obviously not having enough bike parking spaces, here’s what else isn’t cool about this bike parking installation:

  • The rack design offers no locking points. I believe this rack was intended to hold bikes at a retail store.
  • It’s outside, so bikes are getting wet
  • It’s over 200 feet away from any residential unit
  • It’s in a far corner of the parking garage (but not the furthest from the garage entrance)
  • An upper level rack design is not easy to use: one must first lift their bike to the second level, and then awkwardly reach around the frame and wheels to lock it.

I’ve created the Simple Bike Parking website as a resource and tool for anyone who wants to install bike parking. It discusses the three rules I’ve developed over the 4+ years I’ve consulted on bike parking in Chicago. It’s simple to have good, useful, and desirable bike parking if it’s:

  • Close to the entrance where people commonly enter and exit
  • Of the right design (nothing hard to use, please)
  • Placed at least 36 inches away from anything else, on all sides

There are a lot of abandoned bikes on the streets of Chicago, but I’m sure there are plenty more in residential buildings. I’m blaming difficult to reach and hard to secure bikes for this.

Updated 1145h to correct the maximum number of bike parking spaces a developer must provide, based on a different reading of the zoning code prompted by a reader. Thanks, Erik.