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What Makes for Great Bicycle Parking?

What Makes for Great Bicycle Parking?
Bicycle parking doesn't have to be this fancy, but it does send a positive message.

Bicycle parking doesn’t have to be this fancy, but it does send a positive message.

As any avid bicyclist will tell you, not all bicycle racks are created equal. The best bicycle racks are intuitive to use, well lit, protected from the elements, and close to the desired destination. Well designed bicycle parking tell bicyclists “Hey, you’re welcome here!” On the other hand, there are bicycle racks that might as well not exist. Many designs are unintuitive, awkwardly placed, or inconvenient, and if it’s raining outside, you know you will be riding home on a soaking wet seat cushion.

A pernicious assumption may be at play here:  the idea that that any bicycle rack is better than no bicycle rack and really any metal contraption that’s bolted to the ground will do. Not so. In the same way an urban business would never clear out a muddy field around their building and declare that they’ve performed a generous service for drivers, installing low-quality bicycle parking can often times be worse than installing nothing at all.

Thankfully, making cyclists feel special is easy and inexpensive. The following five sections cover five criteria: location and proximity, protection from the elements, visibility, volume, and form.

1. Location and proximity

Locking bicycles to tree can kill the growing sapling, but many times,  bicyclists have no alternative.

Locking bicycles to tree can kill the growing sapling, but many times, bicyclists have no alternative.

It is common to see a bicycle that is uncomfortably locked up to a lamppost/fence/sign even though there’s a bicycle rack right around the corner. Unfortunately, bicycles locked up in random places can be awkward and cumbersome to other street users. So what’s the deal? Just like drivers, cyclists want the most convenient parking spot possible. In a mostly-rackless world, that lamppost/fence/tree counts as bicycle parking. With that in mind, this problem can be mitigated by installing bicycle racks next to or near the entrance customers and employees will be using. Besides keeping bicycles away from delicate trees, properly located bicycle parking signals that the business is thinking about its bicycling customers. As a happy side effect, more customers and employees may take up walking and cycling, freeing up parking spots for customers who drive.

2. Protection from the elements

As mentioned in the introduction, a soaking wet seat isn’t pleasant. Neither are rusty chains, warped rear fenders, or scolding hot handlebars.  Placing bicycle racks under some sort of cover can go a long way towards encouraging bicycling patrons to stay a little while longer. If a location’s patrons will be parking for longer periods, whether three hours or overnight, making sure that bicycle racks are protected from the elements is especially important. By providing sheltered or indoor parking, landlords and employers in particular can reduce the need for residents and employees to drag their bicycles inside—a graceless and uncomfortable situation for all parties.

3. Visibility

grid

A partnership between local businesses and the City of New Brunswick resulted in the installation of high quality bicycle parking.

If a bicycle rack is installed and no one is around to see it, does it really exist? Visibility might seem like an obvious consideration, but many times bicycle racks seem to be deliberately hidden away. By not having bicycle racks installed front and center, the business will miss out on the positive reputation and extra parking a newly installed rack can provide. Even if bicyclists find out where the bicycle racks are, low visibility may still disincentivize their use because they can welcome theft. Installing bicycle racks in dark, out-of-the-way locations creates a precarious situation both for bicyclists and their bicycles. No bicyclist wants to leave his or her valuable means of transportation in an unwatched location. There is also the serious concern of human safety: in the same way parking lots are well lit to scare off predators, bicyclists shouldn’t have to fear for their lives when they are returning to their bicycle after the sun has set. Get the most out of bicycle racks in terms of use and safety, and put them in a well-lit, highly trafficked location.

4. Volume

A big part of getting the most out of bicycle parking involves installing enough racks to accommodate bicyclist demand. High quality bicycle racks are great, but only if there are enough available. Without enough capacity, the result is that bicyclists fall back into suboptimal behavior: locking bicycles on everything from tables to signs to garbage cans. Fortunately, addressing the lack of supply is a low-cost solution. Whether the business supplies their own racks, or contacts their city representative, adding capacity is a simple and easy fix in most cases. If the bicycle racks are totally empty, it is important to analyze if they meet the previous criteria (location, protection, and visibility).

5. Form

Nobody who has ever attempted to use a grid bicycle rack would advise on purchasing them. Typically, they look like this:

grid

Grid racks provide no support and are difficult to use.

It is a sad image, and it looks worse than bicyclists locking their bicycles up to poles and random items of furniture.

When it comes to bicycle parking, it is essential to keep it simple. Bicyclists know and love the standard “inverted U” and “post and loop” racks—they are intuitive, inexpensive, and space-efficient. If the budget allows, they can be customized with logos to accommodate a specific business, district, or municipality. These styles support the bicycle, allow the frame to be locked (rather than the wheel), and are easy to install.

Low cost, and highly effective bicycle parking.

Low cost, and highly effective bicycle parking.

 

Effective bicycle parking is a low-cost way to welcome existing bicyclists and encourage additional use of bicycles.

 

By Nolan Gray