I’ve been inspired to think about bicycle parking lately in part because of the new bicycle parking facility in my home-state of Arizona, in part because school is back in session, which means there is a huge influx of new riders by the university and crowded bike parking, and in part because it isn’t something about which I have ever really given much thought. Header photo credit to Gizmodo.
For the last six years, I have commuted by bicycle on a daily basis (sometimes multiple times per day) to a university campus. The particular institution that I have ridden back and forth to is exceptionally compact. The core of the university encompasses approximately one square mile, yet there are approximately 35,000 people, including students, faculty, and staff, working and studying there on a daily basis. As you can imagine, parking a car at a place like that can be quite the challenge. Not only are parking fees expensive, but traffic stinks and it can be difficult to make it to class on time when you have to drive across campus, find a place to park, and then walk to your building.
Riding a bike to campus is a fantastic alternative to driving. There are bike racks – in the order of 11,000 of them – outside nearly every building on campus (not the case with parking lots) and it’s much easier to beat the traffic and make it to class on time on a bike than in a car. Not to mention, bicycles definitely fit better into a student’s budget. And when you are in college, for some people, it still seems “ok” to ride a bike to school, maybe even kind of hip, if you have the right beach cruiser or fixie. And for other people, it’s “ok” to ride a bike to school, because you are finally old enough to fully embrace your nerdy, bike-riding self (well, that’s me, anyways).
But bike parking on a university campus, which typically caters to cyclists more than other types of institutions or businesses, can still be somewhat problematic. Although there are bike racks aplenty on my campus, there are nonetheless a handful of issues that present challenges to bicycle parking – an inherent aspect of bicycle commuting – and these challenges inevitably serve to keep quite a few people off their bikes and behind the wheels of their cars, despite the parking chaos.
Every bicycle commute begins and ends with parking one’s bike. According to StolenBikeRegistry.com, 1.5 million bicycles are stolen each year in the United States. Naturally, most of these thefts occur when the bicycle is parked, so the most frequently cited bike parking issue is that of security. No one wants to finish class, a day of work, a meal or coffee break, or running errands to discover that his or her bike has been stolen, and from what I can figure, it’s easier to steal a bike than a car (and the authorities don’t seem to care quite as much). There are of course, other issues, such as convenience, the style of the bike rack, the number of spots, and more, but safety usually takes the cake as the most important issue when it comes to bicycle parking, and consequently, bicycle commuting. And just as it is with driving, it is important that people are provided with safe and convenient bike parking options in order to encourage cycling.
Clearly, bicycle parking is a very important issue. All of the Bicycle Parking Guidelines for various cities around the United States, from Portland to Chicago to the state of Massachusetts and many places in between, emphasize the fact that good parking options are essential to getting people to ride their bikes. Parking needs to be safe, convenient and accessible, visible and easy to find, plentiful, and easy to use. Bad bike parking is a deterrent to cycling.
On the flip side however, bad parking is also a deterrent to driving. I strongly dislike parking my car, especially on campus, because not only is difficult to find a parking spot, it’s almost always impossible to find a parking spot in a place that’s less than a five minute walk from where you are trying to go. But with a bike, I have almost never had a problem finding a parking spot of some sort (though occasionally it is a bit of a squeeze). This points to the issue of assured parking (ie. a guaranteed parking spot). Having some sort of assured parking spot makes for good commuters, because it is one less element of stress to deal with in a work day.
Bicycle commuting to a university campus and parking a bike on a campus could be characterized as a bit of an ideal situation compared to many other parking options throughout the U.S. Save the problem of theft (which in my case, I “solved” by riding a junky bike in hopes that it wouldn’t get stolen), bike parking on a campus is often much easier than driving. However, bike parking at many other institutions, businesses, offices, etc. is almost impossible, as there are usually few to no bike racks or lockers, many buildings don’t even allow people to bring bikes inside, and there are often restrictions about where bikes can be parked outside (ie. bikes parked to lampposts, handrails, etc. could be impounded). So even though the concern about secure bicycle parking is cited as the biggest deterrent to bicycle commuting, for many people, there is simply just no place in which to park a bike. Therefore, bicycle parking is nearly as important as other kinds of bicycle-related infrastructure such as bike lanes, signals, signs, etc.
Photo credit to Chloe Forsman
Lastly, I want to get back to this idea that parking (good, bad, or otherwise) is not something which many people think about on a regular basis. Parking is one of those things we tend to take for granted. Although parking is certainly the subject of debate among developers, planners, and engineers – who have typically ensured that there is plenty of car parking wherever possible – it is not the subject of much debate for most of the people who do the parking for just that reason: there is plenty, sometimes way too much parking, in most of the U.S. But not so with bicycles, and as we can clearly see, that creates a problem for bike commuters. So while I may have only a few small problems parking my bike on campus, I am likely in the minority, as bike parking certainly needs to be given more attention in the future.
So start to lobby your city’s transportation department for more bike parking. Portland has done a great job of blocking off a few car parking spaces here and there to make bike corrals with plenty of room for bike parking. In some cities, huge bike parking facilities are available. Below is some information about the logistics of bike parking. And as always, we would like to hear from you. Where do you park your bike?
Information on Bicycle Parking
- The International Bicycle Fund has a two-page guideline and information sheet about bicycle parking planning criteria.
- BicyclingInfo.org also has a good post on basics of bicycle parking.
- Portland, OR, is leading the way in terms of good bicycle parking practices.
- Some great info from the State of Massachusetts.
- Innovative parking solutions from TreeHugger.