Wednesday, February 10, 2016

bike parking that actually works (and some that doesn't)

If you're not familiar with Bikeyface, she's a Boston area cartoonist who writes and draws about bike-related issues.  I've seen many situations where a business or government entity installed bike racks with good intentions, but the racks ended up being fairly useless due to poor placement, poor quality racks, or both.  Bikeyface covered it rather well in this blog post.

If you own a business or are part of an organization considering bike rack installations, this set of guidelines is one of the better resources for getting it right, in choice of bike rack design and how to place racks so they're most effective.  Please review which rack styles work well and which are useless.

Bike rack needs have changed over the years. For commuting or transportation riding, most people ride mountain bikes or other utilitarian or comfort bikes, which have wider handlebars than the road bikes that used to be the norm. This means that bike parking slots need to be wider than in the past. Also, most people carry U-locks, which are much more secure than cable locks, but not flexible.

When the new public library opened at 95th and Damen, I was happy to see a 10-bike rack by the front door (photos below), but less than thrilled when I actually tried to use it.  This rack is a good, secure design. Unfortunately the contractor who installed it was apparently clueless about actual use of such a rack and standards for installation.

These are designed for bikes to be positioned perpendicular to the rack, and for a lock to go around wheel, rack and part of the frame. Most adult bikes have 26" or larger wheels. Some bikes with 26" wheels barely fit here. Bikes with 27" or 700c wheels are difficult or impossible to secure here with most U-locks.

For secure locking, the rack should be far enough from a wall or other barrier to allow the back of the bike wheel to be even with the rack or just beyond it. This rack should be at least 6" further from the wall. It's set in concrete, so this problem is unlikely to get fixed anytime soon.

Public library rack installed too close to wall for secure locking for most wheel sizes
This rack position would be fine if most folks carried chains for locking, but most U-locks aren't large enough to work for this situation. People who care about locking their bikes securely often resort to Plan B, turning the bike parallel to the rack, blocking 4 or more spaces. This is fine if only 2 or 3 individuals want to use the rack. Most people approaching by bike never see the rack in the corner of the parking lot behind the fence, and end up locking to the bench or fence instead.

People who want to lock securely do this, blocking 4 or more spaces,
so rack is only usable for 2 or 3 bikes.
The folks at Walgreens get a few points for effort but an F for execution, both at 95th and Ashland and 103rd and Western. This type of rack is called a "wheelbender" because that's what can happen if your bike gets knocked over while locked to one of these racks. With a U-lock, only one wheel can be locked to the rack - not secure at all. With a long chain, it might be possible to lock securely, but few people carry those because they're heavy. Bikes locked here block most of the sidewalk.

It's difficult to lock up to this rack at all. It was nearly impossible even to
lock the U-lock, and anyone could undo the quick release on the front wheel
to easily steal the rest of the bike. It's a truly useless rack.
Racks in visible locations are the best. No one uses the rack at the 103rd St. Metra station because it is nearly invisible from most angles of view, making it a vulnerable location for theft. Anyone who rides a bike to that station locks up at one of the racks around the corner on 103rd St.

Mostly invisible rack at 103rd St. Metra station
Good bike parking can be a real asset to a small business, allowing it to serve more customers with less car parking. It encourages employees to ride to work. At a train station, it can reduce the number of people driving to the station, reducing traffic congestion as well as air and noise pollution.

These 2 bikes take up only 2 spaces in front of Ellie's, leaving the rest of the rack free.
The rack above is a better choice than the narrower style of wave racks at 103rd St. and 99th St. Metra stations.

Bike racks at County Fair are used by customers and employees
There's more discussion on this topic on the Chainlink.  If you're interested in bike-related issues, the Chainlink is an excellent resource.

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