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Bethesda gets new but terrible bike racks

Honest Tea wanted to do a good thing for its community and fund some bike racks in downtown Bethesda. Unfortunately, a salesman sold them some awful racks that don't allow effectively locking up bikes, and the Bethesda Urban Partnership apparently failed to check bike rack standards or talk to the experts—even those in their own organization.

Photo by Richard Hoye.

Richard Hoye writes,

I pointed out that the 100 bike racks the Bethesda Urban Partnership approved for the CBD streetscape and funded by Honest Tea violated basic design standards for bike racks. [Seth Goldman of Honest Tea] didn't even know there was a codified body of knowledge on bike rack design and, it appears, neither did BUP.

I asked Tom Robertson, retired bike planner for the County Planning agency, who now works for Transportation Solutions in BUP's offices about this collaboration. Even he was not consulted on the project.

This style of bike rack was very common decades ago, and you still see them in some places, often college campuses. But they don't work well for locking. They're not designed to get the bike's frame close enough to the rack to allow locking the frame, wheel and rack all together.

On many racks like this, people instead lift the bicycle up and place it so that the wheel goes over the rack and the rack's top bar sits behind the wheel. This rack seems to make even that difficult, as the top bar is much thicker and square.

Section 7.2.9 of the draft new zoning rules for Montgomery County specifies bike rack standards:

Where required bicycle parking is provided via racks, the racks must meet the following design and dimension standards:
  • The bicycle frame and one wheel can be locked to the rack with a high security lock;
  • A bicycle can be securely held with its frame supported in at least two places;
  • Racks must be offset a minimum of 30 inches on center;
  • The rack must be durable and securely anchored; and
  • The locking surface of the rack should be thin enough to allow standard u-locks to be used, but thick enough so the rack cannot be cut with bolt cutters.
Montgomery County DOT has also created a fact sheet detailing how to best design and install bike racks. Many cities have very thorough manuals, like Toronto's.

It's not that unusual for well-meaning people to install bike racks entirely wrong. Someone installed 9 "inverted U" racks at HD Cooke Elementary in Adams Morgan, but put them too close together and too close to a wall to be usable. DCPS subsequently relocated the racks.

Hopefully Honest Tea and the Bethesda Urban Partnership can go back to the company that sold them these noncompliant racks and switch them for something better.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Sad story. All to common also.

Related, does anyone else thing the golden triangle BID racks are inadequate as well (even though they are approved by DDOT)? See here

by Sam on May 22, 2012 2:45 pm • linkreport

It doesn't really take an "expert" to point out the fallacies with these "racks". There had to be a few people who saw how bad of an idea this was as it was being initiated, and finalized.

by @SamuelMoore on May 22, 2012 3:02 pm • linkreport

Oh dear those are dreadful. They probably thought they doing a good thing by selecting racks made out of that recycled Trex material. Not only are the racks badly design and ugly, you can probably cut through them very quickly with a handsaw. I have a folding 10" Fiskars tree/shrub pruning saw that would probably make an excellent addition to the bike thieves toolbox.

by spookiness on May 22, 2012 3:10 pm • linkreport

@Sam, for me they are inadequate b/c there are not nearly enough of them.

by Tina on May 22, 2012 3:21 pm • linkreport

first world problems...

by Honest frog on May 22, 2012 5:07 pm • linkreport

@Honest frog

How wry! Fortunately, we're in the First World.

by David R. on May 22, 2012 5:31 pm • linkreport

I'm amazed that HonesT could get snookered into this archaic design. I'm sure my relative, Sir Thomas J. Lipton would have chosen one that provided more security for the bike and wasn't so ugly.

by Capt. Hilts on May 22, 2012 6:49 pm • linkreport

I was at the Bethesda pit stop and commented to my friends what a crappy bike rack that was. I had no idea that it was meant as a representative rack for installation around Bethesda.

Please, please don't drop this litter on our sidewalks!

by JeffB on May 22, 2012 8:14 pm • linkreport

rack was designed for chain locks.

be careful or this article will wind up on the Daily Show or Colbert! ;)

by stevek_fairfax on May 22, 2012 9:40 pm • linkreport

I take that back, the article is fine and points out well what a bike rack can be - I would just replace the word "terrible" with "flawed" maybe.

by stevek_fairfax on May 22, 2012 9:44 pm • linkreport

Hey, thats my bike in the rack!

by SJE on May 22, 2012 9:45 pm • linkreport

David and others,
Bethesda has a bunch of these now and I understand the problem. But I ask - why not use your power as author of this blog to solicit design modifications that can improve the rack and not require the purchase of a fleet of new ones and trashing of these.
It is easy to say "This is broken" but a lot harder to say "this is how WE can fix it."
I'm not an engineer but I bet there is an easy fix that can make these racks work for everyone.

by andy(2) on May 23, 2012 6:55 am • linkreport

Andy, one of the primary problems is the materials that the racks are made of: FAR too easy to quickly cut with a saw to steal bikes. No alterations can change that.

by Capt. Hilts on May 23, 2012 7:38 am • linkreport

@Andy(2): You're correct that contructive sugestions are better than random complaints. In this article I see three references - two are links to bike rack documentation, and one is a person who works on Transportation Solutions in the offices of the Bethesda Urban Partnership. Seems like a good start on the constructive side ofteh criticism.

by Anon202 on May 23, 2012 9:16 am • linkreport

When I saw one of these racks at Bike To Work Day, I was astonished to discover that it was the type that will be installed all over Bethesda. As people have already said, they are the wrong material and the wrong design. They cannot be salvaged.

The racks are actually worse than useless. Cyclists will not use them, instead chaining their bikes to signposts or anything else secure they can find. So critics will see 100 empty bike racks in Bethesda, and use them as evidence that bike facilities are not needed because they won't be used.

by John Z Wetmore on May 23, 2012 1:52 pm • linkreport

The material they are made from renders them useless and beyond fixing.

It's that simple. Sad. They meant well.

by Capt. Hilts on May 23, 2012 1:55 pm • linkreport

Andy(2): Solution - sell these racks for scrap metal. Put in inverted U racks.

by David C on May 23, 2012 2:18 pm • linkreport

They are not metal.

by Capt. Hilts on May 23, 2012 2:20 pm • linkreport

Typical of blog sites. 100% whining and complaining and no one offering solutions. Or perhaps donations of money for better racks. Complain on kids!

by Arlington Civilzation on May 23, 2012 2:25 pm • linkreport

They are not metal.

Re-purpose as dog toys, chips for hamster/rabbit/guinea pig cages, the list goes on and on!

In other news, the bike room at my work has one of these:

It's like someone took a U rack and said "how can we make this suck?"

by MLD on May 23, 2012 2:28 pm • linkreport

Racks like you have pictured are better, but in cities folks still often strap their bikes to them parallel to them rather than perpendicular. Maddening.

These, used in Toronto work really well:

by Capt. Hilts on May 23, 2012 2:36 pm • linkreport

At 2:16 anon202 wrote:

You're correct that contructive sugestions are better than random complaints. In this article I see three references - two are links to bike rack documentation, and one is a person who works on Transportation Solutions in the offices of the Bethesda Urban Partnership. Seems like a good start on the constructive side ofteh criticism.

At 2:18, David C wrote,

sell these racks for scrap metal. Put in inverted U racks.

At 2:25, Mr Civilzation of Arlington wrote:

Typical of blog sites. 100% whining and complaining and no one offering solutions. Or perhaps donations of money for better racks. Complain on kids!

Darn those blog sites with their embarrassing timing!

by oboe on May 23, 2012 2:37 pm • linkreport

@Capt Hilts

There are similar racks to the Toronto ones on the streets around Farragut Square.

The problem with the wave rack is that they are hard to lean your bike against, so bikes are constantly falling/twisting over. Better than the wheel benders but still crummy.

by MLD on May 23, 2012 2:44 pm • linkreport

MLD. Yes, I agree. They also are more likely to scratch your bike. I hadn't seen the Farragut ones.

by Capt. Hilts on May 23, 2012 2:46 pm • linkreport

We regret that the new bike racks don’t meet everyone’s needs. The donation was made with the intent of expanding a bike-friendly culture in Bethesda. Reorienting the community away from automobiles is a process, and it won’t happen overnight, even if we install perfect bike racks. Hopefully, these new racks represent a step in the right direction, and we’ll be able to improve upon them as demand for bike parking spaces continues to expand throughout our community.

Honestly yours. Dan

by Dan from Honest Tea on May 23, 2012 3:19 pm • linkreport

@Dan -- I appreciate your good intentions. And I hope this experience does not discourage Honest Tea from making contributions to the community in the future. When you do, please operate under the premise that the world is more complicated than any of us realize, and that we should all consult experts before undertaking a major endeavor in a field that is unfamiliar to us. That's why we hire electricians and plumbers.

I would fault the manufacturer more than Honest Tea. If they had done any research at all, they would know not to make or sell bike racks of that design and material.

Perhaps the new racks could be used someplace for valet bicycle parking, where good support and security are not an issue.

by John Z Wetmore on May 23, 2012 3:39 pm • linkreport

Re: Hoye's "[Seth Goldman of Honest Tea] didn't even know there was a codified body of knowledge on bike tack design..."

Dude, get off it. Other than people who follow bike rack designs for a living (what, both of them?) even bikers shouldn't be expected to know that. I bike to work. I like some racks more than others. Do I know there's a codified body of knowledge? Do I care? Also, codified where and by whom?

This post is infuriating. Goldman tried to do a good thing and you guys are ripping him for not doing better. You wanted a bike rack? What were you doing to get one there? Nothing? That's too bad -- he gave you one for free. Now say "Thank you" and try to improve it more before whining that his generosity wasn't enough for you.

Holy cow, you guys.

by Ronald on May 23, 2012 3:59 pm • linkreport

Or you know, you talk to experts before you undertake something you don't know a lot about.

No one's complaining about the good intentions, however intentions only get you so far.

by X on May 23, 2012 4:20 pm • linkreport

"The impotence of good intentions."

by neutrino on May 23, 2012 6:21 pm • linkreport

City planners or architects who are aware and have considered the need of bicycle parking, tried to respond to it by providing cyclists with areas or spaces equipped with bike racks, bollards, parking meters, corrals, etc. (a metal post) used to attach or secure ones bike when parking. But is anyone really aware of or has thought about the actual or real needs of cyclists who are parking their bikes: protecting their bikes from thieves?

The design of the bike racks that are manufactured today has not evolved; they are still a basic piece of shaped metal, anchored to the ground and the cyclists figures out how they will secure their bike according to what is provided, red hoops or green waves. This methodology provides the bicycle thief the advantage and the cyclist is the unfortunate loser, because he cannot secure his bike properly. When a bicycle is stolen, the loser has to invest into another new bike and continue using the same old infrastructure provided that is cheap, does not work and has not evolved. Bike theft can impede cycling growth and is a big issue for people who want to bike. Even using a cheap bike does not prevent theft and almost everyone has had one bike stolen.

by Nextgenbikeracks on May 24, 2012 12:26 am • linkreport

In everybody's rush to see how many ways they could disparage a company's genuine effort to improve its community by calling these racks "terrible" and "worse than useless," they seemed to ignore the picture at the very top of this article that shows the rack pretty full of bikes.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a cyclist and it also wouldn't occur to me that a ton of thought would need to go into bike rack purchasing, but it's pretty ridiculous and [deleted for violating the comment policy] to say that nobody will get any use out of these things when there is clear evidence to the contrary.

by Ted on May 24, 2012 11:18 am • linkreport

The photograph seems to be taken at an event and the two visible bikes do not seem to be locked at all.

by Capt. Hilts on May 24, 2012 11:24 am • linkreport

@Ted - That photo was taken at the Bethesda pit stop on Bike To Work Day. The bike owners were getting bagels and Honest Tea just to the right of the picture. It is one thing to leave a bicycle unsecured when you are within sight of it, it is quite another to leave a bike on an unsecure rack when you are going to be gone for half an hour or half a day.

As I said, the racks might be useful for valet bike parking where security is not an issue. Any cyclist who understands bike theft would not lock a bike to a plastic rack.

by John Z Wetmore on May 24, 2012 11:54 am • linkreport

I don't see much evidence that there is an event going on. But even if there is, so what? The racks are still being used. There are events in Bethesda all the time, and even if that was the only time that the racks are ever used, there is still plenty of opportunity for use there, which is the point.

These racks were donated for the public good by a private company. Nobody here had to pay to install or use them, and just because you wouldn't use them doesn't mean nobody else would. Please don't lose sight of the fact that outside of the very dedicated bike community here that is up-to-date on bike policies, designs, etc, there are thousands more bikers in the area who are perfectly happy to use any sort of bike rack and wouldn't know the benefits of an inverted-U rack over this one.

Could the design be better? Yes, apparently so. But it seems hardly worthwhile to complain about a free community amenity because it is not the best one possible.

by Ted on May 24, 2012 12:02 pm • linkreport

John, just to be clear, I wasn't arguing that you didn't know an event was going on, I started typing that before your comment was posted. But all my points still stand.

by Ted on May 24, 2012 12:04 pm • linkreport

No. Avoiding getting your bike stolen is something that gets imbued into you from childhood. I have ridden lousy bikes but always made every effort to keep them from being stolen.

You do NOT have to be a dedicated biker to be alert to locking your bike safely. Anyone with a half decent bike has these antennae.

by Capt. Hilts on May 24, 2012 12:05 pm • linkreport

@Ted - "there are thousands more bikers in the area who are perfectly happy to use any sort of bike rack and wouldn't know the benefits of an inverted-U rack over this one."

They will be perfectly happy until a bike thief cuts through the plastic and makes off with their bike. I have never seen a plastic bike rack on the street before of any design anywhere in the world.

People who put in bike racks are expected to know more about bike racks than the average person on the street. And if they don't, they need to know to ask for advice.

by John Z Wetmore on May 24, 2012 12:37 pm • linkreport

Indeed, many cyclists are happy to use any old rack, tree, traffic sign, etc. to lock their bikes to. And for this, the bike thieves are profoundly grateful.

by Crickey7 on May 24, 2012 1:51 pm • linkreport

I agree with Ronald and Ted. Honest Tea was giving back to the community and [deleted for violating the comment policy]. Try saying thank you! Stop being so quick to criticize a freebie. If you want to change the bike racks then change them. Start a fund or donate the money yourself! If I was Honest Tea- I would donate my hard earned money elsewhere next time.

by juliana on Jun 4, 2012 1:23 pm • linkreport

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