Posts about Bike Parking
I was traveling recently and came across this object. At first, it looks like an artistic sculpture, but on closer examination, it's also a bike rack!
For bonus points, do you know where this is or can you recognize the location?
The sign says this is more compact than other bike racks. That's largely true, though in this configuration, the rack also requires a lot of empty space around in every direction. In an institutional setting with big open spaces (and where it can also function as art), that makes sense. In many tighter urban spaces, arranging these curved, vertical racks side by side instead of in a circle would allow storing bikes even more compactly, though less artistically.
Portland has achieved near-cult status in urbanist circles for its progressive development and transportation policies. All is not perfect in Portland, but there are lot of great things we can take away from the City of Roses.
The city has a thriving downtown, and walkable inner-ring neighborhoods. It sports an extensive transit network and unbeatable bike infrastructure. But the central city gives way quickly to suburban development and highway interchanges. And there some examples where, even a town whose name is synonymous with alternate transportation, it's hard to overcome the primacy of the auto.
Last week I traveled to Oregon for work and had a few hours to kill in Portland before heading back east. Here are a few great things that Portland has accomplished, and also some pitfalls the DC region should try to avoid.
Transit and bike friendly airport
Landing in PDX, you are greeted by abundant wayfinding signage, all of which clearly points out transit and bike options.
Left: Wayfinding signage points out bike and transit options.
Right: MAX information is highly visible.
The MAX light rail line dead ends at one end of the terminal, much like the MTA light rail does at BWI. The covered walk from there into the main terminal is easily half the distance most drivers would walk from the nearest, most expensive parking garage. The MAX is brightly advertised on monitors in the airport, encouraging people to take transit into the city.
PDX is also extremely bike friendly, even featuring a bike assembly area. As one of the few airports in the country to be connected by trails and bike lanes to its downtown, this is an outstanding amenity. And while fliers probably don't use it heavily since checking a full-size bike on an airplane has become almost prohibitively expensive, even travelers with folding bikes will find the work stand, tool set, and bike pump useful.
It's also a low-cost amenity that is makes commuting by bike easier for thousands of airport employees and serves as a visible reminder that biking is a valued access mode.
Top left: Ample covered bike parking on the arrivals level. Top right: The bike assembly station. Bottom: detail of bike assembly sign.
Washington National Airport is ideal for an amenity like this. DCA connects to multiple trails, making a ride to the airport convenient from downtown, the close-in Virginia suburbs and even parts of Maryland. Washington National is even closer to downtown DC and Arlington than PDX is to Portland, making biking an even more viable option.
Bike amenities everywhere
Induced demand gets a bad rap on the highways side, but Portland is using it to its advantage with bike parking. You cannot walk 20 feet without finding a bike rack, both downtown and in neighborhoods. I was struck by Portland State University and Oregon Health and Science University efforts to provide ample bike parking. Demographically, students, and to some extent faculty members, are more likely to ride bikes, so it makes perfect sense.
Hundreds of bike spaces at Portland State University. Classes clearly aren't in session for another week. Photo by the author.
Comparatively, the major universities in DC have made meager attempts to provide ample, high quality bike racks. The biggest bike parking are on Georgetown's campus consists of 4 "comb" racks which are nearly impossible to safely lock bikes on. George Washington University's campus in Foggy Bottom, is practically devoid of on-street bike racks. GW's newest mixed-use building, Square 21, provided a total of 10 racks spread around an entire block with a Whole Foods and multiple restaurants.
The MAX trains also have hanging bike racks in them for cyclists. While racks like these won't work in the shorter Metro cars, they're worth keeping in mind as the DC streetcar system gets started.
In downtown, several streets feature buffered bike lanes. Although they were one-way, they were nice and wide, allowing easy passing for cyclists traveling different speeds. In other places where bike lanes were not separated from traffic, they were painted bright green and flowed into large green bike boxes at intersections.
In the redeveloped South Waterfront neighborhood, there are significant on- and off-street bike treatments that connect to a trail into downtown. Best of all, there is a massive bike parking area and a bike station with valet and repair services.
Left: A curb-separated bike lane splits as it enters the South Waterfront. Right: The northbound bike lane turns onto the sidewalk to send cyclists across the crosswalk to the sidepath into downtown.
This is right next to the lower Portland Aerial Tram station and a Streetcar stop. The Tram connects the burgeoning research, education, and residential neighborhood with the main campus of Oregon Health & Science University, situated on a massive hill and separated from the waterfront by I-5.
Good on-street transit information
Tri-Met and the city of Portland have made significant investments in good, visible transit information on the streets of downtown. The city's wayfinding system signs point to the nearest streetcar and MAX stations. Major downtown stops have very clear customer information, communicating which buses stop where, and where those buses travel. Also, many of the stops have real-time arrival screens, something DC has yet to achieve outside of the Metro.
Left: A bus stop is clearly marked with visible, high quality infrastructure.
Right: Real-time bus arrival information.
Acquiring right-of-way and laying track is expensive. So Tri-Met and Portland chose to single-track the MAX and Streetcar in some places where right-of-way would have been politically or financially unfeasible. In downtown, the streetcar runs on one track in both directions for 2 blocks just past PSU. For a low-speed system, where headways are unlikely ever to be shorter than a few minutes, this compromise makes sense if it allows for the most effective routing, in this case right through the center of PSU's campus.
Left: Streetcar singletracking south of PSU. Image from Google Maps. Right: Single track flyover on the Portland MAX Red Line. Image from Bing Maps.
On the MAX line to the airport, the system is single tracked in two places, for almost a mile after the Gateway/NE 99th Ave stop where the Red Line parts ways with the Blue and Green lines to head north along I-205, and again upon entering airport property until just before the terminal station. The first location incorporates a tight cloverleaf flyover and several over- and underpasses around I-84 and I-205. Again, frequencies on this line are unlikely to be high enough to make it worth the massive extra cost to build this infrastructure doubly wide.
Not quite level boarding
The result is that people with disabilities can only board some doors, which would maddeningly frustrating when an extra few inches of precision would have made all the doors accessible. The operational ramifications of having to deploy a ramp are minor, but not insignificant, so I'm not sure why you wouldn't just make sure the platform is entirely level with the rolling stock.
In DC, the existing streetcar platforms on H Street only have portions that are raised, so people in mobility devices will not be able to board at any doors. Hopefully, though those raised sections will at least be totally level, eliminating the need to operate and maintain ramps.
Mixed-traffic transit and highway right-of-ways
For a medium-size city, Portland has built a significant rail transit system in a phenomenally short time. However, this system suffers from one major shortcoming: low-quality right-of-way. The majority of Portland's light rail and streetcar systems run in either mixed-traffic lanes, or in the highway medians or shoulder.
The areas dense enough to best utilize high-capacity rapid transit only get high-capacity transit. The sections of the system where trains can run relatively fast suffer peaked ridership and lower productivity resulting from low-density development and park-and-rides that surround the stations.
The MAX gets more preferential treatment, running along a transit mall through much of downtown, but runs in highway right-of-ways in many directions on the outskirts of town, where comparatively little is within walking distance of stations.
Good or bad, Portland has led the way with many innovative urban investments. As we develop our bike and streetcar networks here in the Washington region, we should look to the west for lessons learned.
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
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.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.
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.
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: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.
- 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.
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.
Metro riders who bike to the NoMa station have long encountered too few and poorly placed racks along with rampant bike theft. Metro has now installed 27 new bike racks at the NoMa-Gallaudet U station, and plans to move other racks to better locations.
Bicycle parking has been scarce for a long time. Plus, the racks were originally installed too close to the wall, forcing cyclists to lock their bikes up in strange ways.
Better bike parking will encourage people to bike to the Metro from nearby neighborhoods like Trinidad and Eckington, who might live too far to walk.
Bike theft and vandalism, once a major issue, has mostly ebbed since a young man was caught in the act of stealing wheels from bicycles at the station. New racks and nearby commercial space under construction should bring more cyclists and activity and deter theft. Station managers will be able to more easily see many of the new racks as well.
WMATA has also started replacing signs at the station, formerly known as New York Avenue-Florida Avenue-Gallaudet University with its new name: NoMa-Gallaudet U. This is one of several station name changes the WMATA board recently approved.
Metro recently posted a sign on the existing racks, saying that it will be moving them farther from the wall on May 10, and installed 27 new racks. There used to be 8 racks at the N Street entrance to the station, and 5 racks at the M Street entrance. Now, there are 30 at the N Street entrance, and 10 at the M Street entrance.
While these improvements are excellent, Metro should still consider installing racks inside the station for even more safety. Theft has declined, but I've noticed a recent uptick in missing front wheels.
It's fantastic to see Metro responding to the demand for more and better bicycle parking. There are probably more racks now than absolutely necessary to accommodate the people who bike there on an average day, but now that nearby residents have this bike parking, hopefully more will start cycling to the NoMa-Gallaudet U Station.
- 20-somethings demand small affordable apartments, and architects and builders are listening (Builder Online, @justupthepike)
- What might DC look like without WMATA? More highways, more parking garages (Atlantic Cities, @_jpscott)
- Columbia, MD applies for an MDOT grant to study bike sharing feasibility (Baltimore Sun, @bogrosemary)
- A first look at the infill development at the Rhode Island Avenue Metro Station (Rhode Island Ave NE, @IMGoph)
- Where the 99% can afford to live: DC? No. Oklahoma City? Yes (DCentric, @vebah)
- Roads safer for motorists, increasingly deadly for pedestrians (USA Today, @streetsblogdc, @MilesGrant)
- Nationals Park and Navy Yard area developments get new life (Post, @ColinStorm, @vebah)
- Georgia Ave gets new bike racks, but can better designs make truly great streets? (Park View DC, @_jpscott)
- Discovery puts TLC logo on Veterans Plaza ice rink, lets people skate for free (Gazette, @justupthepike)
It only takes about half an hour to install a bike rack. So, very soon, DDOT and WABA will have placed 36 new bike racks in Near Southeast as part of a new initiative called "Rack Attack."
ANC Commissioner David Garber brought attention to the lack of bicycle parking at new retail establishments in the area. Along with DDOT and WABA staff, he was on hand to witness the first rack being installed at Cornercopia in the rapidly growing neighborhood.
New bicycle racks are fairly inexpensive and provide a great incentive for cycling in a neighborhood. U-shaped "staple" racks cost about $100 in bulk, and DDOT provides a grant to WABA for installation. DDOT Bicycle Program Specialist Chris Holben estimated the total cost of a new bike rack at around $300. WABA Bike Parking Program Coordinator Megan Van de Mark installs most of the racks, using a bicycle and trailer to carry the racks and tools to each installation site.
Are there places you know that could use more bike parking? Maybe a “Rack Attack” could come to your neighborhood soon. DDOT installs about 250 bike racks a year and takes requests from the business community for possible locations. Post your suggestions in the comments and we'll get the nominations to DDOT.
Two new news sites launched today, both edited by DCist alumni: Atlantic Cities and Huffington Post DC. Both have a number of interesting urbanism-related articles, though one a blog post in Huffington's launch set sadly rehashes tired arguments about the "war on cars."
Atlantic Cities, run by Sommer Mathis, aims to cover the growing interest in cities and urban planning nationwide. Bruce Katz and Richard Florida talk about why we should care about cities; interesting map and chart articles look at playgrounds among various cities and how to define their borders.
Over at the Huffington Post edited by Michael Grass, there are a number of local news articles on the usual topics like Metro, restaurants, politics, and the Salahis. Blog posts include ones from David Catania on youth violence, Avis Jones DeWeever on DC voting rights, and Adam Clampitt on local veterans' issues.
A few posts talk about transportation: Jody Melto reviews taking the Chinatown bus, Seth Thomas Pietras the proliferation of old bikes. And Chuck Thies, an insightful commentator on District corruption issues on WPFW and the Georgetown Dish, decides to use his inaugural post to complain about the push for safer and better bicycle facilities as a "war on automobiles."
I'd link to it, except the Huffington Post uses detailed analytics to determine how long to leave posts on its home page, and this one needs to roll off as quickly as possible.
Here's the link. The vast bulk is a long recitation of every car Thies has owned and the location of every places he's lived or worked. But Thies comes to the conclusion that he can't drive because of the location of his son's new school, and therefore, any public policy that's not about automobility is the "war on cars":
There are powerful, multiplying forces aligned who seek to make driving as difficult as possible. They oppose spending money to build roads and want to occupy your parking space with a bike rack.The problem isn't with a public policy that increases transportation options, but rather with these people who hassled Thies for driving. It's fine for Thies to drive if that's easiest for him. I drive sometimes. I have friends who drive to work.
Don't get me wrong; I love public transportation, bicycling and walking. ... A month ago my son started school across town. ... So, last week we rejoined the community of car owners.
Now we are back in the crosshairs of those who prosecute the war on automobiles. I have already heard it several times: "You don't need a car," "You could do that with a bike," and so on. ...
People are moving here and businesses are hiring. ... Not all of those employers will be walking distance from a Metro. Every new home will not be built on a block with a bus stop. People with jobs will buy cars and drive them to places to spend money. That is reality.
I love walking, bikes and riding our much-maligned Metro. I do not like sitting unnecessarily in traffic. If the war on automobiles succeeds we will all be caught in a jam and the long-term prosperity of our region will be at risk.
Some of them have to be able to dart into the office late at night if there's a sudden international crisis, and I can totally understand that buses just don't run enough from their house to their office at that time of day. Or they have to stop at a daycare which is inconveniently located to transit.
I just bought some antique doorknobs for my house at The Brass Knob in Adams Morgan. They're replacing black plastic handles which I hated. Some people love the plastic, probably including the former owner that put them on. That doesn't mean that I am engaging in a war on modern fixtures, even though personally I think they're awful. I have friends with super-modern aesthetic senses, who put things in their homes I would never consider for a moment, and we can still be friends.
By the way, I drove to the Brass Knob. It's not very far, but I had to carry a heavy bag of metal objects including the mortise, to make sure I got the right size, and I was fine paying the $2.32 to park for an hour with ParkMobile. I bike a lot. I take Metro and buses. And sometimes I drive. I don't feel bad about my transportation choices, but neither do I say that a project which helps people on one mode I use sometimes is a war on another mode.
This "war" rhetoric is really tiring. It assumes that anything which helps improves non-automotive mobility hurts drivers and vice versa. That's the opposite of the truth. In DC, wherever Thies is driving from Mount Pleasant, there's never going to be a new or wider road. If he's frustrated by traffic, the best thing we can do for him is make it easier for some people, those who don't have to take a kid to a non-transit-accessible school or carry doorknobs or go stop wars from beginning late at night, not to compete with him for road space.
If anyone can feel under attack, it's cyclists. Tom Coburn is currently tying Congress in knots to try to cut any dedicated bike and pedestrian funding, which if approved would surely lead most states to zero out entirely any spending on bike lanes and sidewalks.
At a more micro level, some drivers actively assault cyclists, or talk about how much they wish they could. There's the guy on Rhode Island Avenue who deliberately knocked a cyclist over with his pickup truck, while the cyclist was riding completely legally, or the guy who deliberately struck A Girl On Her Bike not knowing she was a police officer, or the Ballston Patch writer who bragged about her cravings to smack into those pesky bikers with her car.
Most drivers aren't that guy on Rhode Island Avenue, nor the Patch writer, nor Tom Coburn. Most people driving just want to get to work or wherever they are going, just like most people biking or walking or riding the bus do. At least the people driving aren't as likely to get seriously injured if they're hit.
Maybe that's why a few of them, like Chuck Thies, can say with a straight face that they feel there's a war against them. If anything shows an insane sense of entitlement, it's his statement that some people "want to occupy your parking space with a bike rack." Why is it "your" parking space? DDOT has never forcibly installed a bike rack in the parking pad behind anyone's row house. If it's on the street, it's my parking space too.
Thies wasn't just talking about bikes; he's also talking about opposition to the Outer Beltway and most other freeways conceived in the 1950s. There are plenty of arguments against that as well, but most of all, none of it would help Thies' own personal driving concerns, which is what his whole article focuses on (after the many stories about the many cars he bought and sold, for how much and to whom).
Among everything Thies talks about, the one thing that would help him more quickly drive his son to school and then get to work is replacing a few of those parking spaces with bike racks, even if he never personally locks a bicycle to one.
- Community stories show the shift to a walkable lifestyle
- Young kids try to assault me while biking
- Focus transportation on downtown or neighborhoods?
- Some are pushing to limit sidewalk cycling
- Metro bag searches aren't always optional
- Endless zoning update delay hurts homeowners
- Where is downtown Prince George's County?