A co-worker recently began biking to work. As I have counseled him along the way, he has shared the many things he enjoys, but there have also been some headaches. One challenge was finding parking for his bicycle. “I hardly ever see other bikes on the rack out front, but I know a bunch of people bike. Where do you all store your bikes?” He was surprised to learn that our employer provides free, secure indoor bicycle parking. That interaction, along with a very contentious process to assign car parking spots in the highly subsidized lots behind our building, got me thinking about parking at work generally, but bicycle parking in particular. One way my employer is dealing with the car parking shortage is to encourage people to use other means of getting to work than driving alone in a vehicle, which may require an expansion of our bicycle parking.
Others have written very succinctly about what constitutes good bike parking. Very recently, Lou Fineberg posted on the Strong Towns blog that:
Bicycle parking should be located in an easily accessible area that is well-lit, secure, and preferably sheltered. It should be placed as close to the building entrance(s) as possible, or at least as close as the nearest car parking. When done well, bike parking can enhance a space, make people with bikes feel welcomed, and even encourage more people to ride. When done poorly it can convey indifference, cause frustration, be an eyesore, or even a hazard.
So, what does bicycle parking look like for Twin Cities’ commuters? Does it meet Fineberg’s criteria of secure, accessible, and sheltered? Does it encourage more people to ride? Or is it a hazardous eyesore?
Security. When asked, bicycle commuters rated security as the most important thing. No one wants to have their bicycle stolen. Secure can look many different ways. My newly commuting co-worker said, “Ours is great because I feel like my bike is safe. I don’t even use a lock many times because only other bikers go in that space.” Our bike parking is a fenced-in area of the loading dock, accessible through a door with a security code.
A high traffic area in a parking ramp could also be secure. Ironically, being close to the smoking area meant people were coming and going all day, keeping eyes on the bicycles. Better yet, were racks close to the building entrance from the parking ramp.
A surprising number of people bring their bicycles either to their desk or to a closet or other corner of their work site. Being close can mean being secure, but the security of these spaces varied by site. Some people had a completely private space, while others kept their bicycles in spaces used by other people for other reasons (like a closet).
Accessible. Accessibility was another important consideration. Racks in inconvenient, far corners of the parking ramp were rated very low. Not only were they perceived as less secure, but some people felt the isolation made them vulnerable. The office dwelling bicycles often had to be carried up and down stairs, on elevators, or were kept in spaces with other uses. While having one’s bicycle close was nice, these spaces could be tricky to get to.
Another aspect of accessibility was whether the provided parking was actually available. A common problem for commuters whose organizations provided bike lockers was a long wait to get a locker. Some were offered first-come, first-serve, while others had an annual lottery for a locker. Lockers often met security criteria, but if someone could not get a locker they were left with substandard racks. Others expressed annoyance that many lockers sit empty when someone assigned a prized locker had good intentions, but then rarely used their space.
Even without bike lockers, many people reported that at peak times the racks are full. In our loading dock space a nice summer day could easily mean no space on the two racks. People locking up across the wheel bender rather than perpendicularly caused the building management to post notes asking people to “maximize the available spaces.”
Sheltered. People want their bicycles protected from the weather. This mean that not only the bicycle was protected, but the rider was able to get shelter when locking up. Parking at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency shows a simple way to protect bicycles, while still being attractive and close to the building entrance.
Bicycle lockers protect the bicycle, but can leave the rider out in the rain or snow. The lockers are themselves vulnerable to the weather. Moisture can damage the lock itself. These racks are near the downspouts for the building which causes problems after a significant rainfall.
Finally, Fineberg says that good bicycle parking makes bicyclists feel welcome and encourages more people to ride. This is a bit more of a challenge. Visibility is a precondition to encouraging more people to ride. When you see bicycles the possibility that you might ride might begin to take shape. It is normalizing. However, if, like my co-worker, someone is not aware that bicycle parking is available or that other people ride to work, it is more difficult to imagine yourself doing so.
Yet, there can be a trade-off between visibility and security. One of the reasons our loading dock is secure is because no one is aware that bicycles are stored there. On the other hand, people have to have a way to find out about it without too much research. At my previous employer someone saw me taking my bicycle out of one of the lockers and commented that they always saw those, but did not know what they were for. That’s security – mystery boxes. Yet, it also means the bike parking was a mystery.
A combination of accessible, secure, and sheltered was something all the bicyclists wanted, but all three was often difficult to come by. The gold standard is when the parking does all those things and is welcoming to new bicyclists. Does your bicycle parking meet these criteria? Are there other criteria that should be considered? What would you improve about your bicycle parking?
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