Halfway to Xanadu – Employer Bicycle Parking

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.

Secure, indoor parking on the loading dock. Notice which rack people are using. (Photo Credit - Dana DeMaster)

Secure, indoor parking on the loading dock. Notice which rack people are using. (Photo Credit – Dana DeMaster)

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 rack near the building entrance. (Photo Credit - Luke Van Santen)

A rack near the building entrance. (Photo Credit – Luke Van Santen)

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).

Flammable and corrosive substances, but otherwise secure. (Photo Credit - Bryce Rassmussen)

Flammable and corrosive substances, but otherwise secure. (Photo Credit – Bryce Rasmussen)

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.

This bicycle is carried down stairs to get to this cozy spot. (Photo Credit - Hokan)

This bicycle is carried down stairs to get to this cozy spot. (Photo Credit – Hokan)

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.

There are only 12 lockers at this site, leaving everyone else to lock to a rack. (Photo Credit - Mike Sonn)

There are only 12 lockers at this site, leaving everyone else to lock to a rack. (Photo Credit – Mike Sonn)

A wheelbender is the alternative to a luxury bike locker. (Photo Credit - Mike Sonn)

A wheel bender is the alternative to a luxury bike locker. (Photo Credit – Mike Sonn)

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.

A picnic shelter for bicycles at the Pollution Control Agency. (Photo Credit - Melissa Wenzel)

A picnic shelter for bicycles at the Pollution Control Agency. (Photo Credit – Melissa Wenzel)

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.

Bike lockers at the Department of Human Services (Photo Credit - Dana DeMaster)

Bike lockers at the Department of Human Services (Photo Credit – Dana DeMaster)

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.

The most miserable bike parking. Visible, but insecure and unwelcoming. (Photo Credit - Dana DeMaster)

The most miserable bike parking. Visible, but insecure and unwelcoming. (Photo Credit – Dana DeMaster)

Visible, accessible and secure. Too bad it is sort of a wheel bender. (Photo Credit - Michael Mason)

Visible, accessible, and secure. Too bad it is sort of a wheel bender. (Photo Credit – Michael Mason)

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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12 Responses to Halfway to Xanadu – Employer Bicycle Parking

  1. Evik James October 20, 2016 at 8:39 am #

    What a nice read. Great photos and great examples of what works and what doesn’t.

  2. Heidi Schallberg
    Heidi Schallberg October 20, 2016 at 9:57 am #

    Great post Dana. I wanna join your Evil Wheelbenders girl group. In Mike’s second photo, the main parking for those who don’t have bike lockers is the roller rack in the background, not the wheelbender, which was brought in over the summer when the roller rack was nearing capacity. So that parking sitch is not quite as bad as that wheelbender rack!

    We’re struggling with how to let new employees, or employees new to biking, know about all the details like how to get a bike locker or a hall locker near the locker rooms in our basement. We got some info posted on our intranet for the building but need more. If anyone has a good system that works, please post.

  3. Noelle October 20, 2016 at 9:57 am #

    I’m fortunate that there’s a dedicated bike parking zone in my building’s underground parking garage, which is only accessible by key card (either by going through the garage door or by wheeling your bike into the building and taking the elevator). I still take my lights off before I head to my cube, but I feel comfortable leaving my cheap helmet there and only locking my bike to the rack by its frame (granted, it’s 40 years old with no quick release anything to be found). I’m not sure how I’d improve it, other than adding a bike wash station for winter 🙂 We have a couple private showers on site too.

    In the past I’ve used those bike lockers when we didn’t have the parking option at work and I rode a bike I wasn’t comfortable leaving outside on a crowded rack, and I also remember getting surprised comments from onlookers when I wheeled my bike out of it (mine was near a busy bus stop).

  4. Dana DeMaster
    DanaD October 20, 2016 at 10:02 am #

    When I start a 1960s girl band it is going to be called Dana and the Evil Wheel Benders. We’re going to have great coordinated outfits.

  5. Nick Minderman October 20, 2016 at 10:08 am #

    Target has some fantastic cycle commuter amenities at its DT Mpls. facilities. Haven’t been there in person, but I’ve seen pictures; if those pictures are at all accurate, Target sets the bar higher than most of the places in the photos above.

    • hokan October 20, 2016 at 11:09 am #

      True. I’ve toured the Target facility (they didn’t permit me to take pictures). Secure indoor parking. Once or twice a week (can’t remember which) someone from a local bike shop comes by to perform minor maintenance on Target’s dime. More involved maintenance has to be paid for by the employee, but is super convient.

      • Walker Angell
        Walker Angell October 21, 2016 at 10:40 am #

        Terrific of them to provide that maintenance. Even when you have to pay for the parts and work it’s much more convenient than having to take time to get to a bike shop and likely be without your bike for a bit.

  6. TomQ October 20, 2016 at 10:14 am #

    In the 1970’s I used to chain my bike to the main sign in front of a business on the busy corner of Como and Carter in the middle of St. Anthony Park where all the employees could see it from their office windows. It was in clear sight of the traffic.

    Still, it was stolen. A coworker observed the thief looking at the bike, walking to the local hardware store, returning with a bolt cutter, cutting the lock, and riding off. Somehow she didn’t think it was suspecious.

    Locks are better today, but unfortunately few businesses even have a place to lock a bike.

  7. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller October 20, 2016 at 10:49 am #

    There’s a secure room in our building, but I typically lock up across the street (around the corner from that last photo), because it’s covered, right by the door to that building, and there are always smokers out there.

    Meanwhile, the bike racks at our building around the corner from the entrances (like, almost as far away as they could be and still be on the same block) and hidden from view between the building and weird structures (maybe combo bus stop bench and vents for the underground parking?). They could be a case study in how not to do it.

  8. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell October 21, 2016 at 10:33 am #

    Great post and amazing coincidence. I was just thinking about this as I was locking my bike up to a rack 10 minutes ago.

    In The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and elsewhere most people do not have most of these things. There is usually plenty of bicycle parking but it is rarely inside or covered. Bikes are left outside in the elements 24/7 for decades of use. A key accessory is an elastic saddle cover that stuffs under your seat. A dry saddle is a wonderful thing. That said, covered or indoor parking is becoming much more of a thing. Employers use it to attract employees and flats to attract tenants. Some cities are now requiring some bit of ride-in indoor parking for residential and office buildings.

    In Amsterdam the best security (almost all bikes are locked up on the street) is a good chain and a bike that doesn’t look appealing. It’s not unusual for people to paint fake rust on brand new bikes. Or you can always try some of Henry’s Magic Spray: http://www.workcycles.com/home-products/parts-accessories-books/high-tech-antitheft-bicycle-spray

    Bike lockers are exceptionally rare in Netherlands and similar countries. I can only think of one time that I’ve seen one in thousands of miles I’ve ridden around here. I assume this is primarily due to the space inefficiency but also as you mentioned above they don’t work so well for riders themselves. They’re kind of more of a pain to use than just leaving your bike out and using a seat cover.

  9. Eric Saathoff
    Eric Saathoff October 21, 2016 at 8:09 pm #

    As a teacher I used to just leave my bicycle out in the open right outside my classroom (big windows so I could see it). I thought it was a good lesson for the kids to see me bring it every day, but after a while I think it just became a part of the background for them.
    Now I’m in an office and park it where it is easily secured. Neither St. Paul elementary school provides any bike parking.

  10. Rosa October 23, 2016 at 2:51 pm #

    I had a bike stolen from a rack that I’m pretty sure is one of the photo spots – the covered space in front of the building at 2nd & 3rd. The racks were so full, and I was running so late, I locked up with a cable because I couldn’t get close enough to use my u-lock. There are cameras there but it doesn’t help much if the police don’t care.

    That same company’s previous location with loading-dock bike racks was great, even without the rain protection. But probably like you said because nobody knew it was there so it wasn’t always chock full.

    My husband takes his bike into his building, but he always feels bad about all the salty snow water dripping off it in winter.

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