Making Space for Mobility: Three Policies to Expand Bicycle Parking

On any given day in any American city, you can walk into a public planning meeting and hear a voracious discussion on parking. In our age of mounting political polarization, it seems to be the one thing most Americans can agree on: “We need more parking!” Of course, the conversation typically centers on parking of the automobile variety—the kind that consumes acres of urban land, costs millions in development budgets, and undermines high-quality urban design. Conspicuously absent, though, is bicycle parking—the kind that is relatively compact and cost-effective.

Thankfully for road users of all varieties, that conversation is changing. With bike commuting booming across the country, cities from Miami to Seattle and everywhere in between are scrambling to accommodate the flocks of new bicyclists. The boom poses two unique challenges: where do we put bicycles while in motion and where do we store them?

As the transportation writer Tom Vanderbilt has pointed out, having a safe, “secure parking spot on the other end” of the trip is essential for encouraging bicycling. I wrote about five key strategies for constructing affordable, safe bike parking yesterday.

With the importance of the humble bike rack in mind, here are three shining examples of cities that have led the way in expanding bicycle parking:

Source: The Impression That I Get/Flickr

Source: The Impression That I Get/Flickr

1. Decentralized Knowledge and Centralized Funding in Portland

Portland, Oregon gets a lot of love for their ambitious urban planning projects, but a willingness to install lots of bicycle parking may be one of its most underrated innovations. With a simple online form, business owners can request up to two bike racks, compliments of the City of Portland. The city also has a straightforward process for encroachment permitting when private bike racks are installed in the public right-of-way.

For busier bicycle hubs, the city even has an application for installing an on-street bike corral hosting up to 12 racks. The benefit of this system is that it gives urban users with local knowledge about parking needs the ability to easily pass this information along to the city. The city then kicks in public funds or works with local businesses to sort out the needed funding. The bike corral process in particular has been an enormous success, with urban business requests leading to the conversion of 163 automobile parking spaces into 1,644 bicycle parking spaces as of 2013. The amount of investment is small but the amount of people who can now safely park their bikes is huge.

2. Easing Automobile Parking Mandates in Pittsburgh

Like many cities across the country, Pittsburgh has established bicycle parking requirements for some new types of development. On the one hand, this is a surefire way to add more bicycle parking. On the other hand, it adds a new requirement to new development, which, in the aggregate, makes building in cities more expensive and complicated.

Happily, Pittsburgh’s ordinance turns what might have been a burden into a bonus: adding bicycle parking can offset requirements for off-street automobile parking. Since automobile parking is so much more expensive and space-intensive than bicycle parking, the offset allows for more building and fewer excess parking spots. As Lou Finberg points out, this is a potential win-win for developers and bicyclists. Bicyclists enjoy more bicycle parking and developers avoid having to construct costly automobile parking. 

Source: Daderot/Wikimedia Commons

Source: Daderot/Wikimedia Commons

3. Gold Standard Service at Arizona State University

In many cases, merely providing decent bicycle parking is enough to make bicyclists feel welcome. But with one of the largest bicycling communities in the United States, Arizona State University isn’t satisfied with decent. Both the university and its host city Tempe enjoying “gold” awards from the League of American Bicyclists, and they really take bicycle parking to the next level. On top of offering thousands of racks conveniently located across the campus, the university offers nearly 200 spots in indoor parking facilities and nearly 600 spots across three separate valet stations. With high quality service and a partner in the city, Arizona State University offers a model for campus bicycle parking that is secure and easy to use.

Bicycle commuting in America grew by 60% over the last decade and the trend shows no sign of stopping. In states as diverse as Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Louisiana, bicycle commuting grew by over 100% between 2005 and 2013.

With exciting changes underway in helping bicycles move, there has never been a more important time to also help bike riders find a place to park their vehicles. With a little consideration and a modest amount of investment, cities can go a long way toward improving bicycle parking, which means more customers on bikes can access businesses, more residents who bike can access housing, and our communities can become stronger in the process. 

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Nolan Gray is a writer for Market Urbanism. You can follow him on Twitter at @mnolangray.