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A Simple Solution to Bike Parking

Until last week, I had no idea that this bike rack existed.

It's in the parking garage underneath Tower City in downtown Cleveland. It's in a section of the garage that, if the rack were not there, would nevertheless be inaccessible to cars. Tom Vanderbilt recently argued that lack of decent bike parking is one reason that more people don't ride.
...parking helps make commuters—a lesson long ago learned with cars. Studies in New York found that a surprisingly large percentage of vehicles coming into lower Manhattan were government employees or others who had an assured parking spot. Other studies have shown the presence of a guaranteed parking spot at home—required in new residential developments—is what turns a New Yorker into a car commuter. On the flip side, people would be much less likely to drive into Manhattan if they knew their expensive car was likely to be stolen, vandalized, or taken away by police. And yet this is what was being asked of bicycle commuters, save those lucky few who work in a handful of buildings that provide indoor bicycle parking. Surveys have shown that the leading deterrent to potential bicycle commuters is lack of a safe, secure parking spot on the other end.
I'd add that the fact that many people, bicyclists included, don't know things like the rack in the photo above exists, and that doesn't help. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if that's the main reason there were no bikes on the above pictured rack at the time I snapped the photo, because it was a very nice day and there were many bikes at the rack near my office.

Installing racks in parking garages seems like an easy solution. Almost suspiciously easy. One idea being kicked around in a lot of cities, Cleveland included, is a centralized bike center like the McDonald's Cycle Center in Chicago's Millennium Park. While I think bike centers have a lot of potential, I also think they could be expensive and not necessarily convenient to people's final destinations. A bicycle commuter in Chicago, for example, might have to walk an additional mile or more from the cycle center to her office in the Loop, depending on exactly where she works.

With bike racks in every parking garage, bicycle commuters can be confident that they can find a space in a secure indoor location and as close as possible to their final destination.

How do we accomplish something like this? Some would argue legislation - mandate that all parking garage owners install bike racks. My fear is that if the cards aren't played correctly, this could lead to backlash and opposition from motorists and garage owners, who would argue that people who pay top dollar for a downtown parking space are unfairly subsidizing cyclists (regardless of how true the claim is). I think the carrot approach might be more effective. Instead of raising money to spend on a centralized cycling center, local advocacy groups could buy bike racks and work with garage owners to install them. I'm confident that many parking garages have space inside that, due to the architecture of the building, cannot be utilized for any practical purpose. Even if it takes time for people to start using the bike racks, it's possible to point to an empty rack and say, "well, they couldn't do anything with the space, and it's not costing them anything."

Lastly, and this is key, bike commuters need to know where the good spaces are. I don't think a website with a bike parking directory would be unreasonably difficult to create. I've seen some pretty comprehensive directories for downtown car parking. If people don't know that these amenities exist, of course they aren't going to use them.


Kevin said…
Under a law passed in 2008, Cleveland requires parking providers to offer bicycle parking, and allows them to reduce the number of automobile parking spaces when they do so.
Rob Pitingolo said…
Kevin, do you have any more information about which parking providers have already added bicycle parking in Cleveland?
Kevin said…
I haven't a clue. Marty Cader at City Planning might know more.
HHF3 said…
It would be nice if there was a guide to bike parking in downtown Cleveland!
JN said…
San Francisco has an ordinance that requires bicycle parking in garages of a certain size, and has an online map that shows where you can find garaged bicycle parking in the city.

As I'm not an SF resident (though I sorely wish I was), I don't know what this has done to the tone of the bicycle debate.
John said…
I use Chicago's bike station from time to time and I agree that the parking is probably underutilized. The station is more useful to me as a place to shower downtown. I typically get back on my bike after the shower to go the last mile to work and park it there.
AndrewBW said…
Marc Lefkowitz at GCBL wrote about this today. His take: garages have a long way to go to comply with Cleveland's bike rack ordinance.

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