Sad Racks Episode #9

Lessons from bike parking mistakes

Bike parking is a key investment for any real estate project. But sometimes it goes wrong. When that happens, we’re left with a cautionary tale, and often, the need to re-design and replace the installation. Frankly, no one wants that — all that extra cost and time for something that should already be ‘done!’

Let’s look at this photo and dissect it a bit.

First, there are a lot of elements here, all elbowing for primacy in front of a busy office building next to a restaurant. Clearly, the planners spent some time and money on the bike part: They set aside this important space and purchased and installed racks. So now we’ve got bike parking at a popular destination: excellent! 

But there are problems… Let’s go down our basic checklist and see what’s gone wrong, shall we?

  • Access – 
    • Even without anyone else on the sidewalk, this is hard to get to. Why, specifically?
      • Planters take up space bikes and riders need. Only one person can get back here at a time, which is bad for people in a hurry.
      • The racks are too close to each other — this makes it hard to get even a single bike between the racks themselves, let alone six.
      • The racks are too close to the building — there’s no room to maneuver to unload, lock, etc.
      • Plus an electrical outlet to snag your leg! Oww!
  • Signage
    • You won’t find these racks unless you happen to notice them or already know where they are. And isn’t it hard to look past those High Pressure signs? In this case, putting markings on the sidewalk to point to the racks might work well.
  • Rack types
    • These are decent racks, but they lack some key aspects:
      • Only narrow bikes will fit — no long or wide cargo bikes.
      • Locking options are limited since the bikes will only fit one way.
      • If someone locks poorly, they could deny access to the other racks.
      • Two of the racks have mystery loops on the bottom that further limit parking. 
  • Environment
    • The racks don’t have any overhead cover to protect bikes from the elements (and this is in Vancouver, B.C., a place where it rains close to 200 days a year).
  • Capacity and Placement
    • This isn’t enough racks for the demand (a large office building), and they’re likely to be full when you arrive.
    • You can’t tell in this photo, but the racks are a bit too far from the main entrance.

The good news? This area could be re-done with minimum fuss and expense. But right now, it’s a False Checkmark (more on that below) on the owner’s Transportation To-Do list. 

After all the meetings, planning, and ordering that went into installation, this is effectively a single rack. Just one. That means it’s likely that someone will have to spend a bunch of time and money on a re-do.

About False checkmarks: A bad bike rack can give a project a false sense of security. “Bike racks? Done!” But the final measure is whether riders use it (notice any bikes in the picture?). ​​Most important are the intended users, but a rack can serve unplanned users, too: commuters during the day, then restaurant goers in the evenings? Or security staff working overnight?

We use a 100-point system to make sure we haven’t missed anything, but getting parking right is art plus science! And it’s always nice to spend some time on the art. We didn’t talk about that here, but will in our next episode.

Thanks for checking out this episode of Sad Racks!

Bikes Make Life Better is dedicated to helping employees at large organizations use bikes for healthy sustainable transportation. We’ve designed bike programs, facilities, and fleets for Airbnb, Facebook, Kaiser Permanente, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Netflix, Salesforce, Stanford, Walmart and others.