More than 1.5 million bicycles are reported stolen every year in the United States, and fear of bicycle theft is recognized as a significant deterrent to bicycle use. The availability of safe and convenient parking is as critical to bicyclists as it is for motorists and yet it is frequently overlooked in the design and operation of shops, offices, schools, and other buildings.
However, providing good quality bicycle parking that is going to be used and useful is not quite as easy as leaving a "fence" or "grid" style rack out by the back fence of the shopping plaza or school yard and expecting cyclists to find and use it. Indeed, many agencies are now adopting quite specific bicycle parking design, location, and installation requirements.
Bicycle parking needs to be visible, accessible, easy to use, convenient, and plentiful. Racks need to support the whole bike (not just one wheel) and enable the user to lock the frame and wheels of the bike with a cable or U-shaped lock. Parking should preferably be covered, well lit, and in plain view without being in the way of pedestrians or motor vehicles. And if any of these criteria aren't met, there's a good chance cyclists won't use what is provided and will park wherever they think their bike will be safe.
The International Bicycle Fund has created a two-page fact sheet on bicycle parking criteria that discusses these many factors in more detail and further advice on planning for bicycle parking can be found related specifically to shopping , or commuting . Many agencies work closely with their local bicycle user groups to identify potential high-demand locations, either through postcard and e-mail request forms or more formal consultative procedures.
Racks need to be sited and installed appropriately for them to be well used. Racks that are too close to the wall, or which don't have enough room between them, will end up sitting empty while nearby railings, trees and light poles continue to be used by bicyclists. Racks need to be clearly visible and accessible, yet shouldn't interfere with pedestrians or other street furniture. For example, the City of Seattle specifies that:
The City of Chicago's Guide for Establishing Bike Parking notes that they will provide racks only on sidewalks ten feet wide or more, and they can't be installed on the city's heated, vaulted, or architectural sidewalks for a variety of technical reasons. The city will only install bike racks in concrete, as they cannot be securely anchored in asphalt. Racks must be four feet from fire hydrants, curb ramps, building entrances etc.
Local businesses can have bike racks or lockers installed to encourage employees to commute to work. For more on promoting bicycle use, see Strategies to Promote Bicycling.
The City of Denver's regulations specify that the Inverted U type bike rack is the required bicycle parking rack, although other racks may be proposed provided that they meet certain performance requirements. Every other current publication on bicycle parking follows pretty much the same approach. Racks should:
The City of Madison, WA bicycle coordinator developed a six-page guide to rack selection that describes acceptable and unacceptable racks based on the kind of criteria listed above. The guide also details how racks that are supposed to park two bicycles (one on each side) should be chosen and installed.
Bicycle parking facilities are sometimes classified into Class 1 and Class 2 facilities; Class One being lockers or racks in enclosed areas (providing protection from theft), and Class Two being stands or racks in unsupervised areas. The Santa Cruz bicycle parking ordinance, for example, uses this system.
However, most communities divide parking facilities into those that provide acceptable long-term or short-term parking. Short-term bicycle parking is usually defined as being two hours or less, such as might be necessary outside a store, or for visitors to an office building, park, or Government service center. Both Portland and Denver recommend racks be within 50 feet of the main entrance to the building, or entrances that are frequently used by cyclists. The Palo Alto bicycle parking ordinance actually requires the furthest bicycle parking rack to be no further away from an office entrance than the nearest car parking space! Other critical factors for short-term parking are that it be:
Long term parking usually suggests that the bicyclist is leaving the bike all day, or overnight, or for an even longer duration. Obviously the level of security and protection from the elements needs to be greater, but the immediate convenience of the parking facility may not be as important. For secure, all-day or overnight parking, for instance, the Portland guide assumes that riders will be willing to walk a short distance (e.g.750 feet) to or from their destination.
Long-term parking options include:
A growing number of communities are supporting the development of centrally-located secure bicycle parking garages that also offer bike rentals and repairs, easy links to transit, showers and lockers, and a variety of other services. There are three Bikestations in California and similar facilities under development in Fort Collins, and Denver, Colorado, Seattle, Pittsburgh and Chicago.
Wherever possible, bicycle parking should be covered to protect the bike from rain, snow and other elements. Covered parking areas should have at least six or seven feet of clearance, but not so high as to allow rain and snow to easily blow under the roof.
Having provided bicycle parking, it makes sense to ensure that people know it is there! The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices specifies a bicycle parking guide sign (D4-3) which can be used to inform bicyclists of parking areas.
An increasing number of communities are adopting bicycle parking ordinances that specify a minimum level of bicycle parking for different building types and land uses. While these usually relate to new developments, the level of provision required can be used as a guide to retrofit communities also.
A collection of bicycle parking ordinances can be found here. This Web site, sponsored by the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition (MassBike), also contains a table comparing nine municipal ordinances from across the US.
How much do agencies charge to rent bicycle lockers? A survey of local bicycle program managers in 2000 revealed the following range of costs that agencies charge people to rent bicycle lockers.
Installing bicycle parking might seem like a pretty straightforward exercise, but how do you know what type of rack is preferred by cyclists, and how many times have you seen bikes chained to trees or parking meters within a few feet of a bike rack?! The Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) pulled together a task force to develop recommendations on bicycle parking guidelines, including bicycle rack selection, location and placement that answers these questions and will ensure quality bicycle parking.