Bike parking is not the sexiest bike issue, but it’s important. As biking increases, the city must keep up by installing more bike racks. And with public sidewalk space at a premium in many areas, that means getting creative with where bike parking should go.
At the same time, private developers and property managers have few guidelines for what kinds of bike parking is best and how to properly place it to maximize usability. As the number of cranes in Seattle shows no sign of decreasing, it’s important that the new buildings install enough high-quality bike parking to meet the needs of all the bikes that will pull up to its businesses and residences.
That’s why Cascade Bicycle Club and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways hosted Rackathon, a two-hour summit focused on a wide range of bike parking issues.
There are tons of different bike rack styles, and many were on display at the event. While there is a time and place to non-conventional bike racks, the major takeaway for me was that it is really hard to beat the dependable and ubiquitous “staple” rack, at least for outdoor, public spaces.
The staple rack is versatile — works well on the sidewalk, in an on-street bike corral, and in a parking garage — and just about any kind of bike can be locked to it. Most bike rack makers have a version of the staple rack, so it also does not limit competition. Many bike rack alternatives — except for some truly awesome public art racks — feel a bit like trying to invent a better mouse trap.
How to request a city bike rack
Did you know the city has a budget to install bike racks in commercial districts at zero cost to businesses? And as the Seattle Neighborhood Greenways video above expalins, it’s surprisingly east to make a request: Just email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell them who you are and where a bike rack or on-street bike corral is needed. That’s it. The city will then work with you to figure out a solution.
Of course, there’s a catch. The biggest problem with the city’s system is that it is very slow. Requests can take a year to be completed, and most installations are done during the winter when other road work is not possible due to rain and cold temperatures. So if you open a business in the spring or summer and have no place for your biking customers (or the number of people biking overflows your existing parking), the city-provided option could be too slow.
If you have the cash, you can make it happen faster. Basically, you can buy a rack yourself, pay for a street use fee (includes inspection of plans to make sure it fits city rules) and hire a contractor to install it for you. Then you can either continue paying the street use fee indefinitely or you can donate the bike rack to the city. This will cost you hundreds of dollars, which is definitely more expensive than free. But it could be a small price to pay to increase customer access.
This pay option also allows businesses to install bike racks that are different than the city’s standard unpainted staple racks. So if bright green bike racks would look really awesome in front of your shop, this is the route you want to take.
The city’s process could definitely use a bit more transparency and better usability. But perhaps most importantly, there needs to be more outreach to solicit requests from businesses in underserved neighborhoods. Not only are safe bike routes missing in many low-income areas, commercial drags in such neighborhoods often have poor or nonexistent bike parking.
You can help by letting your favorite businesses know how easy it is to make a request. SDOT staff said that requests from underserved areas should get bumped up their bike rack priority list, so let’s help them identify the areas that need bike parking most. You can make requests as a customer, but it probably best if a business or property owner does it. So you should let them know how (or get their blessing to take on the effort for them).
As Seattle’s development boom continues, it’s vital that the new developments include enough bike parking to meet the need not just today, but for years to come. This means bike parking both for tenants (secure parking for employees and residents) and for the public.
But beyond having adequate requirements, building managers and developers could also use help making sure the parking they do install is usable (no more wheel-benders!) and installed correctly. No more bike racks squeezed in a corner of the parking garage behind the Dumpsters, and no more 8-bike racks installed so close to a wall that only a couple bikes can use it. Seattle’s building managers are getting much better at providing good bike parking, but there’s a long way to go, especially downtown.
The city has been absolutely rocking it with the on-street bike corrals this past year. As we reported in December, the city has revamped the way it builds on-street racks. Their new style is more versatile and costs one third as much as their previous corrals. As of June, there were 25 on-street bike corrals around town, and the city has tentative plans for ten more:
- NE 40th St and University Way NE
- 12th Ave NE and NE 50th St
- Shilshole Ave NW, in front of Pono Ranch
- California Ave SW and SW Alaska St
- 22nd Ave NW and NW Market St
- 15th Ave and E Pine St
- 6th Ave S and S Weller St
- 2nd Ave – somewhere along the protected bike lane demo
- Leary Ave NW and NW Vernon Pl
- 1st Ave W and W Howe St
The on-street bike parking request process is essentially the same as the process for requesting a standard bike rack. However, it requires a bit more buy in from nearby businesses, property owners and any pertinent historical districts. Some boards and businesses are not yet on board with idea of trading one or two car parking spaces for 12 or so bike parking spaces. Two notable hold outs: Pioneer Square Historic District and the Pike Place Market.
With high-capacity transit (slowly) expanding and Pronto Cycle Share on the verge of launching in the city center, better secure mid-term bike parking is going to be a vital piece of the bike mobility puzzle in the Puget Sound region. The area does not yet have a truly great example of what this might look like, but there are some promising efforts in the works. Sound Transit has plans to install secure bike cages at the planned Rainier Station of East Link, for example.
King County is also experimenting with on-demand bike lockers, a huge step forward from the reservation-only bike lockers at many Sound Transit stations. However, since you have to pay for a card in advance and keep track of yet another payment card, it is not as user-friendly as it could be (would be great to be able to use an ORCA card, credit card or cash).
In the end, bike parking is definitely not the sexiest bike issue, and it certainly is not Seattle’s biggest bike need. Compared to the lack of safe bike lanes, the city is actually doing pretty well in its bike parking efforts. But as more and more people keep taking up biking as a way to get around, the city’s gotta keep up its on-street bike parking program and keep working to get more businesses and historic districts on board.
For even more on bike parking, check out this King 5 report featuring yours truly: