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How Seattle can build more and better bike parking

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.

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A staple rack with a cool Seattle flare.

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 [email protected] 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).

Building codes

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.

Bike corrals

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:

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26 responses to “How Seattle can build more and better bike parking”

  1. amy

    My fiance and I commute downtown together and last Friday afternoon we needed to pick up a marriage license. We mistakenly thought we needed to go to City Hall and walked our bikes down 4th Avenue to the entrance…no bike racks anywhere. Hmm…walked our bikes up the hill to 5th ave…and there were two super tiny, completely full bike racks. I’m sure there’s more bike parking I missed somewhere, but I was kind of amazed that there was so little parking and no signage (that I could see) to indicate where one would park their bike if visiting City Hall.

    I’m sure if I’d researched it, I’d have known where to park, but it seems crazy that I would need to research it.

    1. Bestie

      Don’t be so ashamed. The bike parking immediately adjacent to City Hall is precisely as you have described. There’s some near buildings across the street, but the supply at City Hall itself is limited and usually full.

  2. jeik

    Good timing, as I just received a complaint from another condo owner re: bike parking for our guests. Our storage is already full with our bikes, and there is no good place for friends to lock up while they are visiting. This will become increasingly important in low-rise residential areas, which are often most easily accessed by bike (too far to walk, transit service is OK not great, and car parking is difficult).

    1. Hi Jeik,
      I represent a local bike rack company and would love to help. Please email me the particulars so i can get in touch.


  3. O

    Business owners, if you’re reading this, those racks designed to hold the front wheel are completely useless.

    1. KH

      Agreed! See KH post below. Many bikes can’t lock their frame to those with a u lock, not to mention squeeze in between without dismantling all of your panniers, etc.

  4. Ben P

    The city will also need to consider a program to mark and remove abandoned bikes. There are some racks that always have striped bikes on them.

    @Amy the King county court house also has a total lack of parking. Getting there real early for the first day of jury duty to find the only thing to lock up to is heavy window bars next to milling homeless and drug addicts. With their lack of car parking they make a big deal about refunding your bus fare. They would do well to provide some secure bike parking as well

  5. Jay

    ” a huge step forward from the reservation-only bike lockers at many Sound Transit stations”
    I’m curious why you’d consider that a “huge step forward”, I do understand that; “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” and no doubt a lot (possibly even most) people who do sign up for long term reservations because biking sounds like a good idea, don’t actually follow through and way too many reserved lockers are probably empty. But I’d think the risk of all the lockers being taken would be a bit of a disincentive to bike.
    On the other hand, I suppose someone who is using “bike and ride” is probably not biking very far and could ride something like an $80 WallMart bike, which few would want to steal, and if someone did one wouldn’t be out much.
    If the lockers were reserved but one didn’t have a reservation, then riding a junk bike is just what one has to do, but if there was a possibility (but only a possibility) of getting a locker one could put a nice bike in, then riding the junk bike “just in case” may be galling.

    Also, seems odd that you mentioned Pronto, in your news roundup on 6-20 you linked to a WSJ article; “Citi Bike needs to pay about $1 million in lost parking revenue to New York because their stations take up spots ” If I recall correctly (one can only read the article once without paying so I’ll have to rely on my recollection), City bike was complaining that they were losing money because too many annual subscribers were using the bikes ($8/day daily rate beats ~$0.30/day annual rate by a large margin), again from recollection, they have something like 97,000 annual members and 40 something thousand rides per day, which seems to be just a bit over one round trip per week per annual member.
    Now, if bike lockers were also only used once a week by people holding long term reservations, then on demand would seem to be a better idea.
    Still, if I had that sort of commute, I’d buy a Brompton and skip both the lockers and Pronto

    1. Jessica

      I’m a little confused by this. I guess it sounds like your assumption is that people would buy a bike based on the circumstances of the commute (e.g. if lockers are unavailable, I would buy a junk bike for that; or if I had to take my bike on the bus often, I would buy a folding bike for that). My assumption is kind of the opposite- I have a bike and will arrange my commute around that (or won’t use the bike to commute if the circumstances don’t allow it). Bus routes and bus stop amenities change often enough that I wouldn’t want to invest money in a bike specifically to accommodate the current setup. But I might not be representative of the typical commuter.

      1. Jay

        My assumption is that people who “bike and ride” would appreciate some assurance of security for their bike, First come first served” leaves a lot of uncertainty (not to mention the moms who have to take kids to school/daycare will have a hard time being “first” so it is also sexist ;)

        Oh, BTW, I did indeed “buy a bike based on the circumstances of the commute ” (basically bus service got so crappy I couldn’t stand it anymore), while I did already have a recreational bike, I bought a new one with fenders, puncture resistant tires, dynamo lighting etc. for year around commuting. But I ride INSTEAD of bussing, so leaving the (not junk) bike at a park and ride is not an issue for me.

        Since they are using electronic card readers for “on demand” they could also track usage of reserved lockers “use it or lose it” and maybe charge reservation holders a higher rate for empty lockers, e.g, if one is sick for a couple of days, one can pay say a couple dollars a day extra and still keep the reservation, but if the locker is consistently empty, reservation is revoked.

        “or won’t use the bike to commute if the circumstances don’t allow it”
        Ok, I can understand that, but I wouldn’t leave any of the bikes I already own in the open at a park and ride lot all day with a “Steal me” sign on it ( an actual sign might not be a such bad idea, at least some people would think it was a trap and leave it alone) But if the distance to the bus/train stop is close enough to walk, then sure, I’ll leave the bike at home. On the other hand, if I could afford to live within walking distance of a light rail station, it would probably have to be in a tiny studio apartment, so I’d probably want to trade in my cargo bike for a Brompton anyway so…

        If one is going to have to buy a bike to replace a stolen one, why not be preemptive and get a cheap one to start with? Though it just now occurs to me than since light rail travels considerable distances, some people may bike a considerable distance to get to a station. e.g. given a choice between a 20 mile ride to the train station or a 50 mile ride to the final destination, most people will drive a car, but those who do bike will not want to do it on a junk bike, so, again, I’d think they’d appreciate some degree of certainty of getting a locker.

      2. JAT

        Jay, as a dad who did most of the school/daycare delivery, I’m offended! (emoticon implication for the irony-impaired)

      3. Jessica

        I see your point. Sounds like there’s definitely a need for both predictable (e.g. reservable) and readily available (i.e. no reservation or membership required) lockup options for different users.

  6. asdf2

    Last I checked, the UW station opening in a couple years isn’t going to have I bike cage, and will only have a small number of open-rack spaces underneath the bridge. Given the close proximity to the Burke Gilman trail and and that bus service from virtually anywhere in Northeast Seattle forces users into slow detours away from the station, this is a real shame.

    Meanwhile, there’s a giant surface parking lot around the station for people to drive to football games who don’t feel like riding the $2 billion train right next door.

    Essentially, the problem comes down to:
    1) While the UW definately cares about people riding the train to class, people using the station to commute between Northeast Seattle and downtown has absolutely zero value to the university. Hence, parking spaces for 2-3 cars during 8 football games a year is more important than a cage for 100 bike/train commuters on their way downtown.
    2) Since the UW is a public institution, Sound Transit cannot take any land from them, whatsoever, via eminent domain. The UW is grudgingly allowing Sound Transit to locate the station on their property because they do care about students using it, but Sound Transit is not allowed to take away one single parking space more than what is absolutely required to host the station.

    1. Virchow

      Interesting problem. I think probably that it can be resolved politically. As UW faculty and students do a lot of biking, they can petition for better bike facilities. We may not end up with a public locker, but lots of bike parking would be a good start. UW struggles to keep up with bike parking demand, so I don’t think it will be a hard sell to the transportation dept there.

  7. KH

    Loved your other article in reference to today’s NPR story and the use of cargo bikes. In light of that, and the fact that my ride is an electric assist step thru bike, please, please encourage other bike racks than the standard old style racks. I use a u lock to secure my ride, as most people do in this city. I can’t lock my frame to a standard style bike rack unless I get an outside edge(always taken) and if you are a cargo bike with a bucket in front, or wide extra cycle style back section, you can’t squeeze into the old style bike racks. The newer angled rack with space in between are really helpful. Most of the time I find myself locking up to street signs and parking signs, as there is no other option. Thanks!

    1. Brock Howell

      Do you mean to he bike racks that look like they have coathangers?

  8. Clark in Vancouver

    Recently I was at a bike shop and there was nowhere in front for a customer to park their bike. I had to bring it inside and all I had was one short question of them. Didn’t seem worth it.

  9. Peter

    Don’t get me started. There is so much wrong with the bike rack situation in this city. It’s one of those examples were the people in charge seem like they have never been outside Seattle, when other cities have so many good ideas. Even the standard-issue bike racks the city installs are terrible and inefficient. Go to Portland and see the huge bike corrals on the streets downtown. Go to Amsterdam and see the thousands of bikes neatly parked at the tram (light rail) stations. And our light rail stations have zero? Come on people. On Capitol Hill I see a bike corral being installed where there are no businesses, or in front of a bar, yet the one that was in front of the Broadway Market was taken out a few years ago due to “lack of use” leaving three puny bike racks that are used mostly by panhandlers to lean against. Along the new Broadway Bikeway the are almost no bike racks. You can ride your bike on the gleaming new bike path, but god forbid you want to stop and lock it near a store and restaurant. Then they installed four beautiful new bike racks right in front of “Garage” club between Seneca and Pike, and none anywhere else. I emailed the guy at SDOT in charge of the streetcar project and he referred me to Brian Dougherty ,[email protected]> who he said was in charge of the bike part. He said Brian would be happy to take any suggestions. Well I emailed Brian and – no surprise – no response. I hate locking my bike to a traffic sign, fence, or baby tree, but sometimes there is no choice. I personally believe that each business should be responsible for “X” number of bike racks to serve their customers, and that each new apartment should be required to provide ample bike parking. Shame on Seattle for failing so miserably in providing bike parking while pretending to encourage us to get around on our bikes. Sorry if I sound mad but as a dedicated bicycle commuter times 40 years I am tired of waiting for things to get better.

    1. Brock Howell

      I agree. Which is why I’m working on this issue. Care to help me as a volunteer during August?

      1. Sarah

        C’mon, Peter, let’s both get on the ball with Brock. I’m sure your ideas (and my paltry contribution) will be helpful.

        Put your money where your mouth/fingers is/are.

  10. Lee

    Thanks for the article. Given Seattle’s rainy climate I was surprised not to see any reference to covered bike racks. The availability of covered bike parking is an esstential part of whether I decide to ride in Fall/Winter/Spring, and something that really isn’t happening much in Seattle. Other NW cities are doing better, even Victoria!

    1. Brock Howell

      Hi Lee, do you have some photos of the Victoria racks?

      1. Sarah

        UW has a nice covered bike rack (and a free work stand with tools and pump) outside the Atmospheric Sciences building. The work stand is quite handy for commuters on the B-G right now, as the re-route for the B-G construction goes past it.

  11. Jesse

    Thanks for this post! I just moved to the Seattle area and am commuting via bus, Sounder train, and bike. It would be FANTASTIC to have secure bicycle parking at King Street Station. I could leave my bicycle there overnight instead of loading it on the bus and train, which is inefficient (the Sounder cars are especially crowded with bicycles, even at 6 AM). It looks like there used to be a facility called Bikestation near King Street Station, but it’s no longer around. It’s too bad that there doesn’t seem to be any way for commuters to leave a bike overnight at/near the station. The car traffic here is horrendous, and the only way it will improve is by making it easier for people to choose other options. Does anyone have any suggestions or know of future plans that might improve the parking situation at King Street Station?

  12. thecolor

    I’m curious about the one noted for: Leary Ave NW and NW Vernon Pl

    Our building (Canal Station) requested a corral be placed in front of our building adjacent to our garage, over two years ago.

    We’ve eagerly been waiting for installation (as the city advised it will happen.)

    Do you have any further info on the exact location (is this an estimation of where it may be?)

    We requested it be located here: http://goo.gl/QOdfZD
    (which is now a cutout prime for a huge bike parking station!) :) – google maps is a bit behind in the image shown above, but that is the exact location we requested.


  13. […] (just barely) outside the Seattle city limits means they can’t simply request one through Seattle’s bike parking program, so they are forging new territory in King County. the White Center Community Development […]

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