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Seattle tests low-budget painted bike parking to make bike share more orderly

Photo from SDOT

Thousands of bikes spread throughout the city available on-demand for $1, what could be wrong with that?

The private, free-floating bike share companies serving Seattle are already changing how people get around the city by providing a new fast, healthy, low-cost and very environmentally-friendly mobility option. Combined with an expansion of safe and comfortable bike routes, bike share is poised to be part of a significant transportation shift in Seattle (if city and regional leaders choose to follow through with the bike route plans, of course).

But there is one downside to the stationless bikes: They sometimes block walkways, bus stops and accessibility. Only a very small percentage of the thousands of bikes cause issues, but they can be especially problematic for people with vision impairments and people who use mobility devices or otherwise can’t easily navigate around a blocked curb ramp or bike toppled across the sidewalk.

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Sometimes the problem is that a vandal has pushed a bike over, and that’s a hard issue to remedy. The same thing happens to trash cans, newspaper boxes, signs, construction fences and any other movable thing in public space. Sometimes the problem is inadequate kickstand design or maintenance on the bikes (they should be able to handle a strong gust of wind without toppling). But sometimes, the problem is due to a bike being parked in the wrong spot either due to ignorance of the rules or by accident or because the user doesn’t care.

To help remedy this issue, SDOT is trialing a handful of low-cost, painted bike parking boxes in five Ballard locations. Users are not required to use the boxes, but they are there to help guide use to be more orderly and maybe even teach people visually about how they should park the bikes. Details from SDOT:

  • North side of Market just west of Ballard Ave (in front of Shakti Yoga).
  • NE corner of Leary and Market (Ballard Beer Company).
  • SE corner of Leary and Market (AT&T store).
  • SW corner of Tallman and Market (All the Best Pet Care).
  • North side of Market just W of Russel (Kangaroo and Kiwi).

For each of these five spots, we identified areas that:

  • Have space for a 6’x10’ parking area, leaving a full 6’ clear continuous pedestrian path.
  • Were 3’ back from the curb if adjacent to travel or parking lane.
  • Are not blocking access to buildings, transit, curb ramps, or loading zones.
  • Are an area where bike share bikes are often found.

How we’ll measure use.

We’ve monitored these areas for bike parking compliance rates before installation. In the next few weeks, we’ll monitor usage, organization, design resilience, and compliance rates in the immediate vicinity of the locations, on the same block-face, and neighborhood-wide. Data points we will monitor:

  • The number of bikes in the immediate vicinity of the parking area and how many are parked correctly.
  • The number of bikes in the neighborhood and how many are parked correctly.
  • Do the bikes appear more orderly?
  • How are the markings holding up?

While the sidewalk-located bike share parking is a pretty cool experiment, my favorite idea for painted bike parking is to add space to new and existing on-street bike corrals. Because a bike that is parked in the street can’t easily topple into the walkway or in front of a bus stop.  And since it is illegal to park a car within 30 feet of a stop sign or traffic signal or 20 feet of a crosswalk anyway, there is 20 or 30 feet of potential bike parking space at just about every street corner in the city.

Imagine if there were at least one bike corral at every intersection in our city’s business districts and near major bus stops that could serve both personal bikes and bike share bikes. Bicycle Security Advocates, a group led by Brock Howell that is working to create better bike parking in Seattle, even created a mockup of what such a corral could look like:

What’s particularly promising about this idea is that existing corrals could easily be expanded at very little cost to include the extra rack-free bike parking space. And since it is paint-only, there’s no need to worry about covering maintenance holes or other utility access concerns that sometimes limit bike rack placement.

Bike share is an enormously promising zero-emission mobility option for our city, and it’s in Seattle best interest that it succeeds. Creating better spaces for bikes is one great, low-cost way to help things work more smoothly for everyone.

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15 responses to “Seattle tests low-budget painted bike parking to make bike share more orderly”

  1. asdf2

    One the neither the city nor the bikr companies have done a good job of explaining is what to do if the sidewalk is too narrow to leave the bike anywhere without blocking it.

    In situations like these, I usually just park the bike in an on-street parking spot where it would be ok to park a car. Not sure if it’s strictly legal, but it definitely makes a lot more sense than blocking the sidewalk.

  2. Kirk

    I wish they would make more on street parking for bikes. A dozen bikes can fit in one car space. Keep the sidewalks clear, park the bikes on the street.

  3. bill

    This can only help. I move share bikes that are blocking bike racks and obstructing trails several times a week.

  4. William C Bonner

    I see this as an attempt to shame people from leaving the bikes just anywhere. First it’s treated as a convenience, then it becomes a requirement.

    Reminds me of the way pedestrians lost the right of way on city streets.

    1. asdf2

      I don’t think that’s likely to happen. Painting bikeshare parking areas only makes sense in the most crowded places. The vast majority of the city, it’s just not worth it.

      Even then, making it a “requirement” would be all but unenforceable.

  5. Matthew Snyder

    At the risk of sounding like a concern troll:

    Can we really “park” a bike in a bike corral within 20 or 30 feet of an intersection? A bike is a vehicle in RCW Title 46, and 46.61.570 prohibits parking a vehicle within either 20 or 30 feet of an intersection. Maybe we can make the argument that some green paint on the roadway qualifies as an “official traffic control device” which would serve to authorize parking a bike in that 20′-30′ zone, but I’d think we would need to state that explicitly somewhere (?)

  6. Law Abider

    “And since it is illegal to park a car within 30 feet of a stop sign or traffic signal or 20 feet of a crosswalk anyway, there is 20 or 30 feet of potential bike parking space at just about every street corner in the city.”

    I’m pretty sure that 30 feet is there for sight distance. It also allows for a space for one vehicle to enter a street while another is waiting at the stop sign. Not to mention, you’d need willpower in the state legislature to change the law…although they rammed through the unsafe e-bike law with zero debate nor discussion with the bike community, so this would be a slam dunk, right?

    If there’s enough demand for a bike corral on a particular street, why not take the next, legal parking spot? If there are two bikes in a 20-30 foot corral at any time, there’s already more usage than would be if it was for cars only.

  7. I’ve seen some spray paint on the ground near Stone/34th in Fremont. I hope they’re not codifying the use of the already crowded BGT east of the intersection as bikeshare parking. Frankly, I think they should clearly mark that area off-limits for leaving bikes — I don’t think actual users are leaving them there as much as companies are using it as a giant dock, and it’s a totally inappropriate location.

    1. Tom Walker

      Totally agree that Stone/34th is a major problem. On the east side of the intersection, bikes are often stacked up in the pedestrian portion of the BGT for a long way (30-50 ft?). This leaves a much narrower trail in the area that (a) can have a line of bikes waiting to cross, and (b) has bikes entering the trail from multiple directions, with pedestrians added to that mix. It was sufficiently crowded and confusing without the bike-shares parked there. I agree that that area (at least the 1st big chunk of it) should be a no-bike-parking zone. Is SDOT thinking of creating no-parking zones?

      1. Really, everywhere is supposed to be a no-parking zone except the “furniture area” of sidewalks.

        The bikeshare parking here definitely goes way beyond that. I have sent messages to SDOT and the bikeshare companies via contact info listed on SDOT’s program page. Anyone else concerned may want to do the same.

      2. asdf2

        There are many streets that don’t *have* a furniture zone on the sidewalks. You have to be able to reach destinations on those streets. Parking on the shoulder of the Burke Gilman is also fine, as long as the bikes don’t start to stack up or get in the way.

        Bellevue’s bikeshare plan is stricter than Seattle’s, and specifically requires companies to respect “no parking” zones that the city designates, to the point of charging penalties to users who don’t comply, and removing illegally parked bikes within a few hours.

        Such zones might be appropriate in some situations, but not being able to end a trip along a street or trail where it is legal to ride does present safety issues. You have to be able to abort a trip midride if you discover a problem with the bike.

      3. The parking at Stone/34th was way beyond “I have to end a trip here”. I say “was” because… I emailed SDOT and the bikeshare companies and two days later they’d cleared it up. So it’s good to know they’re at least accountable (unlike the faux-innovative ride-hailing companies everyone wants to compare everything to these days).

        To the larger point, the use of sidewalks and trails for travel always outweighs their use for stashing bike-share bikes. I have no problem with bikes parked in grass strips in residential areas, which are essentially like “furniture zones” in those neighborhoods, or parked curbside like cars where car parking is allowed. Or in out-of-the-way parts of parks. But paths need to be kept clear for travel. We aren’t exactly blessed with luxuriously wide bike lanes, sidewalks, or bike paths in most of Seattle, and we have many “mixing zones” (both intentional and unintentional) where people biking and walking in a variety of directions have to sort it out among ourselves. They don’t work when they’re cluttered up.

      4. bill

        Well put, Al.

      5. asdf2

        I think I went by that pile once. Totally agree that stuff like that should not happen, and if it does, the companies do need go in and clean it up.

        The China example does show that, beyond a certain point, more bikes don’t add any additional mobility benefit, just clutter. I don’t think Seattle is anywhere near that point.

  8. Treehugger

    This is a good start to control bike share bikes. We don’t want Seattle to end up looking like this. https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2018/03/bike-share-oversupply-in-china-huge-piles-of-abandoned-and-broken-bicycles/556268/

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