Arlington County updates its guide to bicycle parking best practices
What do the cities with the highest percentage of bicycle commuters have in common?
The first answer that comes to mind may be on-street bicycle facilities with wonky names like “sharrows” or “cycle tracks.” While excellent surface infrastructure is important, another piece of the truth is that the top seven bicycling cities in the U.S. (see chart below) all require bicycle parking for both office and residential buildings.
End-of-trip and home-storage facilities are often overlooked as an important tool to encourage bicycling for both commuting and recreation. But according to a 2012 Virginia Tech study of commuters in the Washington, D.C., region, those with access to bicycle parking at work were more than 1.5 times more likely to commute by bike than those without. That figure jumps to more than 4.5 times as likely to commute by bike if the parking is paired with shower and locker facilities. It is no coincidence that the top cities for bicycling commuters all require, incentivize, or encourage shower and locker facilities in office buildings, as well.
In Arlington County, Va., the Commuter Services Bureau recently released two complementary documents – an updated version of the county’s Bicycle Parking Standards and a Management Guide for Secure Bicycle Parking [PDF] – to help those involved in commercial development create successful bicycle storage for residents and employees. These are one-stop shops for bicycle parking design, installation, and management. The Bicycle Parking Standards lay the foundation for what it is expected of required bicycle parking in Arlington County, and promotes best practices that can be used anywhere. Three important, and often overlooked, takeaways are:
Use functional racks
All bicycle racks are not created equal, and successful bicycle parking requires more than just throwing a wave rack outside of a building. Two of the most common issues for bicycle racks are the ability to support both the wheel and frame of a bicycle, and its ability to accommodate as many bicycles as advertised. For these reasons, the fence, wave, corkscrew, and coathanger racks (below) should never be used. They place unnecessary stress on a bicycle by only supporting the wheel or part of the frame, and often create conflicts between the handlebars of adjacent bikes, limiting their capacity. For the best security, users should be able to park their bikes using one U-lock that encompasses one wheel and the frame.
Overall, the best types of racks are inverted-U and circular racks (below), a minimum of 18 inches wide and 33 inches tall. These types of racks can also comfortably support one bicycle on each side. Materials are also important, and can increase the security and longevity of a rack. Outdoor racks should be galvanized with a powder coat finish to prevent corrosion. Using different types of hardware to secure the rack, such as one concrete spike and threaded expansion anchor, makes it harder to dislodge a rack. Poorly installed and designed racks are ubiquitous, but bicyclists need racks that can accommodate their rides and stand the test of time.
Maintain the space
Even a sleekly designed new bicycle storage room with the right racks needs ongoing management. Bicycle rooms should be solely for parking bicycles, and must not become a storage area for other belongings. Not only does this show the space is exclusively for bicyclists, but it allows for increased functionality of the room by maintaining clear aisles. A bright, clean bicycle-storage room can also increase its attractiveness. The corner of a parking garage may be the only place to fit bicycle storage, but that doesn’t mean the room should feel like a dungeon. Simple aesthetic fixes – making sure the area is well-lit, painting the walls a bright color – increase security and make the facility seem more accessible.
A recurring issue for both residential and office property managers is dealing with abandoned bicycles. Abandoned bicycles take up valuable space in a bike room, and buildings should have a plan for dealing with this. Some buildings actually tag bicycles that appear abandoned, giving owners a certain amount of time to claim them. If the bikes are not claimed within the timeframe, they are donated to charity. Registering users’ bicycle serial numbers is also a good way to help track whose bikes are in the facility.
Make it as easy as possible
To encourage bicycling, bicyclists and their bicycles should look and feel important to everyone. Simple strategies in the design process can make a world of difference in the comfort of the bicyclist. Great bicycle storage rooms are in a convenient location, preferably with an exterior door that allows bicyclists to go in and out without facing cars in a garage or rolling their bicycles through the lobby. The door’s heft and closing mechanism should also be taken into consideration. Heavy doors that close quickly onto bicyclists and their bikes are dangerous and can cause damage. Instead, doors should have a mechanical component (that elbow mechanism in the top corner) to help the rider keep it propped open while moving the bicycle in and out.
Non-parking considerations also help. Shower and locker facilities in office buildings allow long-distance commuters to freshen up before work. Additional amenities like benches, air pumps, and fix-it stations allow for riders to deal with any minor issues that may hinder a commute.
Dedicated end-of-trip facilities are a great way to alleviate some worry from the “interested, but concerned” contingent of commuters on the fence about bicycling. The cost of allotting parking for bicycles pales in comparison to the extravagant costs of providing parking infrastructure for cars. If free car parking induces people to drive more, the same thing can be done with free bicycle parking.
By providing documents such as Arlington’s Bicycle Parking Standards and Management Guide for Secure Bicycle Parking, cities can take an important step toward making effective bicycle parking a reality. Most property managers and design professionals are not bicycling experts, and transportation-demand-management agencies need to provide them the tools to succeed.
Photos: Top, a bike commuter locks up in Takoma, D.C. (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com). Middle, a double-decker rack in an Amsterdam bike parking room (Marc van Woudenberg, Flickr, Creative Commons).