Bike parking gets people riding – Here’s how to build it right

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.

Bike parking v commuting

Click to enlarge.

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.

bad racks collage
Buildings and jurisdictions should exercise caution with overly artistic racks, which can be confusing to bicyclists and might inadvertently create difficult locking positions. Simply put, to encourage bicycling most effectively, racks need to be simple and intuitive.

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.

good rack collage

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.

Amsterdam parking, Marc van Woudenberg

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, Middle, a double-decker rack in an Amsterdam bike parking room (Marc van Woudenberg, Flickr, Creative Commons).


Share this item

6 Comments or Mentions

5 Comment(s)

steve doole

like many things in transport, Cycle racks can be a compromise. The article is a bit one-eyed, suggesting not using some designs that suit most populations, and fails to mention how to cater for several sizes and types of cycle. Cycle racks for schools may have ‘customers’ who are just tall enough to have a bike and also those in the senior years who may have the full size bike. For instance year a combination rack with half for scooters and with increasing size cycle hoops suited some junior schools. The wave design is best for really mixed bike sizes. Even commuter only populations usually have some cycle size and design variations.
And then there is location. Some supermarkets have rack ends too close to walls, so there is not enough space for an adult wheel. Railway stations here seem to specialise in racks too close together.
There are lots of cycle design guides out there -unfortunately common sense is sometimes missing.
some racks I’ve seen are too close together,

Terry Nobbe

I agree with Steve Doole, that providing secure racks to which one can lock one or both wheels and the frame with a single u-lock is usually more than sufficient. I’ve used parking meter posts and municipal sign posts to lock my bike securely more times than I can count. Where I work as a volunteer bike tech (retired), I suggest to customers that they invest in a quality u-lock or similar to protect their investment without worry. So many folks lose their bike to theft because they rely on a ten dollar lock to secure their $2k bike!

Bruce Goldberg

Showers are so important. For many people a ride of more than a mile or two means the need for a shower. For years I commuted 15 miles each way by bike into DC to a federal agency. They had a gym for employees (employee payroll deduction) which was well-worth joining for me just to have a place to shower and change when I arrived. Now that I’ve retired I work intermittently as a consultant. There are bike racks in the parking garage under the building. There is a gym for free use by employees of building tenants. But because I am a contractor, I can’t use the shower! Only employees! And the building ownership will not budge even though I have explained that I won’t be using any of the gym equipment and will be happy to sign an indemnification agreement. They won’t do it. So I can’t bike to work and end up adding to the area’s congestion. Showers! A key ingredient.

Paul Mackie

That is a really interesting and frustrating point, Bruce. Thanks for sharing. I’m going to mention this to our partners at goDCgo and Arlington Transportation Partners, which both work with employers and property-management companies and see if they can help.



To encourage bicycling, bicyclists and their bicycles should look and feel important to everyone. – hmm exactly.



This article has been mentioned in 1 other place(s).