Urban developers, city officials, and business people are joining forces to revolutionize transportation. As urban centers densify, vehicles move more sluggishly through congested streets, which frustrates individual commuters and pulls the vitality out of neighborhoods. Alternative forms of transportation can move people more effectively and bring them back to street level, where they engage with the community.
Big transportation projects make the news: bicycle lanes, commuter trains, and rapid transit involve a lot of capital and consideration. This can make it seem that encouraging alternative transportation is only possible on large budgets. However, smaller investments and thoughtful planning can also show return.
Thoughtful bike parking is one way to encourage cycling. Studies of European cities with a high rate of practical bicycling (trips for errands or commuting) show plentiful, secure bike parking is important to a strong bike culture.
Some of the benefits to providing bike parking come when added to other infrastructure, such as bike lanes, but some of the benefits can be reaped right away.
Promoting spaces as cycling destinations
What gets people to cycle as opposed to driving? Riders are often also drivers: before they start a trip they decide whether to go by foot, car, or bike. A review of cycling literature done in New Zealand suggests that one way for a destination to attract more cyclists is to have good infrastructure at end-of-trip destinations. Knowing there’s support for bicycles can convert trips that would otherwise be taken in the car.
Creating a cycling culture
In North America, cycling is often not taken seriously as a practical form of transportation. Instead, bikes can be considered a leisure or lifestyle choice for specific subcultures. Whether hipsters on fixies or businessmen on racing bikes, potential riders can be intimidated that they do not belong to the “right” demographic. Plentiful bike parking available everywhere helps normalize and universalize cycling as an activity for everyone, not just for particular neighborhoods or people.
In a cycling city like Copenhagen, 62% of people commute by bicycle, making it obvious that cycling is an option for the majority. In North America the riding community is smaller, but the people who ride are just as diverse. When a destination adds bike parking and draws cyclists to it, it makes that current diversity of riders more visible to people. Normalizing bike culture allows people to see themselves in the rider’s seat by putting bikes in the places they already go.
Calming fear of theft
One in four active cyclists have experienced bike theft. One in seven of those unfortunate riders never return to pedaling. Fear of bike theft can prevent someone from starting, or re-starting, practical cycling.
Proper locking strategies are a necessary part of theft prevention: a bike chained to a fence, tree, or parking meter is a much more likely target than a bike U-locked to a well-constructed bike rack.
The highest theft risk is for exposed bikes, so having a bike locker or other secure indoor parking spaces for long term parking, like at an office or transit hub, can reassure the most nervous new rider that their security is important.
Making cycling pleasurable
Well-built facilities are a pleasure to use. Whether it’s a park where a bench or trash can is available when needed, or the mall where retail is interspersed with places rest and refuel, good design creates flow in a person’s day.
Bike parking—accessible, public, and plentiful—helps create a positive riding experience. The new cyclist may be frustrated if the only good bike parking is a long walk from their destination. They might choose instead to lock to something insecure yet feel anxious they’ll lose their bicycle to bylaw enforcement or thieves. A well secured bike rack close to their destination, not just placed at transport hubs, creates an easy experience.
As a strategy to encourage active or alternative transportation, bike parking is an inexpensive way to make an impact. Plentiful parking, well-lit and placed along major routes, make cyclists comfortable and more likely to stop. This visible ridership makes bike culture normal, unremarkable, and nudges other people to give it a try. When the experience of cycling is pleasurable, it encourages people to get on their bikes and be engaged with their local communities. Bike parking may not be the only strategy needed to help get people out of their cars, but it is an important one that cannot be overlooked.
Photo by Chris Tyler.