[Also published in Greater Greater Washington, August 22, 2017.]
For me, a light went on after I made a mistake. I had pushed bicycling infrastructure as a member of the Takoma Park City Council, but when we brought Bikeshare stations to the city in 2013, I was too quick to accept staff-recommend station locations. I voted to allow a station to be placed in a community gathering space, 250 feet distant from the center of one of Takoma Park’s business districts, rather than in a much better spot: a couple of sheltered curb car-parking spaces right at a commercial cross-roads. My lack of awareness reflected an outdated attitude toward road space, an attitude that prioritizes preservation of underutilized road-space over much-needed people-space. I now realize that parking matters, as much for bikes as for cars.
Another light went on as I read the Bicycle Facility Design Toolkit, published last month (July 2017) by the Montgomery County Planning Department. The document, a component of the county’s Bicycle Master Plan, contains 49 instances of the word “parking,” each associated with motor vehicles, describing bikeway positioning in relation to on-street car parking. There’s nothing in the design toolkit about the location of bike parking.
There is a lot to like in the bike plan. It’s a major achievement, a guide to building out the “multi” in our aspired-for “multi-modal” transportation network. As realized in the years to come, it will boost alternatives to car trips, easing congestion, good for the environment, good for public health.
Yet the plan’s disassociation of bike parking from bikeway options seems a glaring omission.
Locating Bike Parking
The master plan’s Framework Report does address bike parking, specifically the quantity and type – capacity in relation to population and floor-area figures; rack specification; availability at public facilities, transit hubs, and new developments; security – but it doesn’t address location.
My view: Bike parking should be convenient to both biking destinations and bikeways. And you shouldn’t have to bike on a sidewalk to get to it, as you do to use the ill-located Takoma Park bike share station I described above and perhaps a majority of Washington DC area bike share stations and bike parking facilities.
In November 2015, the Takoma Park’s Safe Roadways Committee recommended relocating the Old Takoma station. The SRC’s reappraisal noted, “A number of cities, including Washington, D.C., New York City, Pittsburgh, Boston, and others, use some curb parking spaces for bike parking, including Bikeshare. Safety concerns are easily answered: Car drivers already walk unsheltered in the street to enter and exit their vehicles much like a Bikeshare rider would do.” The SRC recommended relocating the city’s Urban Park station from its spot near the edge of the business district to one centered within one block of a majority of businesses, to a spot that is “both highly visible and symbolically important, marking a repurposing of two car-parking spaces to instead house 15 docked bikes.”
How would this work? Consider two now illustrations, from Santa Monica, California and from Washington, DC. Note how these cities have reclaimed vehicle space for bike infrastructure, for bike parking – bike share stations in this case – directly adjacent to on-street bike lanes.
You can find many, many more examples, via a Web search, of curb-lane situated bike share stations. Here are some.
The curb lane can be a suitable place for personal bike parking too. Witness shots I took in Denver and Salt Lake City, again with on-street bike lanes.
What do we actually see, here in Montgomery County? A couple of snaps I took in downtown Silver Spring and tweeted – and yes, I drink a lot of coffee…
These snaps show business-district bike parking. Forget adaptive reuse of street parking space. Urbanized downtown Silver Spring doesn’t even have bike racks, not even on the recently-redone Georgia Avenue!
Of course, many county locations do offer bike parking, although too few. That judgment applies both to streets and to private parking lots including, I’ll report anecdotally, most shopping centers. And when there are shopping-center racks, they’re typically off in a distant corner.
The Bicycle Master Plan public comment deadline was July 15. I missed it by a month. Nonetheless, I ask the Planning Board to direct staff to cover bike-parking location in the Bicycle Facility Design Toolkit. As a bicyclist, I know that safely and conveniently located bike parking is an essential bike-infrastructure element. And as an urbanist, I know that public spaces should be for people and not for vehicles. Let’s repurpose existing parking, including curb parking spaces, for designed-for-safety bike share stations and bike parking.
Let’s get bike parking right and not make an avoidable mistake we’ll later regret.