As more cities, businesses, and individuals become committed to sustainability, cityscapes are transitioning to increased bike-friendliness. Researchers show that building bike friendly environments gets more people on their bicycles, and that traffic control, dedicated lanes, and cyclist friendly routes are a determinant of cycling behavior. Much of these are outside the control of individuals and businesses, who may wonder what they can do to help encourage a cycling culture. One consistently important factor, that can be privately provided, is adequate parking and security at the cyclist’s destination.
Canadian research shows that 57% of people see bicycle theft as a serious problem. According to the University of McGill’s report on parking security, “cyclists are (slightly more than) four times as likely to be victims of bicycle theft than are automobile owners to be victims of automobile theft.” This same report shows that although individual strategies like using a U-Lock make a difference to rates of theft, duration of bicycle exposure—meaning the number of hours a bicycle is parked outside in public space—has the biggest impact on whether an individual rider will be the victim of bicycle theft over the course of their cycling lifetime. Those that cycle most often and for the longest time are most likely to be at risk… if their bicycles have insufficiently secure parking for long durations.
Balancing this concern about theft is that bicycling is often chosen for its convenience and ease. Cyclists don’t have to worry about traffic jams and have immediate ease of access to pedestrian spaces. If there is insufficient parking in an area, a cyclist will often use a fence, tree, or sign to affix to, in order to maintain that ease.
Bicycle parking solutions are therefore evaluated by cyclists both for convenience and security.
Short term parking leaves a bicycle exposed for less time, and is less of a theft risk when people are close by their bicycles. From a cyclist leaning their bike against a park bench while they sit and eat their lunch beside it, or stopping in for a couple groceries on their way home, passive monitoring for minimal durations are convenient without creating great insecurity. However, when bikes are left for a longer time, and are parked outside a location for more than a couple of hours, they can become targeted by vandals or thieves. For those who are commuting, these dangers, plus the additional stress of extreme weather, can make closed, unexposed parking the ideal solution, even if it does not have the same convenience as hop-off-and-on parking on the street.
It is therefore not just city and regional transportation planners who can make a huge impact on cycling culture. Those who account for the parking needs of the spectrum of riders using their business or building can make riding more attractive by providing a range of options.
Bike bollards and bicycle racks
Traditional bike racks and bollards are all about ease. Outside of storefronts, food service, or grocery stores, a handy rack or post allows a rider to lock up quickly. A café with a bike post outside will draw the rider looking for a latté; a grocery store with a bike rack invites the cyclist in. Businesses who offer these open, on-street parking options present themselves as a quick and convenient stop in the cyclist’s day, and the short duration of the average trip lowers risk to the bicycle.
There are a few options available to businesses and buildings wanting to offer this attractive and simple on-street parking. The solution with the smallest footprint is the bike bollard, with some designs being known as ring-and-post bicycle parking. These parking bollards are short posts with a secure loop or locking arms. Bike bollards can do double or triple duty, and be installed with traffic calming, decorative accenting, solar lighting, and/or storefront security in mind.
Bicycle racks are the most traditional form of bike parking. Most common styles today are inverted-U’s, coat-hanger racks, spiral racks, and wave racks. Like bicycle bollards, inverted-U bicycle racks provide parking for two bicycles. Coat-hanger and wave racks allow for more, depending on their length.
Racks and bollards are the most convenient form of parking for cyclists, but they tend to work best for short stops because of weather and vandalism. To mediate some of these dangers, racks and bollards should be in high-traffic, high-visibility areas that are well lit. They’re most effective close to the entrances of the buildings they provide parking for, and should avoid being placed behind bushes or other furnishings that might allow an opportunistic thief or vandal a place to hide.
Many municipalities and regions have guidelines about the installation of bicycle parking. Consideration of the length of the bicycle and needed space for swing in and out of the parking spot should be considered and proper setback distances from curb, sidewalk, and building façade considered. All installation should be planned after consulting local regulations.
Another short-term option is the bicycle corral, covered or uncovered. The corral is a grouped set of bike racks that works a bit like a parking lot. Bicycle corrals are usually installed by a city or large organization. They do not generally need to be as close to final cyclist destination as bike racks and bollards. A corral, covered or uncovered, usually has sufficient space for greater than ten bicycles. These solutions are often installed in on-street car parking, in a plaza near shopping, on a campus, or on the grounds of a major public building like a hospital or community center. In these situations, many spaces can be provided to a large commuting population: although exposed, the throughput of a busy corral can provide security by putting many cyclist eyes on the scene, and if roofed, may provide some protection against weather.
Bike lockers are a better choice for commuters, employees, and students who need to secure a bicycle for a longer period of time. They provide rugged security even in low traffic areas, protecting bicycles from the weather, vandalism, and theft. Lockers can be provided by employers knowing that their employees will have peace of mind in parking, or can be offered for hire in more public spaces like plazas or campuses.
A Translink report suggests that bicycle lockers are both very convenient and heavily secure. Like corrals, bike lockers do not always need to be immediate to the cyclist’s destination—although in the case of employers installing lockers for their employees, they can be.
Bike lockers are street-level, and so feature immediate access like racks and bollards. Additionally, they have the space to secure panniers, helmets, or other gear: few other options have this benefit.
For building owners or businesses considering installing bike lockers for hire, there is good news. In Switzerland, a study of cyclists suggests one third to one half are willing to pay for good bicycle parking. Translink’s study suggests more cyclists are interested in paying for lockers on a first-come-first-served basis, but there is also a group of commuters, about 1 in 5, that travel to the same place daily and have interest in renting secure monthly parking.
For businesses that hope to encourage cycling for traffic reduction around their building, sustainability over the long term, and the health and productivity benefits that come with an active workforce, bike lockers are a great encouragement to cycling behavior. City, campus, and transportation planners can also use bicycle lockers to provide both security and convenience to cyclists at major hubs.
Security lockers for commuters can be enhanced as an option by other end-of-trip services like accessibility of showers, air-pumps, and bike repair stands.
Off street bicycle parking
Off street bicycle parking exchanges some of the convenience of on-street parking for security, space, or services. These strategies are often used when bicycling becomes a very big part of the transportation culture in a region, and there are central destinations that accommodate many cyclists.
Where the number of bicycles outstrips the viable street space, off-street parking becomes necessary. One great example of this found in the city of Utrecht, in the Netherlands. The avid cycling culture there created a need for many spaces at the town train station, and the city responded by producing a dedicated 12,500 space bicycle garage. There was clearly not enough space at-grade for that number of bicycles!
The Utrecht garage also demonstrates the possibility that off-street parking can offer other end-of-trip services. A bicycle repair shop and an air pump are accessible to those who park in the Utrecht bicycle parking garage. At McGill University, an accepted proposal for a dedicated below-grade bicycle facility include plans for bike repair and showers. Although the bikes will be locked to racks in the main parking structure, lockers for gear such as panniers or change of clothes will be available for rent.
Another way to offer off-street bicycle parking is to add to traditional parking garages. Generally, racks or cages are offered for bicycle lock up in the first level of a parking garage. These installations are generally are covered and sometimes monitored, depending on the security services offered to vehicles at the garage.
Automated parking is the most costly form of secure off street parking, but it creates space and security with the convenience of the cyclist never having to leave street-level. Cyclists can stow their bicycles securely and retrieve them easily, without the need to carry a lock.
Choosing a bike parking solution
Individual businesses and building owners looking to offer bicycle parking have a variety of options to choose from, and may use one or all of the solutions for different users in their space. For example, an office block might offer bike racks to clients and bike lockers to tenants or employees within the building. Municipalities, transportation services, and large campuses may examine an even wider range of parking strategies depending on the behavior they hope to encourage, their budget, and current and projected traffic patterns.
Certainly, as cities become more densely inhabited and people and organizations become more concerned about sustainability, bicycle parking is going to continue to be an important element in any business or site plan.