Honest Tea wanted to do a good thing for its community and fund some bike racks in downtown Bethesda. Unfortunately, a salesman sold them some awful racks that don’t allow effectively locking up bikes, and the Bethesda Urban Partnership apparently failed to check bike rack standards or talk to the experts—even those in their own organization.

Photo by Richard Hoye.

Richard Hoye writes,

I pointed out that the 100 bike racks the Bethesda Urban Partnership approved for the CBD streetscape and funded by Honest Tea violated basic design standards for bike racks.  [Seth Goldman of Honest Tea] didn’t even know there was a codified body of knowledge on bike rack design and, it appears, neither did BUP. 

I asked Tom Robertson, retired bike planner for the County Planning agency, who now works for Transportation Solutions in BUP’s offices about this collaboration.  Even he was not consulted on the project.

This style of bike rack was very common decades ago, and you still see them in some places, often college campuses. But they don’t work well for locking. They’re not designed to get the bike’s frame close enough to the rack to allow locking the frame, wheel and rack all together.

On many racks like this, people instead lift the bicycle up and place it so that the wheel goes over the rack and the rack’s top bar sits behind the wheel. This rack seems to make even that difficult, as the top bar is much thicker and square.

Section 7.2.9 of the draft new zoning rules for Montgomery County specifies bike rack standards:

Where required bicycle parking is provided via racks, the racks must meet the following design and dimension standards:

  • The bicycle frame and one wheel can be locked to the rack with a high security lock;
  • A bicycle can be securely held with its frame supported in at least two places;
  • Racks must be offset a minimum of 30 inches on center;
  • The rack must be durable and securely anchored; and
  • The locking surface of the rack should be thin enough to allow standard u-locks to be used, but thick enough so the rack cannot be cut with bolt cutters.

Montgomery County DOT has also created a fact sheet detailing how to best design and install bike racks. Many cities have very thorough manuals, like Toronto’s.

It’s not that unusual for well-meaning people to install bike racks entirely wrong. Someone installed 9 “inverted U” racks at HD Cooke Elementary in Adams Morgan, but put them too close together and too close to a wall to be usable. DCPS subsequently relocated the racks.

Hopefully Honest Tea and the Bethesda Urban Partnership can go back to the company that sold them these noncompliant racks and switch them for something better.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.