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 Capital Bikeshare stations to the city in 2013, I was too quick to accept a staff recommendation locating the bikes where they wouldn’t inconvenience drivers, instead of where they’d be most convenient for bicyclists.
I voted to allow a station to be placed in a community gathering space, 250 feet distant from the center of Old Takoma, rather than in a much better spot: a couple of sheltered parking spaces right at a commercial crossroads. My lack of awareness reflected an outdated attitude toward road space, an attitude that prioritizes preservation of underutilized road space over much-needed people space. In reality, parking matters as much for bikes as for cars.
Another light went on as I read the Bicycle Facility Design Toolkit, published in July 2017 by the Montgomery County Planning Department. There is a lot to like in the toolkit, a component of the county's Bicycle Master 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.
However, the plan contains 49 instances of the word “parking,” each associated with motor vehicles, describing bikeway positioning in relation to on-street car parking. It talks about the quantity and type of bike parking: capacity in relation to population and floor-area figures; rack specification; availability at public facilities, transit hubs, and new developments; security. But there's nothing in the design toolkit about the location of bike parking, and that’s a missed opportunity.
Let’s put bike parking in the street, not on the sidewalk
Where should bike parking go? It 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 many bikeshare stations or bike racks.
In November 2015, Takoma Park's Safe Roadways Committee recommended relocating the Old Takoma station to a parking space. The SRC's reappraisal noted, “A number of cities, including Washington, DC, 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 committee recommended relocating the 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? Here’s an illustration from Arlington, which has reclaimed vehicle space for bikeshare stations 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 this shot I took in Salt Lake City, again with on-street bike lanes.
Putting bikes on the street frees up narrow sidewalks
What do we actually see, here in Montgomery County? Where sidewalks are narrow and there isn’t room to install bike racks, bicyclists will always find a way.
Downtown Silver Spring needs bike racks! Where? Just look at all those unused street parking spaces. pic.twitter.com/TCXJEcCp9P— Seth Grimes (@Seth4MC) May 18, 2017
“Where's the bike parking?” shot #73: Downtown Silver Spring… pic.twitter.com/lFJcYWCNNt— Seth Grimes (@Seth4MC) July 29, 2017
These snaps show bike parking in downtown Silver Spring, where some areas . don’t even have bike racks, not even on the recently-redone Georgia Avenue! If there isn’t room to put bike racks on the sidewalk, adjacent parking spaces might be a better alternative.
The Bicycle Master Plan public comment deadline was July 15. I missed it by a month. Nonetheless, I hope the Planning Department will 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 safe bike share stations and bike parking. If we get bike parking right, we'll send a message that bicycling is not only convenient, but safe for getting around.