I’ve locked my bicycle to trees, trashcans, stop signs and street signs, fences, gates and benches. These impromptu bike-parking methods are common in most American cities, as the number of cyclists multiplies at a rate exceeding the still-modest increase of bike parking spaces available. But there are encouraging signs that cities are beginning to address the growing demand for secure bike parking as greater numbers of city dwellers choose the bicycle as their primary form of transportation.
Tom Vanderbilt argued in Slate magazine that safe, secure bike parking is the number one improvement that could make the transition from car-friendly cities to bike-friendly cities, and Pittsburgh has been on the move in the past year to increase the amount of bike parking available. It’s easy to spot the official nods to the city’s cyclists: iconic bike racks that demonstrate Pittsburgh’s strong connection to the three rivers that define its landscape.
According to Pop City, Pittsburgh doubled its bike parking late last year by installing 200 additional racks, providing 400 more spaces throughout the city. And last year, a measure unanimously passed the city Planning Commission that mandates a minimum amount of bike parking for new construction. The City Council will vote on the issue on February 9.
Nonresidential buildings up to 20,000 square feet are required to install one space that provides parking for two bicycles. An office of 20,000 square feet holds roughly 60 employees, which means that the new regulations will mandate bike parking for about 3 percent of commuters. While this exceeds the current rate of commuting by bicycle (just over 1 percent), the number of Pittsburghers choosing this sustainable form of transportation is on the rise. From 2006 to 2007, the number of bike commuters in the city grew a startling 37.5 percent, and the city is taking steps with this new regulation to stay slightly ahead of the curve.
Under the proposed legislation, developers are required to install bike parking based on square footage, but are permitted considerable flexibility. If they choose, developers could substitute bike parking for up to 30 percent of car parking. While some initially expressed concern that reducing mandatory car parking would be detrimental to business, Stephen Patchan, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, predicted that the measure would not hinder development in the city. Speaking to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Patchan said, “The requirements we set forth still encourage development but would provide expanded infrastructure.” Interestingly, this aspect of the legislation could help to create alliances between cyclists and developers; by exceeding the minimum requirements for safe bicycle parking, developers can support this sustainable form of transportation while cutting costs and conserving valuable space since one car space is considered the equivalent to two bicycle parking spaces.
I spoke to Erok Boerer of Bike Pittsburgh, the city’s bicycle advocacy organization, about the impact the proposed legislation will have on the city’s current and future cycling community. He emphasized the correlation between investing in bike parking and creating a city that is friendly and welcoming to cyclists: “Making a city “bike-friendly” means just that — friendly to bicyclists. Taking that small step to help make sure that our bikes are there when we need them shows that they view the bicycle as the serious mode of transportation that it is.”
“When you look around most cities,” he added, “and see how much of our public road space is dedicated to storing private vehicles in parking spaces, it sends a message that the city is car-friendly. The same can be said for bike racks.”
To encourage healthier and more sustainable cities, it is essential that we support cycling as a valid form of transportation and that our cities do the same by investing in infrastructure that makes biking safe and secure.