Bike Parking Can Change America

Cars have been dominating the USA (and all of North America) for decades now, and we know all too well what makes a good city for cars. Now climate change and other factors are forcing North Americans to address the problems of their oil-guzzling death machines running amok through cities. The solution is rather simple: apply what we know about car commuters to create more bicycle commuters.

Why do these measures matter? Because parking helps make commuters—a lesson long ago learned with cars. Studies in New York found that a surprisingly large percentage of vehicles coming into lower Manhattan were government employees or others who had an assured parking spot. Other studies have shown the presence of a guaranteed parking spot at home—required in new residential developments—is what turns a New Yorker into a car commuter.

On the flip side, people would be much less likely to drive into Manhattan if they knew their expensive car was likely to be stolen, vandalized, or taken away by police. And yet this is what was being asked of bicycle commuters, save those lucky few who work in a handful of buildings that provide indoor bicycle parking. Surveys have shown that the leading deterrent to potential bicycle commuters is lack of a safe, secure parking spot on the other end. (In England, for example, it’s been estimated that a bicycle is stolen every 71 seconds.)

A number of American cities are now waking up to the fact that providing bicycle parking makes sense. Philadelphia, for example, recently amended its zoning requirements to mandate that certain new developments provide bicycle parking; Pittsburgh’s planning department is weighing requiring one bicycle parking space for every 20,000 square feet of development* (admittedly modest compared with the not-uncommon car equation of one parking space per 250 square feet); even the car-centric enclave of Orange County, Calif., is getting in on the act, with Santa Ana’s City Council unanimously passing a bill requiring proportional bicycle parking when car parking is provided. In Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities, pilot projects are investigating turning car-parking meters—once semireliable bike-parking spots, now rendered obsolete by “smart meter” payment systems—into bike parking infrastructure.

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