Tag Archives: bike parking

Bike Parking in the City: Issues and Etiquette

Bike parking in the city can be a tricky business. Many parts of the city (at least the ones I visit in the District) do not have enough racks to accommodate all the bikes of those who want to park in the area.

Bikes get crowded onto racks or, if those are not available, we seek out other alternatives such as locking to a parking sign pole or other pieces of metal that look sturdy and theft-proof.

Advanced bike parking skills

Advanced bike parking skills

I don’t drive in the city, but I suppose that bike parking is far less of a problem than car parking. It’s certainly much cheaper! Even so, D.C. is not a bike parking paradise– not yet, anyway—which means we often end up parking in uncomfortable proximity to others. Drop bars intertwine awkwardly with flat bars. Miscellaneous pieces of metal from one bike sidle up to those of another.

Art Bike Rack

Art Bike Rack

I think that a general lack of decent bike parking is my main issue with “art” bike racks. If the city already had ample racks for bikes, I would think they were a fine addition to the city. However, unless an artsy bike rack can fit bikes like a basic inverted “U” rack does, I do not see their value.

An art bike rack is not going to inspire more people to bike, and I don’t think they add that much to the aesthetic of the city, just as an inverted U rack does not detract from it. But I digress.

Bike rack parking. Betty Foy

I accept that uncomfortable bike intimacy is the result of life in a city where people are riding more and bike parking is limited and deal with it every day on my commute.

However, one day I went to retrieve my bike and discovered that someone’s extrication of his or her bike from the work rack caused my bike to fall on the ground. It was just lying there, poor dejected bike.

Because of the way I had parked the bike I know that the only way it would have fallen over was from an external impact like pushing the bike out of the way, say by shoving the handlebars.

Dramatization. Not actual bike from incident. (It was too painful to photograph!)

Dramatization. Not actual bike from incident. (It was too painful to photograph!)

Later I accepted that I had potentially contributed to the situation by only locking the bike by the down tube, which left it less stable than if I would have locked the front wheel and the down tube together to the rack. Doing that would have made it tougher to knock over.

I had always thought that if my bike fell over that the cyclist who helped it get there would pick it up. Who knows, maybe this has happened to my bikes many times in the past, and I’ve not even been aware of it.

I thought it was part of the code—not the Bike Commuter Code, but one of its subparts, the Bike Parking Code—to pick up someone else’s bike if you had a role in knocking it over. That’s what I do. I thought it was what everybody did.

Being a Midwesterner, where there seems to be more personal space for everyone to move about, these types of issues can really get to me. Crowding can get on my nerves. Most times I shrug it off and think of it as life in the city. But seeing my bike disregarded and flopped on the ground hurt my feelings, especially when I am 98 percent sure it was a fellow cyclist who helped cause my bike to fall.

What do other riders do? If someone else’s bike fell while you were removing yours from a bike rack, would you stop to upright it? Or is there no established etiquette for this sort of thing?

If your bike fell over in front of me, I would pick it up. I promise.

The Politics of Bike Parking at Work

I recently began a new job, and my lovely setup of parking my bike in my office is no more. I now work in a cube and have no space to park a bike. I could use my Tikit or Dahon folder, but I have not put the time in to make either of them what I would consider “commute ready.”

Instead, I continue to ride my Surly LHT and park my bike in one of two places at my building:

  1. The underground parking garage that has inverted U-shaped racks to accommodate about 20 bikes. 
  2. A prison bar-style outdoor bike rack that is mostly covered (depending on what direction the wind blows), and can theoretically fit 50 bikes, but from my point of view is basically worthless for those of us that use fenders and a U-lock with the exception of the end spaces.

During the winter months, I have made regular use of the garage. It reduces the time I need to spend in the cold locking and unlocking my bike and it keeps my bike decently warm so my hands do not immediately turn to ice when I put them on the handlebars.

However, I will still occasionally park outside and lock to what I consider the substandard prison bar-style rack.

Through commuting regularly to my job in this shared parking environment, I have begun to notice funny things about us bike commuters.

This is my spot

  • The early bird gets the primo parking.

The earlier I can get to work, the more choices I have about where to park. The closer to nine a.m., and the worse the selection becomes. This encourages me to get out the door with enough time to stake my claim at one of the indoor U-shaped racks.

  • If I have to park outside on the prison bar-style rack, I only want to use an end space. 

As I wrote previously, I have a tough time swallowing parking that requires me to lift my bike up and over a bike rack. It Is a pain to park with fenders installed and I am certain that I am scratching the BEEP out of the underside of my downtube when I do it.

Instead of having to deal with launching the front of the bike over the rack, I make an effort to get to the office early enough to score U-shaped rack or at least an end space on the outdoor bar-style rack.

  • Some commuters are possessive of “their spot.” 

Through this shared parking experience, I’ve realized that I am not possessive about one particular spot. Rather, I like to have types of parking from which to choose. I want to be able to park at any of the U-shaped racks that are available or, if none are available, I want one of the end spots on the bar-style rack outside the building. OK, I concede that I am possessive about those end spaces!

Other than that, I do not care. However, there are some people who DO care. They have specific spots where they want to be. I’m not sure how they feel if someone inadvertently takes their spot, but I imagine they do experience a little disappointment. Why? Who knows. Like I said, we commuters can be funny.

Locks on racks

At least five locks on this rack

  • Some people like to leave their locks at the office.

Many of the spaces indoors have multiple locks on them. I don’t know if this is somehow related to people having “their spot” and this is one of the ways they mark it, or if it is because people don’t like to carry their locks on their bikes.  I tend to think the latter.

As a person who uses my bike not only to get to work but to run errands after work, I do not leave my lock at the office. I never know when I will need it. This apparently is not be the case for other commuters, whose path must be directly from home to work and back again. These locks can junk up the racks a little, but not so much that it makes parking an issue.

  • Some people think it’s fine to leave their bikes in long-term parking at the office.

I could not imagine leaving my bike at the office for anything more than the occasional overnight due to extreme weather or other unexpected circumstances. However, there are some commuters who do not think like that, and are completely ok with leaving their bikes at the office for several days, if not longer.

There is also one individual who uses his bike exclusively for sport. He or she does not commute on the bike, but rather, leaves the bike at work (in one of the primo indoor parking spots) to ride either over lunch or after work or I don’t know when.

I find this situation  peculiar because it conflicts with what I believe the purpose of the bike racks to be, which is to provide a space for people who are using their bikes for tranportation to and from the office. At the same time, it’s great that the person is riding their bike to exercise. I think if we had the luxury of more indoor parking I would not notice this bike or care as much. However, we don’t.

Look mom, no fenders!

Look mom, no fenders!

  • Some people don’t care as much as I do about where they park their bikes.

At least three or four commuters consistently park their steeds in the prison bar-style rack. Even when there is an end space available on these racks, they have no qualms hefting their bikes and locking them up in the middle of the rack. I also notice that these riders do not have fenders on their bikes. Part of me envies their carefree ways, but mostly, I think we should get a better rack for outside our building.

  • I compare my bike to other bikes.

If you read this blog at all, you know that my Surly Long Haul Trucker is my primary commuter and I’m quite proud of it. I like how it looks, it rides well, and I’m please with how I have accessorized it. Whenever I park my bike, I check out the other bikes around me to see what people are riding: road bikes with no fenders (what?!); Linus bikes; hybrids; mountain bikes; and many others. I look at the lights, racks, and other accessories people choose to adorn their bikes and light up their rides.

On rare occasions I spy a person with tastes I admire. I’ve even seen someone in our garage who rides a Surly and uses a Carradice (like me!). Unfortunately, we are not on the same work schedule so I can only imagine what he or she must be like in real life.

Checking out how other people choose to bike to work is fun.

Inverted U racks, and a bike I admire

Inverted U racks, and a bike I admire

  • I am sensitive about people parking next to me.

Due to our limited spaces, parking will be tight. Even so, it’s taking me time to adjust to sharing space at the bike racks. I attribute this to being from Iowa, where I grew up accustomed to a lot of personal space.

My lack of comfort about the proximity of other bikes to mine is strange because when I’m outside running errands, I don’t care nearly as much. I park wherever I can, and if others park next to me, I just don’t want them to accidentally lock their bike to mine. I’m trying my best to transfer this mentality to my daily parking at the office, but it’s taking time.

Bike parking is an area of improvement for many businesses. In my case, we do alright, but I wish we had space for 20 more bikes in the underground parking garage. I think that would  allow all those who bike commute to park inside if they choose and I would not care so much about a person (or two) who leaves his or her bike at the office for midday or post-work sport riding.

Man, I did not realize all the stuff I was missing when I could park my bike in my office with me. Parking in shared space has given me much more food for thought.

What about you? How does your bike parking situation compare and what things have you noticed?