Cyclists Need Parking Spaces Just as Badly as Drivers Do

Categories: bikes

"I would ride a bike, if only..."

I hear that a lot. It might be a friend or a coworker or the guy I just met at a party. He spots the helmet clipped to my backpack and, seeing in it some kind of hidden sanctimoniousness or moral challenge, he feels the need to justify himself: "I would ride a bike, if only..."

In most cases, it's something along the lines of, "If only traffic downtown wasn't so goddamn horrifying" -- though really there are plenty of respectable reasons not to bike in San Francisco. "If only I didn't live at the top of a hill." "If only I could find a bike my size or within my price range." "If only biking didn't mean actually having to exercise."

Stubbornly car-and Muni-bound friends, rest at ease: I will be the first to admit that biking around the city is not without its inconveniences.

The good news is that the city has decided to look into one of those inconveniences, to see if it couldn't be made a little less, well, inconvenient. The issue at hand: bike parking.

According to a proposed ordinance, reviewed at a Planning Department hearing last month, city staff found that "the existing bicycle parking requirements do not provide sufficient infrastructure for the existing bicycle use in the City."

(Presumably, city staff did not count the parking meters I regularly lock my bike to as "sufficient infrastructure.")

This may not seem like revolutionary stuff. S.F. has required a certain amount of bike parking at new developments since 1996. But under the new proposal -- which is very, very far from becoming a reality, mind you -- those rules would be expanded and strengthened considerably.

A few examples of the ideas under consideration:

  • Bike parking requirements at new developments would actually be adjusted to reflect expected ridership to and from that building-type (think: a lot more bike parking spaces mandated at schools, grocery stores, and office buildings; not as many at assisted care facilities and homes designated for the physically disabled).

  • The city would establish a "Bike Parking Fund" -- financed by fees paid by developers in lieu of providing the required infrastructure, and directed toward the construction of more on-street parking.

  • Developers would be rewarded for constructing protected indoor bike-parking spaces (or outdoor spaces plainly visible and easily accessible from the building entrance) by relaxing other zoning restricting.

  • The city would make it much easier for property owners to convert car parking spaces to bike parking spaces.

"I would ride a bike, if only I could find a place to park it."

Admittedly, I haven't heard that particular excuse too much. I'm not sure how many would-be cyclists out there are raring to brave the traffic and topography -- only to be foiled by a dearth of metal posts.

But I like this proposal for two reasons.

First, while there are plenty of immobile objects around the city to which a bike can be locked in the evening, there aren't as many where one can reasonably expect to find that bike still there in one piece the next morning. It isn't the quantity of parking spaces, but the quantity of safe biking spaces, which is limiting factor for aspiring regular riders.

But more than anything, I like this proposal because it is an example of San Francisco actually taking us bikers seriously.

That new developments are often required to provide automobile parking spots is taken for granted, because it's assumed that it would simply be untenable for many people to go without a car.

By strengthening the rules relating to bike parking spaces, the city would be codifying a similar assumption about cyclists. It would be institutionalizing the expectation that there are people living and working in every building across the city who bike just as frequently and unconditionally as their car-dependent neighbors hop into the driver's seat.

The more that the city implements policy with that idea in mind, the fewer "if only"s there will be.

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