Boxed In

The city of Portland, as you may have heard, recently installed its 100th bike corral—by which we mean real onstreet bike corrals that replace one or two curbside car parking spots with racks for twelve to twenty-four bicycles. Streetfilms celebrated the event with the delightful little video you see below:

If that went by a little too quickly for you, you can look over a few stills I snapped during my recent visit to Portland on this very blog, right here. (The link will open in a new window.)

Meanwhile, down here in LA, as you may also have heard, the city proudly dedicated its…second…bike corral. As part of a “pilot program.”

That’s second in over two years. Portland’s program started only nine years ago, so they’re averaging more than ten corrals per year. There’s demand for more, as local businesses love them for the customers they bring so much more effectively than cars can. (After all, the more car parking you put in, the less room there is for businesses, right? Or for the street life that encourages lingering over extended meals, and the window shopping that turns into real shopping.) Here’s a picture of LA’s latest bike corral, in Atwater:

You’ll notice a difference: this is more literally a corral. It’s basically a three-sided box with the open side to the curb. Keeping us boxed in, and making it difficult to maneuver your bike in or out. Not only that, it doesn’t hold that many bikes per square foot, and it is nearly impossible to lock two bikes to one of its peculiar rack elements if you are both using U-locks. (In LA, if you’re not using a U-lock, you may as well gift-wrap your bike when you park it.)

I don’t think it’s fully compliant with the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals’ Bicycle Parking Guidelines either.

In shape or placement it bears no resemblance to the heavily-used rows of staple racks composing Portland’s bike corrals. Nor to the designs employed in Chicago, New York, Santa Monica, or San Francisco—or just about anyplace else.

I asked one of the LADOT people at the dedication ceremony why this particular design, and why turned in towards the curb?

The answer was that the engineers who sign off on the plans were afraid that cyclists would back into traffic getting in and out of the corral.

This struck me as odd, since motorists back their butts into traffic tens of thousands of times a day as they contort themselves out of their car doors, and the LADOT doesn’t seem a bit worried about it.

So I wrote an LADOT Bikeways engineer about it, asking where in the engineering literature was such a problem examined, and what datasets were used to justify the decision. He answered:

“I have not been involved in the bicycle corral project at all. [...] There was consultation with engineers in our Geometric Design Div. but I was not involved in those discussions, so I don’t want to speculate as to what the rationale was.”

So I wrote to another contact the engineer had suggested, a person I consider one of the shining lights in the deep dim cave that is the LADOT. Much to my disappointment, I received a non-answer from him:

“The installation in Atwater Village is still only our third corral ever, we’ll continue to compare notes with other cities, but gaining our own experience with how these perform and function is an important part of this process, as well. If this translates as ‘evasive’ to you, I’m okay with that. We’re not trying to solve a particular problem, but we are trying to minimize risk, its sort of in our DNA.”

In other words, nothing that’s ever happened in other cities has any validity, even if it’s been tested in real-life situations over hundreds of corrals and years and years of use. I’ve heard this before, in very plain language, from LADOT. We’re going to guess our way through, and set enduring policy by hunches and gut feelings.

The part about “trying to minimize risk, its sort of in our DNA,” was particularly galling. If this were true, LADOT would not be standing by mute while CalTrans and the city Bureau of Engineering plan a redesign of the Glendale/Hyperion bridge (leading to our newest bike corral, in fact) that is so inherently dangerous that freeway-grade crash barriers would have to be installed to prevent some of the expected carnage.

I suspect that it really comes down to pandering to cars.

LADOT has nine more of these corrals to install, so it looks as though we’ll be boxed in to this particular design for a long while yet.

Call it the Not OK Corral.

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2 Comments

  1. cyclerslife
    Posted November 7, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Definitely a weird design decision to orient the corral toward the sidewalk instead of the street. The ease of just rolling into a Portland corral is a key feature–no need to navigate on and off busy sidewalks with my bike. Another advantage of corrals not often noted: in Portland they’re usually installed at busy corners, and they really improve sight lines compared with parked cars.

  2. Posted November 8, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    One other problem is fitting a longtail, longjohn, tricycle, or other cargo or work bike into this stupid design! The bike racks on York Blvd. can easily fit my bakfiets – but not this velo-prison.

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