Networks & Destinations

I’m still frequently stupefied, I must admit, by the disconnect in planning circles between bike lanes and paths, on the one hand, and bike parking, on the other.

It seems to me that in some ways the parking is more important.

I know full well that bicycle lanes are important in increasing perceived safety, which then allows more timid or inexperienced riders to feel comfortable pedaling down the streets; and that the increase in numbers of visible cyclists actually does, in most cases, improve safety.

However, if all those riders, newbies or veterans, come out from the store, or office, or restaurant, or library, and find their bicycles stolen, well, they aren’t going to ride any more. At least not for a while.

Bike path and bike parking, working synergistically, in Japan
Living in a thoroughly post-Mayberry world as we do, we have to be able to lock our bicycles to something solid when we leave them behind to indulge in more pedestrian pursuits. And, in Los Angeles as in most American cities, it is illegal to lock your bike to the ubiquitous parking meter. We all do it, of course; but it leaves us vulnerable to police harassment should the the force decide (as it has recently in New York) that cyclists deserve to be targeted in some specious crackdown or another.

The ubiquity of those parking meters brings up another irritating point: the city obviously understands that if motorists had nowhere to park their cars, they wouldn’t drive their cars. They spend millions per year providing subsidized parking for motorists on public streets and lots that cyclists’ taxes also pay for.

Yet, although the new Los Angeles Bicycle Master Plan uses the phrase “parking equity” a great deal, at present there are a little over 4,000 sidewalk bike racks in the (nearly 500 square mile) city (and exactly one onstreet bike corral)–yet nearly every foot of nearly every road and street in Los Angeles–that’s around 7,000 miles worth!–is configured for automobile parking. Much of it free, and the rest highly subsidized. And the city provides off-street lots and parking structures as well.

Without this massive, obsessive-compulsive drive to provide parking, cars could not manage to create as much congestion as they do–because people wouldn’t bother with them.

Look at it this way: a bicycle takes up one-twelfth of the parking space a car requires–yet most cars bring no more passengers to an area than most bicycles. Even an eight-passenger van, fully loaded, can’t use parking resources as well as a bicycle carrying its single rider does.

So who gets dissed? Bicycles, of course.

Now, after great struggle, we get a plan that focuses on bike lanes and paths and sharrows–but one that leaves bike parking to be filled in later.

How exactly is this supposed to encourage bicycling? Unless they mean recreational bicycling, where you never actually get off the bike.

But it’s in commuting and shopping and dining out and all that that the bicycle is most useful to urban life; it’s only when you can replace a car trip with a bicycle trip that you can free public space, the city treasury, and the Earth itself from the insatiable demands of the car for more sprawl, more subsides, more oil, more more more…. At present, everything–street life, physical and mental health, and the city’s economy–is subordinated to driving.

Ultimately, you can ride on the streets as they are now. That network exists and is usable though often unpleasant.

But you can’t stop at many destinations if you arrive there on a bicycle–at least, not if you also want to leave there on a bicycle later!

Networks without destinations are like fishing nets that have never been knotted together–they fall apart when you try to use them.

Los Angeles needs an aggressive program of providing bicycle parking almost everywhere–or at least on every block in the city that has any retail or service destination facilities on it.

Let’s start with one bike rack for every hundred feet of retail, commercial or service establishment frontage.

That’s nowhere near what we hand over to drivers, and always have done. But it will make our coming bike lane networks usable.

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  1. Posted June 1, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Interesting point. Right now I am in Malmo, Sweden and there’s a bike parking shortage. However, during the day, when bike parking is in most demand, so many simply lock their bikes using rear wheel lock and hardly a bike gets stolen. The bike I’m using I’m doing just that, locking rearwheel and I am amazed that nobody even does a double take because bicycles are so ubiquitous they’re just flooding the city.

    I’m definitely think we need more bike parking, but i still advocate the infrastructure first. We can build a constituency of people who demand bike parking if we start providing the safe riding facilities but demand for riding facilities doesn’t seem to me will materialize if we provide large amounts of bike parking. But then there’s no way of knowing. I say just fulfill the la bike plan in 10 years rather than 20, 30 or whatever it is and give us bike parking too!

  2. Phil Miller
    Posted June 2, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    What’s particularly annoying is that the cost of good U-shaped bike racks is low, even with the cost of installation.
    Action item. Shop at places that DO have bike racks. And carry your bike helmet in with you, especially as you check out. Or bike gloves, or panniers. And if you just aren’t the kind of cyclist who wants to look any different than everyone else off the bike, if you see the manager/owner thank them.
    How about a GPS POI list of all businesses that DO have bike racks?
    I already shop where I can lock up whenever I have a choice, and I make my choice known.
    Activist doesn’t mean someone who carries signs. It means someone who communicates EFFECTIVELY. And spoken admiration is a mighty big carrot.

  3. Posted June 2, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Right on, Mr. Miller!

    By the way, LADOT is looking for volunteers for a citywide bike rack inventory, which they hope to have done entirely by bicycle–this could later be cross-referenced with business addresses.

    If anyone wants to help with the counts, check out their blog at

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