After speaking with dozens of folks from various organizations in the US, here are five commonly asked questions. They are not bad, but they tend to limit the context too much to just biking and for an individual.
1. What is the price? We are quite price sensitive, especially if bikes people use around here are lower cost and they don’t seem like they would miss them if stolen. This tends to be asked too early in the process for determining an appropriate solution. It’s nice to know, but it is often asked before knowing what the form(s) of bicycle parking would need to be capable of to effectively increase sustained ridership and would work with the resources (time, space, materials, etc.) available. Also, people may be using less expensive bikes because they have been burned before by previous theft experiences. Unfortunately, bicycle theft risk has little to do with the financial value of a bike. Safe places to park would change that and make them feel more comfortable in making a bigger investment in a nicer bike to ride more. For many people, your campus or organization may be the first time they consider biking to be potentially a mode of transportation for them vs defaulting to progression to driving. To frame it in a another way, when car parking is constructed, the financial value of cars that will be parked there is typically not considered.
2 .What is the density? Space is definitely precious as there can be a myriad of things to work through to acquire new land. However, it is often much easier to increase the raw total capacity of bike parking than to get people to actually use the designated bike parking spaces. One university in the midwestern US implemented restricted bicycle parking shelters, but did not reach 50% usage of capacity at peak times for over a year, despite asking bicyclists on campus about the form of bike parking they wanted. So it’s better to test and gauge utilization beforehand unless demand is overwhelmingly strong with existing bike parking for half a year or longer.
3. What is the maintenance cost? Or what are the maintenance demands? This tends to be asked with the intention to hopefully see a very low or no maintenance cost. While any bicycle parking solution with built-in security to make it easier for people to cut the risk of theft have moving parts and thus need maintenance over time, this cost is often viewed as isolated from other ongoing costs needed to get people to sustainably use the newly installed bike parking - whether it be just simple racks, lockers, cages/enclosures, or another type. There is promotion, education, enforcement, data collecting, etc.
4. Who are other clients you have worked with? How long has your product been on the market? It’s good to verify the reliability and stability of vendors. However, they may not have ones that effectively help with your situation or set of goals and challenges.
5. What does it look like? Some things look ugly, lockers look too bulky, or do not match our aesthetic. Bicycle parking should definitely not invoke feelings of disgust visually. Ideally, the less care it needs to avoid looking dirty or worse, the better. Bike parking structures may not be very visually appealing outside of artistic shapes, but car parking stalls made of asphalt or concrete are not visually appealing at all and they make a big statement with their size, occupying multiple times the area per spot as bike lockers. In addition to how it looks, the other elements of how the appearance of the structure informs how someone should use it and whether they parked their bike safely or unsafely.
To help approach bike parking from a more informed context for ultimately increasing utilization rates and ridership and minimizing ongoing costs, here are the five questions that are often unasked and should be asked earlier or along with the previous five. 1) How many people can use this on an ongoing basis instead of driving? How much space and money does each car parking spot cost versus bike parking (construction and ongoing)?
Hint: Each car parking stall can easily cost $12,000+ for construction and occupy 270+ square feet of space! At a commercial square footage rate of $30 per year in California, that is $8,100 which is many times higher than what the vast majority of drivers would be willing to pay for car parking!
Also, according to a 2007 Canadian study by J.D. Hunt and J.E. Abraham titled, ‘Influences on bicycle use,’ providing secure parking at a work destination boosts the attractiveness of bicycling as a mode of transportation as much as a reduction of 26.5 minutes of riding in mixed traffic. 26.5 minutes of riding at a modest average pace of 6 miles per hour is 2.65 miles. At many organizations, distance is cited as a major factor for how many people bicycle, so how many more people can you attract with this expanded range?
2) What other more valuable functions could my organization do with saved space from car parking and increased ridership and bicycle capacity?
Maybe the unnecessary car parking spaces could be turned into a park, a picnic table area, or other natural outdoor gathering space. Or perhaps expand a building or build a new building to accommodate more people (employees and visitors for companies and students, faculty, and/or staff for colleges and universities)?
3) How much active educational and promotional effort does it cost me and the folks I’d like to bike to ensure they can bike properly?
Things you do to get people to use the racks properly may include:
Creating and posting promotional materials (challenge flyers and website pages, flyers and sign-up pages for classes, swag, subsidized u-locks, etc.).
Creating and implementing processes and events to check how well people are riding and parking (bike security or theft prevention workshops, periodic parked bike counts at a peak time of day or week, etc.).
It is also time and complexity of learning how to use the bike parking well enough to face low theft risk and trying it out. The longer and more complex the process is for learning and implementing, the lower the success rate is for people to end up locking their bikes properly and even fewer do it consistently.
With each new employee or student batch, how much information does each individual need to learn to park their bikes safely at work or school? How easy would it be for someone who bikes often to get others they know to do the same if others express interest in biking as well? 4) How much do theft, abandonment, and other issues that arise from this form of bike parking decrease sustained ridership vs the cost for me and my colleagues to increase it by the same amount? How much reactive and/or enforcement effort does it cost my organization? Will it scale up dramatically with increased capacity and usage or go up at a negligible rate? Unfortunately, studies have shown that bike theft tends to highly correlate with bicycle riding. Will your selected form of bike parking open more risk to need to address more issues? A bike with a wheel or other major parts missing sends a strong message that it is not safe to leave your bicycle there. People may be so heartbroken after the theft of major parts of their bike that they may abandon it, even if many parts are still there. When theft happens, how long is the current process to address that? What is the success rate of that process to return the victim back to riding at least as much as they were before?
Abandoned bikes occupy needed parking spots, become more visually repulsive over time, and are more at risk for further theft. Abandonment can be quite expensive to handle with more bikes used and bike racks. Addressing abandoned bikes can take a tedious and lengthy process of tagging, checking, potentially arranging for lock cutting, removal and impounding, checking to see if there is a registered owner and contacting them, arranging for storage, and arranging for auction, resale, or disposal.
5) What is the expected sustained utilization rate for this form of bike parking in our area?
Ultimately, bicycle parking’s success is determined by how much it gets used, especially relative to car parking. 75 - 90% would typically be a good range to have as there would be room for those who bike occasionally or are new to try. Also, how frequent can you get usage data with the form of bike parking? The more frequent, the better you can tell if any other campaigns or promotions you do have on bike riding.
Of these five additional questions, let us know which of them stood out the most to you or seem the most valuable. Which one(s) are you going to use for your next bike parking project?