More than Just a Place to Park Your Bike

BY FABIANA MEACHAM
September 1, 2010

bikerack

A prototype for a bike rack designed by David Baker + Partners [Photo Credit: David Baker]

Build pretzel-shaped steel tubes, bolt them to the sidewalk, and the cyclists will come. Or at least that seems to be the logic behind the newfound interest in bike rack design in cities throughout the country. I remember a time when parking your bike meant locking it to anything you might tie a dog to, but these days everyone seems to have an opinion on the right way to lock up your bike — and a lamp post or park bench just will not do.

San Francisco-based architect David Baker (whose elegant, pleasantly weathered bike rack prototype is featured in DIY Urbanism: Testing the grounds for social change -- opening next Tuesday!), provides an excellent primer on bike rack design and implementation. Who knew that round tubes were more susceptible to pipe cutters? Or that a standard U-rack can easily accommodate three bicycles? It would behoove city planning officials to consult this guide before potentially installing the wrong kinds of racks on their city streets.

But bike racks have become much more than just another place to park your bike. Following in the wake of widespread bike lane implementation in even the most car-centric of cities (like Indianapolis and Detroit), bike racks are an instantly recognizable symbol of a city government's commitment to promoting bicycle transportation. In recognition of the bike rack's symbolic potential, cities like New York and San Francisco have brought industrial designers and architects into the process, sponsoring bike rack design competitions. Even David Byrne has collaborated with the New York Department of Transportation to install his own whimsical designs — although he seems to be on such good terms with the DOT that his work managed to bypass the usual jury process.

American cities have a long way to go before we come close to approximating the volume and efficiency of bike storage in iconic cycling cities such as Amsterdam, but a standard curbside U-rack with a galvanized steel finish is a good place to start.

bikeracks

Bike storage in Amsterdam [Photo Credit: flickr user julia.simard]

bikeracks

Criteria for bike rack installation in San Francisco [Image courtesy of SFMTA]