Seattle to the World: On-Street Bike Parking

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The Story
Who are streets for, anyway? Too often it seems that streets were designed for cars, and that getting around any other way is foolish. Savvy cyclists have fought for some time to turn this around, and now are increasingly receiving some street space (for example, take a look at this interesting bike lane concept.) But the biker versus driver battle is heating up once again as bicyclists demand more real estate not just for cycling, but also for parking.

The first signs of a cyclist victory became apparent in Seattle’s Department of Transportation’s (SDOT) updated Bike Master Plan, which calls for installing bike racks capable of securing 3,000 additional bikes throughout the city by 2017. But since Seattle’s urban density has increased and continues to do so, SDOT has faced a difficult time finding space for the bike racks. Typically, the solution would be to place racks on sidewalks. But sidewalks don't offer enough extra space to meet increasing demand for secure bike parking. So as part of their overarching effort to triple the number of Seattleites who bike over the next 10 years, SDOT is working to increase available parking spots by creating on-street bike parking.

Following the examples of American biking havens like Portland, Seattle is opting to replace on-street car parking spaces with dedicated bike rack areas. These areas, which usually take the place of one to two car spaces and allow room for eight to 16 bikes respectively, are marked by a curb or pole barriers and are accessible from either the sidewalk or the street. The first on-street bike racks were put in place in Capitol Hill and Greenlake in February 2009, while more will be installed later this year and in the future. The locations of the racks are selected in areas where the demand for bike parking exceeds the current capacity and where adequate sidewalk space is not available.

In addition to predetermined locations, SDOT is taking personal requests for new locations to install on-street and sidewalk bike parking. To make a request you can either send an email to bikeracks [at] seattle [dot] gov, or reach them by phone at (206) 684-7583. Anyone may make a request for any location, and an SDOT representative will then assess the location and make the final decision.

It’s easy to see how a community, especially surrounding businesses can appreciate and benefit from nearby street bike racks. Anne, a blogger at Car Free Days, writes, “it creates a nice buffer from the car traffic and makes the outdoor seating in front of the coffee shop much more pleasant.” She adds, “I love the artistic and whimsical racks. They seem to say, ‘not only am I practical and utilitarian, I’m also fun and pleasing to the eye, so use me or just stop and admire me for a bit’. They invite people to linger on the sidewalk.”

Why it’s Worldchanging
Seattle cyclists spoke up and the City, through its Bike Master Plan, responded -- with a goal of 3,000 additional bike racks by 2017. This in itself is worth a pat on the back, because providing more secure parking makes cycling in the city easier and safer. But we think that it's not only the city's decision to provide bike parking -- but to actually replace car parking spots with bike racks. By taking even a few spots formerly devoted to cars and giving them over to bikes, the city begins sending a visual message that cyclists have as much right to Seattle roads as drivers.

Here’s where to find Seattle’s three on-street bike racks:

* Mid block of Broadway E between E Harrison Street and E Republican Street (by Broadway Market)

* At the corner of 12th Avenue and E Spring Street (by Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Café Presse)

* At the corner of Woodlawn Avenue NE and NE 70th Street (by the Greenlake Condominium)

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This post is part of the series, "Seattle to the World: 100 Best Innovations from the Emerald City."

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