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Could defunct landmark become new bike hub facility?

Posted by on February 21st, 2007 at 12:14 pm

“Parks Department planners see the thousands of cyclists commuting over the Hawthorne Bridge daily and imagine that a shower, storage and repair facility might be a good use.”
-from Oregonian article

Bikestation board member and City of Vancouver Transportation Planner Todd Boulanger noticed an Oregonian article last month that he thinks offers the perfect opportunity to bring a bicycle-related tenant to a centrally-located, unused building on the waterfront.

And the Portland Parks and Recreation Department agrees with him.

The building in question is an architectural relic initially built in 1949 as the old Portland Oregon Visitor’s Center and most recently known as McCall’s Restaurant. The building sits just north of the Hawthorne Bridge and directly adjacent to the Salmon Street Fountain (map below).

According to Oregonian reporter Randy Gragg, the city has long tried to establish a successful restaurant in the location, but it has never panned out.

Now, with an impending construction project that will reroute some of the bridge ramps, a restaurant is out of the question and according to Gragg’s article, Parks Department planners say that opens up the possibilty of “other kinds of tenants”.

Here’s the key quote from the article:

“[Parks Department planners]…see the thousands of cyclists commuting over the Hawthorne Bridge daily and imagine that a shower, storage and repair facility might be a good use. A recent University of Oregon architecture studio studied new uses for the building, and several students also redesigned it for a bicycle facility.”

Todd likes the idea of a Bikestation facility and he has forwarded the article to the BTA, who are looking for a new place after being forced to move from their current location on SW 5th Ave. and I-405.

No details are confirmed yet. At this point, there are simply some discussions going on.

It would be very cool if some sort of bicycle-related use happened at that location. I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything.

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30 Comments
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    Martha February 21, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    That article stated that the reason why restaurants all failed at that location was because of the lack of parking/difficult car access. There’s a major bike route (aka the Hawthorne Bridge) with an offramp leading straight to the building…talk about high-quality bike access!

    I question whether a bike station (showers/lockers) would work all that well there, especially since the proposed development at 1st and Madison has touted its plans for a similar bike facility. However, this could be a great place for the BTA and other bike- related offices like bike tourism information. Maybe even have a small bike-repair/parts sales space there to fix pesky problems that arise on the way to work. Make it the headquarters of Portland’s run for platinum.

    It’s a gem of a building that’s been abused over the years — I’d like to see it treated with the respect it deserves.

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    Joe Planner February 21, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    If a Bikestation is composed of showers, lockers and bike parking, shouldn’t it be centrally located? All these features seem to suggest that one can quickly walk to their final destination from there. A location more central to downtown seems more appropriate for a Bikestation than out on the waterfront.

    As for this vacant building, I like Martha’s idea of a bike center with information on bike tourism, BTA office, and bike rentals. As for a commuter Bikestation, I’d prefer something located in the vicinity of Pioneer Square and close to the transit mall.

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    Lenny Anderson February 21, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    Great idea Todd.
    Portland’s blocks are small; its not that far from the riverfront to lots of locations. This building is at the crossroads of the busiest east/west bike commuter route (Hawthorne Bridge) and probably the busiest north/south route…Waterfront Park and Naito Parkway, which will be striped with bike lanes. A perfect spot for a bike center, with the BTA as anchor tenant.
    I love it.

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    BikeR February 21, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    I like the idea of having a Maison des Cycliste at the McCall’s restaurant location. It seems a great spot for non-vehicular commuters to park and change for work. Centrally located would be nice, but I disagree with Joe Planner that these facilities need to be centrally located. In fact, many bicyclists do not like riding in downtown Portland. I am not sure if BTA offices and locker rooms are mutually exclusive. If they are, then affordable locker rooms would get more people out of their car commuting habit than BTA offices and tourism information. I too think the building is a gem.

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    peejay February 21, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    The building may be a gem, but its architecture makes it a difficult to be used in many ways. I have seen pictures of how it once looked, and I think it’s spectacular. However, I can guarantee that once serious plans are put forth, they’ll involve quite a lot of modifications to make the space usable. One side will say let’s adapt; the other will say preserve it exactly, and they’ll both be right.

    They’d better hire a really smart architect who is also a good politician.

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    Todd Boulanger February 21, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    During our sunny weekend last week, I was able to take a closer look at the McCall site…as a possible bikestation site.

    It has a lot of possibilities, but it does need a lot of work. As many have said before, it would likely function best with a focus as a bike information center, BTA office, bike tourism events/ rental and with supporting parking and showers. The Bikestation in Long Beach functions in this fashion. And the Bikestation in Seattle is managed now by Seattle’s BTA (Bike Alliance of Washington).

    The strongest model for Bikestation that Portland can likely develop is the network model with different sites serving varied markets. Instead of having only a large single ‘mothership’ bikestation hub there will likely be a modest main site with a network of 3 to 4 smaller facilities (manned and automated/ self service).

    The First and Main site is an ideal commuter bikestation location, though it would likely be too small (

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    N.I.K. February 21, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    If a Bikestation is composed of showers, lockers and bike parking, shouldn’t it be centrally located?…A location more central to downtown seems more appropriate for a Bikestation than out on the waterfront.

    Why is it more appropriate? Sure you’d be putting it in a more geographically central location, but this would still result in the same problem as before: it proves convenient for people regularly in a given part of town and is of next to no use for people who aren’t. Putting it close to the transit mall is an interesting idea, but I can’t help but wonder if most people biking downtown are actually going to care very much about having immediate access to the transit mall in the first place.

    Joe, I’m not trying to be dismissive here. I just don’t understand your rationale.

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    jami February 21, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    that would be awesome. more importantly, i hope when they move the ramps around, they make it nicer for bikes to get from the bridge to downtown, without mixing it up so much with trimet buses and such.

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    tonyt February 21, 2007 at 5:56 pm

    I’m really trying to understand how this would be useful. And I’m trying to not dismissing the concept out of hand, it’s just that I keep asking myself the question, “Can I imagine using it?” and the answer is, “No.” I ride everyday from NoPo and I’m not sure if I understand what need it would fill for me.

    If I’m riding my bike in the rain for instance, I’m not going to want to arrive somewhere, take a shower, cool down, and then . . . what? Get back into my wet gear and continue riding to my destination? I’d rather just get there and get out of my gear and be done with it.

    But just because I wouldn’t use it doesn’t mean that it’s not potentially useful for a bunch of other people.

    Would anyone use this? I’m not being facetious. I’m serious.

    What would this do for your commute? Would you shower there and then continue on to work?

    And N.I.K., I disagree with your reasoning on the centrality issue. If you were talking about serving an area with infinite edges, you would be right, you might as well put it anywhere, it won’t matter. But we’re talking about it serving downtown specifically which is a decently contained, definable area.

    For sake of argument, let’s pretend that downtown is a square. If you put something on the edge like this, rather than in the center, you double the distance that the person furthest from it would have to travel. And since you are putting it up against the river, you are limiting the possible approaches by half.

    I think that if this was near the street car, it would make sense. You could ride there, clean up, lock up your bike, and then jump on the street car and finish up your jaunt to work.

    Todd, how do the bikestations that you mentioned function? Mostly as information centers/gathering places, or bike storage/showers? All of the above? Are they near transit?

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    N.I.K. February 21, 2007 at 6:21 pm

    But we’re talking about it serving downtown specifically which is a decently contained, definable area.

    I completely understand your point about a downtown-centric station making more sense in the center of downtown, and that’s sound reasoning all the way, but *you’re* talking about it serving cyclists downtown. The planners from the Parks Dept. are talking about serving people coming across the Hawthorne Bridge. These are not necessarily one and the same.

    I’m trying hard not to sound stand-offish here. You’re talking about “let’s put it here instead to benefit a different group of people”, and I don’t see how you can justify that, because it’s the same issue either way: people regularly around one area get it and everybody else doesn’t (or at least, not as much). If it helps, I not only hardly go downtown, but I’m in SE even less frequently, and crossing the Hawthorne bridge almost never. Either location would do me no good the majority of the time; I’ve got precious little stake in the whole affair. 🙂

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    bikieboy February 21, 2007 at 6:40 pm

    The developers for the nearby block next to the west end of the Hawthorne bridge (now a parking lot next to the cop shop) had expressed some serious interest in including a ground level “bike central/ bikestation” in the design of their 20 +/- story building – parking, repair, maybe showers & lockers.

    Haven’t heard anything about this since last summer or so – anyone know the status of this development? I think they may have been derailed, at least temporarily, by the county’s casting a lustful eye at this property as a site for a new courthouse…

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    N.I.K. February 21, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    What would this do for your commute? Would you shower there and then continue on to work?

    Excellent points there. People just passing through in a slightly longish A-to-B probably wouldn’t use it. People riding for work (messengers and other delivery-by-bike folks) probably wouldn’t use it – even at the end of the work day, there’s still cycling to home or wherever (just as before, completing the remaining leg of the trip). People commuting to their jobs? Er…well, maybe if the place of employment is relatively close. Recreational riders? Hm, okay, maybe that makes a little bit of sense given the proposed location, but that’s a margin that diminishes considerably during the winter months…

    Anyway, thanks for asking the question, I’m eager to see some responses of the “Yes, I’d use it because…” nature. I really don’t understand it too well beyond the “bike facilities somewhere, hurrah!” nature of things.

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    Scott Mizée February 21, 2007 at 7:17 pm

    I also almost never cross the Hawthorne Bridge and my office has indoor bike parking and showers but, I still think this sounds like an ideal location for both the BTA office and a Bikestation. I have not studied the building, so I have no idea what the constraints are on its use. I suggest someone get the images from the University of Oregon architecture students and ask if they can be posted on this forum or one like it to be discussed by the bicycle community at large.

    People seem to be disregarding Todd’s comment that a successful Portland Bikestation would work best under the ‘network’ model rather than the ‘mothership’ model. Eventually, this first Bikestation would not be the only one.

    For those that have questions about Bikestation, I suggest they click on the link that Jonathan provided above. http://bikestation.org

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    tonyt February 21, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    Right, people may be coming across the Hawthorne, which I think carries the most bike commuters, but they then have to get where they’re going downtown. It’s not like they intend people to cross to the west, take a shower and then cross back.

    I hear what you’re saying, but I really don’t think it’s an issue of benefiting someone over anyone else. Again, if we were talking infinite area, then that would be true; for anyone further, there would be someone closer. At the edge though you have half as many people close to it and the far people are now twice as far.

    If it’s main use though is as an all-city resource, without the “showers and lockers” emphasis, I think the location is fine. Relative to the city as a whole it is central.

    Anyway, I think it’s one of those things easier to dissect over coffee. The whole draw it on a napkin thing.

    And like I said, I don’t really understand how it’s that useful, as a shower/locker facility if it’s not near transit.

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    Tom February 21, 2007 at 9:15 pm

    We need to do this! It’s perfect!!

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    Dabby February 21, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    I think these Bike Stations would be a waste of money that should go towards other things.
    I see it as a service that would of course be charged for, but few would pay for, and most would scoff at the use of.
    We need to spend money on serious, feasible projects, not pipe dreams.

    Unless it is 100 percent supported by automobile licensing and gas taxes, where the bicyle users pay nothing, beyond the energy used to ride to work, to use the services.
    In my mind, A Bike Station is neither welcome nor needed here.

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    Scott Mizée February 21, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    In my mind, A Bike Station is neither welcome nor needed here.

    Interesting perspective, Dabby.

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    Klixi February 22, 2007 at 2:19 am

    I live in downtown now but I used to live in Ladds Addition and commuted across the Hawthorne Bridge each day (as do tons of other people on a daily basis) to work. I’m not sure I really understand the purpose of it.

    It seems to be a myriad of things (shower, lock-up station, bike repair, etc) but most downtown buildings offer secured bike parking these days so I’m not sure how appealing it will be to lock it up further away from the workplace then walk to work.

    Bike repair is always a good thing, but I very rarely get a flat or anything else while commuting to or from work. I’m sure it happens more often to others, but at such a high frequency that it warrants a facility? Probably not. And if you get a flat, you better hope you’re within relatively close walking distance to this facility. If you hit a flat at 20th and Morrison are you really gonna walk your bike all the way to that bike station?

    The shower thing doesn’t appeal to me either. That seems like the biggest hassle ever to ride, stop, lock your bike, shower, change into a different pair of clothes then walk to work. That’d add an extra half hour to anyones commute (if not more) which probably won’t appeal to many cyclists. I pack my work clothes in my backpack, ride to work, change in the bathroom and presto: 5 minutes and I’m done.

    With that said, it would be cool to have a centralized location like this. Think of all the other cyclists you could meet, all the events that could be planned, flyers and stolen bike listings, rides that could be organized, etc.

    All in all, the idea seems good on paper (so to speak) but I think the interest will be mild at best if it ever came to fruitation. The magnitude of problems that arise on a bike ride to work (or wherever you may be headed to in downtown) warrant nothing near an undertaking as large as this.

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    BikeR February 22, 2007 at 9:48 am

    Klixi,
    I hope a bike facility does come to fruitation. If we’re not careful this site could be a maritime museum and Portland Spirit offices. I would use such a facility because … My office is on 5th Ave. and we do not have changing facilities. To have a nice place to leave my bike and change, I would easily walk 6 blocks. But if it was 12 blocks maybe not. >> say Network Model. Connection to bus and transit … Huh I’m riding my bike, not taking the bus. Dabby has a good point that the facility must be affordable or would not get use.

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    Evan Manvel, BTA February 22, 2007 at 9:59 am

    We’ve been looking into it.

    Sadly, it’s not clear that it’s large enough to have multiple purposes (or at least to have our offices plus bikestation), that it’s on the right schedule for leasing, or that it would be affordable for us (we’re class C office space, this is central restaurant space).

    The location is great for a BTA office — and right next to that Portland Spirit ticket booth, who love bikes so much (not).

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    Joe Planner February 22, 2007 at 10:32 am

    Here’s my reasoning with the centrality issue: If I am riding my bike from the eastside to downtown (which I do nearly every day), I don’t want to stop 7+ blocks short of my destination, park my bike, then walk another half mile. The reason I don’t want to stop is because it’s so much quicker to ride my bike that 7+ blocks and that’s important if I need to be somewhere by a certain time. Bicycling will become more attractive to more individuals who commute downtown if it provides some time/location advantage in addition to the all the other great reasons we cycle. So many more employers/destinations would be within the radius of a centrally-located facility (buildings in all directions). A bikestation would be a much more attractive option to more people if it was closer to more workplaces.

    The bikestation in Long Beach is fairly central to the business district and convention center, whereas the bikestation in Chicago is very much on the edge of the Chicago loop. I think the difference in those cities is that riding a bicycle in the Chicago’s downtown loop is not something I would attempt, while riding in downtown Long Beach is more conducive to riding (there are lots of low-traffic streets).

    I have nowhere near the confidence of a bike messenger, but I happen to find riding in downtown Portland to be fairly easy and comfortable (partly because there are so many other cyclists on the road). Having a station on the edge of town will remove a few cyclists from downtown Portland. Is that a good thing? Perhaps from the perspective of the motorist… If people perceive cycling in downtown Portland as uncomfortable, we should work to improve the comfort of those streets for cyclists, rather than avoid the issue with a big bicycle parking station on the edge of downtown. I feel that cars should feel unwelcome downtown, not bicycles.

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    Ethan February 22, 2007 at 10:33 am

    How about a bike shop (Bike Gallery?) with bike rentals and a coffee stand. A place for Portland cyclists and a gateway for those who are visiting our city.

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    Dabby February 22, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    Perhaps I should should have just stated that a bike statiomn is not needed.
    Of course it would be welcomed by many, but would certainly suffer from a lack of attendance, which would be needed in order to keep it open.
    I say give the building to the BTA though, for offices and such..

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    N.I.K. February 22, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    …whereas the bikestation in Chicago is very much on the edge of the Chicago loop. I think the difference in those cities is that riding a bicycle in the Chicago’s downtown loop is not something I would attempt…

    I lived in Chicago for six years, and the bikestation there is a joke. Sure, it’s new and pretty, but it’s only really useful if you ride the lakefront bike path. With the entire city bordered on the east side by a huge lake, any commuter who lives a mile or more west of the lake tends to avoid the path (which is a swarming-with-headphoned-joggers nightmare 6 months out of the year anyway), and so a lot of commuters avoid the bikestation. I always thought it was part of Daley’s misinformed efforts to make Chicago more bike-friendly…right up there with putting tons of bike racks in Millenium Park but avoiding adding new ones to the busier parts of downtown where they’re actually needed, or (even better) fixing up busted-up streets like State and Wabash that are *awesome* for cycling in terms of road width but the pavement’s shot all to hell. The plan there is clearly geared towards segregated facilities. Which leads one to wonder about the “elevated bike lane” stuff that’s been kicked around over the past two years and how well that’ll be pulled off if/when the time comes…

    Biking in the Loop? Eh, it can be nerve wracking, but it’s not all that bad. I always thought it was pretty safe for an assertive-yet-law-abiding cyclist…not easy, sure, but not a frightening deathtrap like, say, the majority of Western Avenue.

    Anyway, getting back to Portland…thanks for going into detail on your own reasoning. I agree whole-heartedly with your “let’s make bikes more welcome downtown” sentiment, even if I don’t think bikes are as particularly unwelcome down there as some might suggest. Like tonyt, I’m not entirely convinced that a bikestation is exceptionally useful (if I worked downtown, I probably wouldn’t use it unless there was some sort of emergency they could cater to…and I’m not even sure what that would be), but you’re right: the presence of one might convince the people afraid of biking downtown to…well, be encouraged not to be afraid? 🙂 If it comes to pass, hopefully it will be well planned so that it’s useful (in terms of both who’s using it and available services/facilities) and not just be a showpiece like the one in Chicago.

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    Donald February 22, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    Seriously, if BTA can do something community-minded with this building, I’d love to see it.

    Portland has a strong history of supporting mid-century modern design and it would really suck to see this landmark building disolve into ruin. Or worse, just another misguided private enterprise.

    _DA

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    shawnerama February 23, 2007 at 12:18 am

    Klixi said in post 18:

    “With that said, it would be cool to have a centralized location like this. Think of all the other cyclists you could meet, all the events that could be planned, flyers and stolen bike listings, rides that could be organized, etc.”

    It seems that, practically, a shower/lockup station might not serve many of us very well, and if I had my wish, this location would be more of a community place for the bike community. Perhaps offices for bike-related orgs, plus coffee/tea, couches, bike-related library, a bike stand or two, posting boards, and a meeting room for Shift or other bikey organizing meetings would all be on my brainstorm list. Plus, with the fountain nearby, we’d have a great opportunity to spread the word about biking in Portland: tons of non-bike-riders hang out there to cool off during the summer.

    Just my two cents.

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    Todd Boulanger February 23, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    The Bikestation Palo Alto is reopening after Caltrain has completed some renovations at this commuter rail station for Stanford/ Palo Alto.

    http://www.paloaltodailynews.com/article/2007-2-23-02-23-07-pa-bike-station

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    Todd Boulanger February 23, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    Tonyt asked: “Todd, how do the bikestations that you mentioned function? Mostly as information centers/gathering places, or bike storage/showers? All of the above? Are they near transit? ”

    TODD: Yes the Generation 1 bikestations function primarily as bike+transit hubs. They are located at commuter rail stations (Palo Alto + Seattle), LRT hubs (Long Beach), and subway stations (Berkeley + Embarcadero BART). Generation 2 bikestations are at end of trip work sites like municipal or college parking structures in city centers (Santa Barbara). Generation 3 bikestations will be in mixed use developments so that members will have a place to park at home. (This type is currently under construction by a developer in Pasadena along side the new Gold line LRT.)

    The range of services depend a lot on what the local market will buy/ use and what the local operator (bikestation partner) can do. The full service bikestation is open to members 24/7 to park, provides shop and service, café, changing room, showers, etc. Other bikestations may not have the room for showers or limited staffing hours due to space or demand constraints. Or they may be underground automated mechanical lockers.

    TODD: N.I.K.s comments on Chicago are spot on. I have visited the ‘McDonalds Bike Parking Station’ and it is very beautiful but the location is less than ideal for commuters…only if it is the only one ever built for Chicago. It is a great site for tourists and for lunch time roller blading and jogging (I hear). Ideally I would have used the $3.2 million budget to built 4 or 6 bikestations and made it a network of stations and racks.

    TODD: Even’s comments are correct…cost and space available would be tight at the McCalls site depending on the services offered. I would not suggest this site would support parking for 300 bikes on a daily basis…perhaps only for events. If it became the BTA office then I would see it as more of a bike lounge with great parking for 30 to 100 bikes. And other bike info and tourist services. The outdoor patio could be reconfigured to have some covered 2 tier bike parking. Bikestation involvement could be limited to helping out with getting the specialized bike racks and the membership technology for 24/7 access.

    TODD: We are all waiting to see if this (and other sites) come in with rock bottom rental costs or other partnerships that cover fixed costs. This is the only way bike parking stations can pencil out while still providing such public services (free or reduced price parking, information, etc.) and while the ratio of bike parking to overhead (staff, etc.) is still so low. Most bike parking stations are still in this ‘low range’ when they have 100 or 300, etc. stall spaces. One would have to move into thousands of spaces…to become fully commercial.

    TODD: and to reiterate on what I have said before…this site would work best if it there was a network of Bikestations. But if there can be only one site I would rather see a site higher on my target list…PSU, Pioneer Sq., South Waterfront, Lloyd District, etc. A place with lots of bike traffic, a bike destination, and a need for other bike support services.

    TODD: I personally do not bicycle in such a way as to need a shower most of the time. Most of the BikePortland readers are likely in this same camp. Though this is a very common mental barrier for novice bike commuters or those who choose to live very far away from their work site (mobilty over proximity). So having showers is more of an amenity than a requirement. Some members would likely pay a membership fee for this amenity.

    Bikestation Boardmember

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    BikeR February 26, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    At south waterfront OHSU employees have access to secure bike parking, as well as the use of private lockers and showers at the Athletic Club. I am not sure why south waterfront would be a priority for a bikestation. I agree with Todd’s network recommendation. In fact, we should expect new buildings or expansions to include secure bike parking and locker facilities. When it comes to secure bike parking I do not like gated access to a parking area. I have seen the gated access at PSU. It is hardly used. There is still a risk that someone with access to the gated area can take a bike or remove bike parts. I prefer private lockers like those provided by the city around town. With these I feel comfortable leaving helmets, lights, and other accessories on my bike.

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    Todd from vancouver February 28, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    BikeR…your comments on OHSU are good for the A type bike commuters who are well served by the existing conditions. I was speaking more to the future when more will bike when they do not have to struggle up pill hill to work. The A-Tram is a big help…ride to the base…park your bike…ride the tram up and skip the shower. (And the A-Tram riders will thank you for not bringing your bike up the hill on the tram.)

    BikeR’s comments do bring up a good point…security…

    Parking cages should be either socially controlled (small work/ social environments with trust) or controlled thru security (cameras or w/i view of others…security / parking staff).

    One of the services the 24/7 bikestation are adding along with the afterhours access technology fob is security cameras for all new facilities.

    Bike lockers are only secure as the hard cage of the locker or its internal partitions, your theft prevention skills (locking the door, adding a lock to your wheel, invisibility to the bad guys, etc.), prescreened locker members, a secure lock (pick proof, none pry off, etc.), social control, etc. Bike lockers are great…a big step up from naked bike racks.

    For those of you bike business types out there…perhaps you should seek to develop a local proposal using local resources as an alternative to the imported turnkey systems being proposed so far from JC Decaux, etc. via Sam’s RFP due out soon.

    I have some ideas on how to structure a proposal…email me through BikePortland.

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