Splendid Cycles Big Sale

Bike parking on the new Mall: The good, the bad, and the confusing

Posted by on September 2nd, 2009 at 8:45 am

Some folks are confused about these
rack-shaped objects on the new transit
mall.
(Photos: Victoria Gilbert)

Here’s a bit of good, bad, and confusing news about bike parking on TriMet’s transit mall in downtown Portland (we’ll get to the issue of actually riding on it in a separate story).

Back in January, we reported on how stringent design guidelines that call for expensive bike racks have resulted in a major lack of bike parking.

TriMet architects, in their quest to create an aesthetically pleasing streetscape on 5th and 6th avenues, require the City to pay for silver, brushed steel racks that are much more expensive than their standard issue blue ones ($367 compared to $87). In addition, crews actually removed existing staple racks that didn’t conform to the design guidelines (including racks directly in front of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance office).

Story continues below

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This is how people park
when there are no bike racks.
(Photo © J. Maus)

In months since, the lack of bike parking on the mall has become blatantly apparent. Bikes are being parked to anything metal. At last week’s Safe Routes to School National Conference, two esteemed visitors from Utrecht found no bike racks near the entrance to the Hilton on SW 6th and were forced to lock their rental bikes to a gas main across the street.

Ironically, there are new objects on the mall that look like bike racks and have become popular places to lock up — but it turns out they’re not actually meant for bikes.

Several readers have emailed us in the past few days, saying that TriMet has now placed “No Bikes Please” stickers on what look to be bike racks (see photo at top of post). But, according to TriMet’s Colin Maher, they are places to take a load off while waiting for transit. “These are leaning rails intended to give people something to lean against while waiting for the bus.”

Not bike racks, not tree
protectors, but places for
people to chill.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Victoria Gilbert, one of the readers who contacted us about this, wrote, “I can’t believe that they will not be used by cyclists — when good bike parking is so scarce. It would help if the sticker explained why no bikes–since they seem so well suited for that purpose.”

Another reader who used them routinely for weeks thinking they were new bike racks, was equally shocked when he saw the “No Bikes” sticker:

“I thought they were the best bike racks ever, with a combination of round, lock filling tubes and flats where any locks fit. You can park four bikes on them if everyone’s considerate. And many people use them, they fill up before the hard-edged ribbon staples.”

And finally, the good news…

When I contacted TriMet’s Maher about these confusing not-for-bikes “leaning rails”, he reminded me that construction on the Mall is still not complete. Maher shared a photo of one of their four, newly installed “bike oases” (see photo below). These covered bike parking corrals are lit at night will provide space for an additional 44 bicycles. Maher also pointed out that the new Bike Co-op at Portland State University will have space for 28 bikes. All together, Maher says TriMet will have 130 additional bike spaces when construction of the Mall is complete.

One of four new bike parking “oases” installed by TriMet on the transit mall (this one is located at NW 6th and Couch).
(Photo: TriMet)

What has been your experience with bike parking on the new transit mall?

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Mike
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Mike

I want to know why we can’t vote on who serves on TriMet’s board.

Dave
Guest
Dave

I haven’t had to lock up in the new Mall yet. But I work on fifth and have certainly seen a lot of creative ways to lock up in the past few months. Hopefully the bike oases will provide enough parking. I have to say while they are probably really nice to have I find the idea of “leaning rails” hilarious.

Mike
Guest
Mike

These decisions reflect the fact that TriMet has zero direct accountability to it’s service area population.

You cannot vote on who serves on TriMet’s Board of Directors or who their General Manager is. They all serve at the discretion of the Governor. And with a lame & lame-duck Governor that means that any voice that looks like or sounds like the Portland we know just isn’t being heard.

jeneraldisarray
Guest
jeneraldisarray

I make deliveries by bike and had found the fancy new “racks” on 5th at the US Bancorp Tower to be great places to lock up my bike/trailer for a few minutes.

They were so convenient, I sort of figured that there must be some catch.

True that. Those racks are for leanin’, not for lockin’.

I’m glad that Trimet does have plans for more bike-specific racks, and I hold out hope that even more City-installed staples will be installed in coming months on intersecting streets.

All the new bike corrals on the eastside are awesome, and I’m certain that downtown Mall retailers will coordinate with the city to create even more bike parking near the Mall.

Truthfully, I’m not sure that I would really want to park my bike on the Mall once it’s crowded with transit users. I’ve had a hard enough time extracting my bike/trailer from that Bancorp “rack” without hitting pedestrians, and the MAX service hasn’t even yet begun 🙂

Disastronaut
Guest
Disastronaut

“leaning rails”? Really? That’s a new one on me.

Why didn’t they just put in some of those “sitting benches” for those weary travelers to “take a load off while waiting for transit”?

Matt Picio
Guest

“TriMet architects … require the City to pay for silver, brushed steel racks”

How is it that a semi-public agency which is using city land able to dictate to the city what the city can and cannot do?

Dave (#2) and Disastronaut (#5) – Tri-Met has leaning rails all over the current system – most (all?) of them are circular rails around columns at the MAX stations – also around trash cans at certain MAX stops. I think they’d be more recognizable if Tri-Met had built them according to the existing designs.

John Kangas
Guest
John Kangas

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I wish they’d bothered accepting bids from other manufacturers. My employer would have jumped at the chance to make these racks for half the price, and we would still worry about being undercut by a competitor because of the markup. And we know enough to suggest pipe, because 2-1/2″ stainless pipe (2-7/8″ diameter) is roughly 3/4 the cost of 1/2″x3″ flatbar.

But if they’re stuck on flatbar, they could have their very own radius corner extrusion die paid off easily within this production run at this price. But they didn’t ask around.

Alex Ose
Guest

I wasn’t sure if these were bike staples or not, so I asked a TriMet employee who happened to be standing nearby. He said, “personally, I think it’s fine to lock your bike here.” He was really nice about it and explained the whole leaning rails concept.

jeneraldisarray is on the right track with this– The leaning rails really aren’t good bike parking because they’re in such crowded areas. There’s nothing to be upset about, here, especially when better downtown bike parking is already on the way.

Dan
Guest
Dan

They took away the one in front of my building that was always used. A few blocks away, I noticed a bunch they put in that were not being used. So my experience is they had no idea which were actually being used, which is something they should have done before removing current racks.

Jeff P
Guest
Jeff P

As someone who works at an unassociated/unrelated architectural firm, I have to say that sometimes the best intentions in design go “awry” or better yet – transcend their intent. Leaning rail or bike racks – who cares! Intent be damned, they’re getting used by the public client!

If someone wants something different provide it. Honestly what are they going to do tow a bike? It’s not a parking meter, it’s not a gas meter, it is not a private sign post….park away folks!

Michelle (BTA)
Guest
Michelle (BTA)

One of the specific issues we are discussing with TriMet as well is the deliberate lack of bike racks on bus-stop blocks.

This was meant to keep these blocks clear so that loading and unloading is smoother – but this is also exactly where people often need a bike rack in a hurry! (When their bus shows up with the front rack already full.) If there’s no bike rack within running distance, I won’t be surprised if they panic and lock their bike to a chair or a leaning rail or a trash can.

Once the Mall is operational and the dust has settled, we’ll ask the City and TriMet to shake a lot of these little issues loose. They do share our concerns.

chelsea
Guest
chelsea

while i’m glad there is better parking on the way, this story leaves me a little flabbergasted. bike racks that cost nearly as much as my rent? how is tri-met able to tell the city what to put on public sidewalks? and who the hell decided to get ridiculously expensive bike racks, when simple, cheap, utilitarian bike racks are readily available?

Peter W
Guest

Those ‘leaning rails’ just look out of place.

I like the rails that are built into the old stations (circular rails around columns and such); the old ones seem to fit better into the overall design, and are more aesthetically pleasing.

At first glance these things just look like bike racks, and people will wonder why there are “two types” of bike racks (real racks and leaning racks, er, rails).

PdxMark
Guest
PdxMark

Will Trimet be cutting the locks of bikes secured to the leaning rails, or can we just ignore the “no bikes please” stickers with impunity?

beth h
Guest

I think there’s another interesting point to this situation. The design of the “leaning” rails and the new bus shelters is not only intended to be sleek and futuristic — it’s also intended to actively discourage loitering, especially (though not exclusively) by homeless people.

The old bus mall had a number of wide, roomy, double-sided benches where people could sit while waiting for a bus — or just sit. The old shelters had deep, wrap-around ends to help shelter people from the wind and rain. The new shelters and “leaning rails” are less protective and less convenient BY DESIGN. The City does not want people hanging out for long periods in bus shelters, and they certainly don’t want people sleeping there — even if they have nowhere else to go. The “Sit/Lie” Ordinance may have been ruled unconstitutional, but these designs are de facto implementations of an intent to discourage anything other than constant MOVEMENT.

As for bike parking along the bus mall, now that the staple racks are gone it has become MUCH harder to find real bike parking there. Is this also by design? If so, why? (If not, prove it.) I’d love to hear something real from Trimet on this, and soon.

Sherry
Guest
Sherry

I’m very frustrated with the bike parking outside my building.
I work on SW Yamhill between 5th & 6th and the bike rack outside is loose (the bolts are coming up from the sidewalk)

I’ve requested twice for building maintenance to fix the rack, but they say it is not their responsibility.

The bike rack inside my building is terrible too (it’s the type that you can only lock your front wheel to).

also, my building has many law offices and accounting firms, so a lot of bike messengers need to park outside my building, too.

Dave
Guest
Dave

bet h, I think you’ve nailed it–by being less inviting than the old bus benches and shelters, the prissy business owners downtown can get those icky poor people out of the way a little more easily. Brilliant, ma’am.

Chris
Guest
Chris

Since locking your bike to a railing that is not for stairs and seems to guard the trees is better than locking to a gas main, could we get some protections for out bikes to use those railings as overflow bike parking? It seems that bike parking is not keeping suit with increased ridership year over year. Additionally the temporary bike parking racks have been a wonderful asset at bike events around town over the past year or so.

Jabin
Guest
Jabin

I’ve been using those “leaning racks” for weeks no when I need to lock up on the buss mall. I think the only thing that needs to change is I need a sticker on my bike that says “no trimet please”

Paul C.
Guest
Paul C.

@15 Beth H –
Are you saying that discouraging loitering in bus shelters is a bad thing?

I live on 5th Avenue and believe me, the homeless have found plenty of places to loiter, including but not limited to those giant flower pots (before they were filled with flowers), the new benches and the public toilet near the Greyhound station.

I hope you’re not suggesting that “encouraging constant movement” is a negative goal for a transit mall. I’d like the new bus stops to stay clean, safe and attractive as long as possible.

As for the new mall itself, I enjoy living there and have found the dedicated transit lane to increase my feeling of safety when riding, as it’s easier to predict the movement of a bus when it has its own lane. It’s also fun to look out my window and watch the MAX go by.

Vance Longwell
Guest

PSU bike-co-op, wha…?

Ryan G.
Guest
Ryan G.

It’s true that discouraging loitering and encouraging movement is built in by design in a lot of public-space planning. Good thing? Bad thing? I don’t know, I have a lot of mixed feelings on the issue. For some discussion on the topic, check Mike Davis’ book Ecology of Fear.

Mike M
Guest
Mike M

How long until all of those no’s get scratched off? Turning it into “Bike’s Please” would sure be nice.

beth h
Guest

@ Paul C. (#20)

While it’s painful and occasionally scary to encounter someone sleeping in a bus shelter or even yelling angrily at passersby, it’s even harder to watch emergency personnel haul their body away because they died of exposure.

Until city, state and federal governments work together with schools and faith communities to truly and aggressively CHANGE the way that poverty, mental illness and homelessness are addressed in this society, I’ll take the former over the latter any day.

Stig
Guest
Stig

Trimet will never be considerate of cyclists. They will continue cause frustration and do the bare minimum required.

Convenient cycling = less Trimet users

Conflict of interest.

BURR
Guest
BURR

HaHaHa, I was gonna take some pics of those racks last week and send ’em in to BikePortland but never got around to it. WTF were they thinking? Preventing cyclists from using those racks is not gonna happen.

John Kangas
Guest
John Kangas

OTOH, this is a great example of why we need regulations requiring provision of at least minimum facilities. Least-cost facilities under these requirements are a whole lot nicer than least-cost facilities without. (This being an example of the “ironic” style of least-cost…)

Maybe we can work to add some basic guidelines to those minimum provision regulations? You know, something like:
“Intended locking portion of parking structure shall present no edges with a radius smaller than 1/4 inch”

Elliot
Guest
Elliot

I understand how good design and aesthetics encourages pedestrian traffic, and how this is especially relevant in our transit mall. However, I find it unreasonable that bike racks are included in the same category as other types of street furniture, and that their utility has been compromised as a result.

I recall hearing about a year ago that PBOT was delaying a roll-out of new on-street bike parking corrals until a they came up with a more attractive design. I admire and appreciate the new design they came up with (compare the new corrals downtown with the first generation corrals on Belmont in Sunnyside), but minor aesthetics are hardly a reason to delay such an inexpensive and efficient infrastructure project.

There is no design guideline for restricting ugly cars from using on-street parking… why should bike racks have to be pretty while automobile infrastructure continues to be ugly all the time?

Bike racks are infrastructure, not art. In addition to increasing their cost, these design guidelines have reduced the functionality of the bike racks on the mall. In my experience, flatbar is more likely to scuff a frame than round pipe, and is also more difficult to fit a U-lock around.

Grimm
Guest
Grimm

Apparently the idea is, leaners > cyclists.

I like how they make lean bars. But not benches. Oh no. Bums might us the benches. Those daily bus commuters can lean then. Hah.

Snowflake Seven
Guest

From what I’ve been told recently bike theft is a significant problem on the new Mall. Needless to say I was surprised that with the light rail about to begin full service in the area that the security level isn’t higher.

TonyT
Guest
TTse

“Leaning rails?” Seriously?

So TriMet has taken it upon themselves to create an entirely new class of furniture that just happens to exactly resemble the existing paradigm of where people park their bikes in a place where people might be inclined to park their bike and a sticker is supposed to straighten everything out? Wow.

Design graduate here. And it does NOT take a design graduate to know that this is an epic fail. Wow. Just wow. Stunning.

(The solution to discouraging people from sleeping on benches is to put arm rests that frame each seating space. It’s been done a million times and it works)

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

I decided to take a break this afternoon and count the number of staple racks in the small section around the bus mall where I work. On the bus mall itself (5th and 6th) I counted racks between Stark and Yamhill, I also counted all of the racks on the streets between 5th and 6th and 6th and Broadway (Yamhill, Morrison, Alder, Washington, Stark). I really should have counted those streets between 4th and 5th as well, but ran out of time.

Here’s what I found:

Yamhill between 5th & 6th: 1 staple and 1 rack
Yamhill between 6th & Broadway: 0 racks
5th between Yamhill & Morrison: 6 staples, 1 front wheel rack
6th between Yamhill & Morrison: 8 staples
Morrison between 5th & 6th: 1 staple
Morrison between 6th & Broadway: 0 racks
5th between Morrison & Alder: 1 staple
6th between Morrison & Alder: 0 racks
Alder between 5th & 6th: 4 staples
Alder between 6th & Broadway: 5 staples
5th between Alder & Washington: 2 staples
6th between Alder & Washington: 8 staples
Washington between 5th & 6th: 5 staples
Washington between 6th & Broadway: 5 staples
5th between Washington & Stark: 2 staples
6th between Washington & Stark: 2 staples
Stark between 5th & 6th: 2 staples
Stark between 6th & Broadway: 0 staples

All told that’s 53 staple racks, 1 wave rack and 1 front wheel rack on 18 blocks. There were also street signs you could lock your bike to, but I didn’t count those.

If you only count the staple racks then there are 106 bike parking spots on those 18 blocks, which I’d wager is a bit more than the number of car parking spots that are available on those same blocks (keeping in mind that there are only 6 on-street parking spots on the 8 bus mall blocks, and a reduced number of parking spots on Yamhill and Morrison due to the MAX.

In my walk around this portion of downtown I saw *plenty* of available bike parking space. Maybe some blocks had all of their staple racks full, but right around the corner there were several empty racks. Are some folks not satisfied if they can’t park on the same side of the street as their destination? On the same block? Within 2 blocks? I originally stopped driving downtown because parking was a pain in the ass, but I frequently parked 4 blocks (a quarter of a mile) or more away from work… would cyclists complain if they had to do the same? Sherry, you’re less than a block away from 14 staple racks, is that too far away to park?

I’m probably not going to walk the whole length of the mall counting racks, but it might be worth it to me to figure out the extent to which the lack of bike parking near the bus mall is a perceived problem rather than a real one.

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

One other note, on Yamhill between 5th & 6th there is 1 staple rack and 1 wave rack. In the post above I just said “1 staple and 1 rack”.

GLV
Guest
GLV

There were also street signs you could lock your bike to, but I didn’t count those.

Don’t park your bike on a street sign! They are very easy to steal that way. That’s how my bike got stolen about 2 months ago.

Alexis
Guest
Alexis

I often see bikes piled on eachother ridiculously on the bus mall at PSU. Of course, like one block away there’s space for like 2 dozen bikes next to the PSU bookstore (right by that streetcar stop… its kind of hidden, but theres a bunch of standard black staple racks)

I always park at PSU, which has a massive number of staple racks, so its not really my problem. Yet.

Steven Vance
Guest

Has anyone threatened to remove bikes locked to leaning rails?

I don’t see 130 bike parking spaces sufficiently provides for the demand here.
I also think that many transit agencies fool themselves into thinking a fancy bike parking structure (no matter how someone designed it) solves bike parking issues or will placate people’s concerns.

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

Steven Vance:

You may think that the number of bike parking spaces is insufficient, but as I said, there were plenty of staples that were empty as I made my way around that section of the bus mall. You were never more than a block and a half away from an open staple rack.

Donna
Guest
Donna

I manage a community mental health clinic downtown that also provides drug and alcohol treatment. Quite a few of our clients (especially those with a DUII) ride a bike and it seems to be increasing every month. At present, 4 (out of 16) of the staff commute to work by bike. None of the staff have even tried to park outside. We like our secure and dry indoor parking.

My front desk staff always encourage clients to bring their bikes upstairs. Originally we did that because most of them have crappy locks and it would be very bad for their lives if their bikes got stolen, since most of them are poor. Now I’m glad we do because there simply aren’t enough racks at SW 6th and Washington to accommodate our clients. I’m sure if the clients were parking downstairs, there would be an even bigger parking problem in that vicinity than what we have now.

I know there are folks who work in our building who aren’t permitted by their employers to bring their bikes inside, and I feel bad for them.

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

Donna: There are 8 staple racks on 6th between Alder and Washington. There are 5 more staple racks on Washington between 5th and 6th. There are another 5 staple racks on Washington between 6th and Broadway, and 2 more racks on 6th between Washington and stark.

All told there are *20* staple racks within a block of your office. Those racks will accommodate 40 bikes. How many clients do you have come in with bikes every day?

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

By the way, I took a picture of the covered bike oasis near 6th and Washington today at 12:30pm, there are 6 staple racks and only one bike locked to them. Click here to view the photo.

Donna might also like to know that there’s actually secure bike parking inside the parking lot across from her building, there are a bunch of wave racks on the 3rd floor that people can lock their bikes to that are off the street and right in the view of the people working the booths in the parking lot.

Chuck
Guest
Chuck

cyclist-

maybe you need to try conducting this kind of survey more than once before you start claiming that the bike parking problem is non-existent. you know, to get somewhere close to a rough statistical average on how crowded these racks are. one sampling won’t cut it in my books. you’ll also need to take the time of day into account.

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

Chuck:

I happen to work right down the street from Donna, so I have a pretty good idea of how crowded that racks near her office are in the morning, at lunchtime, at about 4:00pm, and at the end of the business day. I can tell you with a high degree of confidence that at least half of the 40 bike parking spaces within one block of her office are unused at any particular point of time within the day. Simply put: there is no parking problem near her office.

As far as the bus mall in general is concerned, I’ve covered four blocks of the bus mall, which is somewhere between 20 and 26 blocks long, depending on what you consider the end of the mall (20 blocks from Glisan to Market, 26 from Glisan to Jackson). I agree that I should do more, I should go an additional block east to 4th, and then cover parking spots on 4th and on Broadway at all.

I did my staple count at 2:30pm, which seems to me a perfectly good time to take a look around. I do agree I need to cover more of the mall, but I think a 13 block strip right in the middle of the mall would be an adequate sample.

I suspect that no matter how many spaces there are, and no matter how many spaces are available (and no matter how many times I re-walk the same territory) it won’t be enough for some. In my opinion the only way to determine whether or not there are enough spaces on and near the mall is actually to go out, look around, and figure out how many spaces there are, and how many spaces we need.

a
Guest
a

cyclist,
refreshing stuff, thx!

007
Guest
007

I’ve definitely used the new “staples” as a bike rack. It never even entered my mind that they could be considered something worth resting against while waiting for the bus.

Patrick McMahon
Guest
Patrick McMahon

Are the racks in the new “oasis” narrow enough to allow a frame and wheel to be locked to them with a single U-lock? It seemed that the initial flatbar staple racks were two wide and thus didn’t allow for the most frequently used locking method.

are
Guest
are

cyclist 32 makes a good point that people ought to be willing to walk a block or two from where they lock up to wherever the destination is, but I don’t think this addresses the issue raised by michelle 11 that trimet has intentionally removed bike parking from near the transit stops. yes you need some space to get people on and off, but there ought to be more than a staple or two on the same block, so that there can be a reasonably smooth transition from one mode to the the other. the oases are a good idea if there are enough of them, close enough to the more heavily trafficked stops.

john boyd
Guest
john boyd

If your furniture needs instructions, you need different furniture.

Matt Picio
Guest

john (#47), I think that’s the most salient point made so far in this discussion – well-said!

jeneraldisarray
Guest
jeneraldisarray

Since Trimet wisely concentrates bus and light rail traffic on a mere 2 north-south streets, is it reasonable to accept less-than-ideal infrastructure for bicycles on those 2 particular streets?

My attitude is that automobile and bike traffic should not even have been included in the redesign of 5th and 6th avenues so as to facilitate even more efficient pickups/dropoffs/travel times for bus and light rail while traveling through downtown. I don’t get to make these decisions, of course, but smart people do, so we’ll get along all right, I figure.

I can sympathize with the equal facilities argument, but am hesitant to endorse it in this situation. A healthy, user-friendly transit system (which is what Trimet is genuinely striving for) focuses on efficiency, reliability, and comfort. Keeping platform areas clear for passengers to assemble for quick, orderly boarding helps buses stay on schedule. Places to rest one’s weight and belongings, be they benches or rails, bring a moment of relative ease to one’s wait.

Perhaps the Mall is not really the best place to focus our desires/demands for better bike facilities.