(Photo © J. Maus)
North Portland resident Travis Wittwer loves bike racks and bike parking. That’s nothing extraordinary on the surface; I mean, I like bike racks too, and I’m sure many of you appreciate them and even get excited/happy at the sight of an on-street bike corral or a whimsical art rack. But Travis really loves bike racks. He hunts them.
I’ve known about Travis’s interest in bike racks ever since he and friend debuted their hilarious “Wild Creatures” film at Filmed by Bike in 2008. It was a spoof of The Crocodile Hunter but instead of crocs, they hunted bike racks (it was followed up last year with “Rack Attack!“). Since then, his interest in bike racks has not waned. The other day he sent me a Google Map of Portland bike racks, complete with photos and annotations (see it below).
Travis’s relationship with racks has clearly reached a newsworthy level, so I decided it was time to ask him a few questions about it…
Why do you have such an interest in bike racks?
Sunnyside School in southeast Portland.
(Photo: Travis Wittwer)
“Racks are these silent creatures that hang about in the city. They do not do much and are just there. However, they are a indicator of how well a bike community is doing. You only needs racks if they are being used. Portland has over 4624 bike racks last time I checked. I have seen bike corrals grow and pop up all over the city.
There is nothing fancy about racks. Shear utility. The blandness of racks have spurred some to come up with fun ways to provide a rack, but do so with personality. People walking down the street who see a rack shaped like a coffee cup, or a tooth, or a pair of glasses on the sidewalk smile. The people interact with their city. It is like having art in the living room.
There is also a science to rack placement and I have seen many poorly placed racks: staples turned against the flow of pedestrian traffic; wave racks that put the bike’s front wheel too close to the building so they are useless; or racks made out of inferior materials. This appeals to the city planning geek in me.
Racks are quiet, unassuming, useful things. They are almost invisible and often forgotten, but serve our city well.”
How long have you been tracking them?
“Racks are these silent creatures… they are a indicator of how well a bike community is doing.”
“I have watched bike racks for several years, but really started tracking them with a “Bike Rack” photo group on Flickr two years ago. The goal was to share bike racks and get into discussions on what works and doesn’t, share cool ways to achieve a bike rack or bike station, share arty racks. This group even lead to the creation of a group showing Bad Bike Rack use/placement.
I have met several people in Portland, USA, and other countries who share an interest in bike racks and what they symbolize for bike culture.”
[Travis’s Google Map of Portland bike racks]
View Portland, Oregon Bike Racks in a larger map
What’s was your motivation in creating the Google Map of racks? Just a hobby? Or are you really trying to provide a service so people can find them?
“I have a contact that I met through the bike rack group on Flickr whose opinions and observations on racks were serious and informative. He came to visit Portland for the first time this year to see the city and go to Filmed by Bike. In preparation of his arrival, I set up the Google map so he could tour the city a bit, looking at racks. Soon after creating it for him, I enjoyed having the racks in a place where I could see the location to other racks, businesses, and a thumbnail image.
It is just a hobby. A way for me to engage with Portland, people who like bikes, and the way the city runs.”
“In this age of nearly limitless city data, it would be cool to have an app for racks so people could find the nearest one (not that there is a lack of racks in Portland) or find a particularly interesting shaped one. I thought that there may be other people in the area that would enjoy the project of cataloging racks in Portland. It appears that someone has already gone in and started to organize the racks by “good” or “bad”, giving each option a different colored marker.
Anyone can ask for editing rights to the map so that this can be larger than just me and a few others.
In the future, I’d like to see Portland have a bike rack art installation or contest (similar to New York City) that would serve as a way to bring the bike community together. It could be a celebration with a ride, brochure, explanation of bikes in the city, used for information and promotion of bikes…. Perhaps a bike scavenger hunt for Pedalpalooza next year. Perhaps, a cargo bike bike rack… Hmmmm.”
Thanks for sharing your interest in racks with us Travis. Good luck with your future hunts and projects. (By the way, Travis is also a cargo bike enthusiast, but that’s a subject for another day).