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A real estate Wonk Night: Let’s reform Portland’s bike parking code

Posted by on October 1st, 2013 at 10:04 am

bike parking downtown-5

How much is enough?
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland’s eight-page bike parking code is overdue for an overhaul. A Portland planning commissioner is organizing a one-night workshop to get things going, and we’re helping.

For three months, we’ve been using BikePortland’s new Real Estate Beat to show how bikes and urban development in central Portland have become joined at the hip in residential, office and retail development alike. And whatever the project, there’s a common theme: What does adequate bike parking look like?

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Answering that question has to be part of Portland’s plan to make biking a good option for everyone, says Portland Planning and Sustainability Commissioner Chris Smith.

“We’ve sort of got to the point where it’s possible and somewhat safe, and now we’re going for making it safe and convenient,” Smith said Monday. “Now it’s time to look at parking through that lens.”

Smith reached out to Active Right of Way, a group of “smart people who actually sit around and read code” that arose in 2009 from PSU’s free Traffic and Transportation class, and to Lancaster Engineering, which is hosting as it has previous BikePortland Wonk Nights. We’ll be joining in, too, to cover this proposal as it evolves.

To get your gears turning about how Portland bike parking code could be changed, here are some questions Smith proposed in an email last month:

– Are the parking ratios for commercial buildings sufficient? (they have not been updated recently)
-Do we need specific design standards for wall racks (or limits on what % of parking can be accommodated on wall racks)?
– Do we need provisions for bakfiets and cargo bike parking?
– Should a bicycle parking space be defined in three dimensions rather than as a footprint?

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City Planning Commissioner Chris Smith.

Smith has also suggested that the city’s requirements for transit stations may need some revision.

Smith, who recently started his second four-year term on the planning commission, said his understanding of the importance of bike parking code was shaped by incremental changes the body has made during his first term.

“It used to be one bike parking space for every four units, which was obviously completely inadequate,” Smith said. “We had condos that were converting every square inch to bike parking once people moved in. … It was pretty clear that the market wasn’t figuring things out for themselves.”

Public bike parking is one thing that Portland unquestionably does better than other North American cities — something I was constantly reminded of last week in a trip to Vancouver BC, which is investing rapidly in good bikeways but hasn’t yet dealt with the bikes that are locked to parking meters, street signs and fences throughout its central city. But good private bike parking is something many developers and architects don’t understand yet, even here.

I asked Smith what his mission was for the evening.

“If you’re going to go to the city and say have a couple planners work on this for a couple months, then you’ve got to make a case for why it’s important, as opposed to working on the tree code or something else,” he said. “Once we have the case, I think we’ll plot out the strategy.”

The event is 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 29th, at Lancaster’s office, 321 SW 4th Ave. #400 (right next door to ours!). Everyone’s welcome. The building’s doors lock around 5:30, so if you arrive late, call Lancaster’s Kirk Paulsen at 503-858-2042 or the office phone: 503-248-0313.

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  • Chris Smith October 1, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Thanks for getting the word out!

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  • Kirk October 1, 2013 at 10:58 am

    I expect a good crowd now that it is featured on BP! Looking forward to what should be a vibrant discussion – big thanks to Chris for alerting us to how outdated the code currently is.

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  • 9watts October 1, 2013 at 11:03 am

    I’ll be curious to hear how far into the future those present are inclined to peer. Tomorrow’s demand for bike parking could easily be far greater than today’s, quite apart from the positive feedback effects we might imagine from providing more now. Thanks, Chris & Michael.

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  • Brian Davis October 1, 2013 at 11:13 am

    This is a great topic and I’m glad we’re tackling it! Hopefully it will bear fruit in the near future.

    It’s good that everyone has contact info so they can call us should they be locked out, but we’ll talk to the landlords to ensure that the doors are open late…

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  • Todd Boulanger October 1, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Thanks again for Lancaster Engineering’s strong support for improved bicycling!

    …though will the room be big enough for this wonk night? (Plan B location?)

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  • Andrew Seger October 1, 2013 at 11:30 am

    This looks like a great event. My $.02 on bike parking: some sort of minimal design guidelines for creative bike racks. Much as I love the whimsical bike racks many of them don’t work particularly well as bike racks. Perhaps there could be a simple test whereby a PBOT employee tries to lock a bike with a standard U-lock to your newfangled shiny design?

    Also, parking with transit: I know stimulus funds payed for the (three?) secure bike parking facilities by trimet stops, but I was really hoping there would be more by now. Priorities around where so we can start pushing would be a fantastic outcome. I nominate Goose Hollow as a natural hub, since Sunset and Beaverton TC both have them; and the max is already overfull during rush hour.

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  • davemess October 1, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    “Public bike parking is one thing that Portland unquestionably does better than other North American cities”

    Well yes, but compared to Asia and others we are woefully far behind on COVERED bike parking. I’m consistently amazed that a city with as much rain as us has such minimal covered parking.

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  • Champs October 1, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Basic rules would solve most problematic designs.

    Remove: front wheel racks
    Restrict: (traditional) wave racks
    Require: minimum clearance of 18″ wall, 24″ adjacent rack, 6′ total length
    Recommend: 9′ length clearance, rain cover (FFS!)

    Complex policy seems more like The Oregon Way, but so is passive aggression. You can’t make a stink when compliance is easy! Let the experiment run for 10 years. Not every new idea will be great, but the bad ones shouldn’t get anybody hurt.

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    • buny October 1, 2013 at 2:21 pm

      Require: no new racks made out of round tubing.

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      • Ted Buehler October 1, 2013 at 2:25 pm

        Why not — easy to cut? I like round because it doesn’t ding up the paint as much as the rectangular ones on the transit malls.

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        • buny October 1, 2013 at 7:22 pm

          a pipe cutter (the kind used by plumbers) can cut though a round rack quick and silent. examples of this can be found at PCC s.e center and on hawthorne in front of mulligans bar. not only does the bike get stolen but it leaves the rack useless. i don’t know what the alternative would be, i hate square racks and the transit mall ones also. maybe oval?

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          • gutterbunnybikes October 1, 2013 at 10:12 pm

            keep em round and fill them with cement reinforced with wire mesh before installation, won’t be much that could get through that without time, effort, and multiple tools.

            If you really want it tough use quartz as an aggregate in the cement.

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            • Scott October 3, 2013 at 9:46 am

              My .02 – Agreed on the round tube…WAY too easy for a thief, plus any type of powdercoat eventually rusts, and requires yearly upkeep. Took the train to Seattle and down on Bell St. they have bike racks with a integrated bumper and square tube to deter theft (part of a really cool redevelopment with an integrated linear park as part of the roadway). I saw a small label on the bottom of one of the racks that said Sportworks. I I looked and it is called a No-Scratch rack. Look them up: Sportworks NW out of Seattle. Interestingly enough, they were also the creator of the bus transit bike racks that you see all over Portland, so they have been in the business for a while.

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              • Scott Mizée October 3, 2013 at 11:05 am

                Scott- We have the Sportworks No Scratch Rack installed here at the BikeSPA Lab. We have been testing them for over a year now and everyone is really pleased with their performance and aesthetics. I will bring a sample to the wonk night so others can see what you are talking about.

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        • Scott Mizée October 3, 2013 at 11:06 am

          Ted Please come visit the BikeSPA Lab. I can show you some options.

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  • BURR October 1, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    Good luck with this. For several years in the 90s, I worked on the last revision of the city’s bike parking standards. Developers, the Portland Business Alliance, and in general most commercial interests fought it every step of the way…

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    • BURR October 1, 2013 at 2:56 pm

      I would add that, despite the current standards, developers and their contractors still exhibit a remarkable ability to install racks incorrectly, in inappropriate places, or both.

      This part of the code relies on enforcement by BDS, and not by PBOT; and apparently, BDS is as clueless and ignorant as the developers and their contractors.

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  • Kiel Johnson
    Kiel Johnson October 1, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    what about event parking? are there any rules regarding requiring bicycle parking at events? I know SF has this.

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    • John Landolfe October 2, 2013 at 12:25 pm

      I smell a business development strategy.

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      • Scott October 2, 2013 at 1:18 pm

        🙂 yes, lots of opportunity for business development in this area…

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  • Scott Mizée October 1, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    Looking forward to it! Can’t wait for some lively bike parking discussion!

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  • gutterbunnybikes October 1, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Convert all street side parking within (x) number of feet of all intersections in commercial and high density residential zones to bike parking. This would allow many (I’d guess 20-30 depending on bike sizes and rack layouts) bikes to be parked at most corners in the city (or 80 -120 or more at each intersection).

    Added bonuses: It would also increase visibility at those intersections when taller vehicles are parked too close to the corner for all road and sidewalk traffic. And in many cases remove racks on the sidewalks opening up more pedestrian access and deterring cyclists from even riding on the sidewalks as well.

    Higher density bike racks could potentially decrease bike theft too since there would likely be a steadier stream of bike rack users.

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    • Chris I October 2, 2013 at 8:39 am

      This is a fantastic idea. Cars should not be parking within 15ft of a corner anyway. This would solve that problem and create hundreds of bike parking spots that don’t intrude on the sidewalk space.

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  • Jonathan Gordon October 2, 2013 at 11:59 am

    They just removed the covered bike racks at Mt. Scott Community Center because of multiple bike thefts. The uncovered racks that are visible from the door where the staff sit remain and haven’t had any issues. I wonder if a motion-activated light and a well-placed mirror might have been enough to prevent further thievery.

    I don’t know if it’s out of scope for the discussion, but guidelines for what creates a secure parking space might be interesting.

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  • John Landolfe October 2, 2013 at 12:28 pm


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