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Renovation at Powell’s Books leads to uncertain future for iconic bike racks

Posted by on October 16th, 2013 at 10:37 am

Mia Birk at Powell's Books-4

The racks at Powell’s on Burnside and 10th have the
names of bike books and their authors on them.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

An upcoming renovation project at Powell’s Books in downtown Portland has put the future of its iconic, bike book themed racks at the corner of SW 10th and Burnside in question.

According to the land use review notice (PDF) available via the Portland Bureau of Development Services (and brought to our attention by Doug Klotz), Powell’s is planning a storefront improvement project that will bring changes to the south and east facades of their flagship downtown store. The plans call for a new “porch” design that will eliminate the existing art bike racks and swap them out for nine PBOT-issued staple racks that will be placed on a new curb extension at the northwest corner of 10th and Burnside. (Note: These new racks won’t be an on-street bike parking “corral”, they’ll be placed on an extension of the existing sidewalk that will use space currently occupied by two auto parking spaces.)

Because Powell’s will be technically eliminating short-term bike parking on their premises, they will pay into PBOT’s Bicycle Parking Fund in order pay for the new staple racks.

Here’s the excerpt from the land use notice that refers to the changes (emphases mine):

Additional improvements include changes to the corner entry at NW 10th Avenue and W Burnside Street, with a new wood soffit under the “porch”, new storefront, and existing short-term bike parking removed from this location. Non-conforming upgrades are triggered by the proposal, with the only applicable upgrade to this site being a requirement for eighteen (18) short-term bicycle parking spaces. The applicant is choosing to pay into the City’s bike fund for the bicycle parking, which will be placed in the right-of-way by Transporation. In addition, the applicant proposes eliminating two on-street parking spaces on NW 10th Avenue, and adding a new planter to the newly enlarged sidewalk area.

And here’s a detail of the plan drawings:

Detail of Powell’s storefront renovation project.
(Ernest R. Munch Architect Urban Planner)

So, while bike parking capacity will be maintained, according to the plan drawings, the new facility won’t be covered. For some that trade-off stings a little less because the current art racks aren’t that functional. According to discussion on the Active Right of Way email list (where Klotz shared this news), many people prefer the bike corral at the Powell’s entrance on NW Couch.

As for what Powell’s plans to do with the beloved, bicycle-book themed racks, we spoke to the project architect yesterday. Ernest Munch said they are aware that the existing racks are difficult to use, but he added that, “We like it and our intent is to use it on-site. Perhaps inside the building.”

Public comments on the renovation plans will be accepted until November 1st. Download the land use review notice for more info (PDF).

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  • Russ Roca October 16, 2013 at 10:45 am

    Oh no. I remember visiting years ago and seeing that rack and it added to the mystique and awesomeness of bikey PDX. Sad.

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  • Alex Reed October 16, 2013 at 10:59 am

    I can’t say I’m super sad, personally. The book-themed racks have narrow slots (annoying when your bike has a basket), provide only one point of support per bike, and are difficult to maneuver bikes into and out of because of space constraints and the fence.

    I might miss the cuteness and the cover a little bit, but the ensuing improvements (if they add space and keep bike parking capacity constant) seem worth it to me. I have to say that making covered bike parking into the best practice here is not a super high priority for me. As far as I can tell, everyone who bikes for transportation deals with the fact that their bike might get wet every now and then. Doesn’t seem like that big a deal to me, these are all-weather vehicles after all 🙂

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  • Champs October 16, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Inside the building, as a rail along the curb extension, or maybe in front of a local library?

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    • Terry D October 16, 2013 at 11:35 am

      Great idea. As a bicycling bookworm I have always had a love hate relationship with those racks.

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  • Rider49er October 16, 2013 at 11:27 am

    I love covered bike parking. More please, not less.

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  • BURR October 16, 2013 at 11:38 am

    I don’t believe those art racks meet the current PBOT standard for bike racks, anyway; the middle sections of the racks are too narrow to properly support and lock a bike frame.

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  • q`Tzal October 16, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Put up a commemorative sculpture but offer secured parking inside somewhere nearby, “parking” validated with purchase.

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  • CaptainKarma October 16, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Seems like don’t they have some bike parking in the car park garage? Also I wonder if Powell’s might be able to shine a light on the new street parking area? I always felt the security was better parking on the porch, all lit up and all…

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  • Anne Hawley October 16, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    I enjoy arty bike racks. The sooner designers/sculptors can be held to some practical standards for functionality (and still be arty and designy), the better. Meanwhile, it’s nice to know that the old Powell’s racks will be repurposed somehow.

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  • Todd Boulanger October 16, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    With the permitting process review…will there be any updates for secure (covered) long term bike parking for staff?

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  • John Liu
    John Liu October 16, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    I wonder if an artist would be interested in making some better “art racks” to go on the sidewalk bump out, in place of the staples. It is good signage and PR for Powell’s.

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  • Beth October 16, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    I won’t miss those racks. They were impossible to use and I gave up on them early on. They’re too narrow and too closely spaced for real-world bicycles.

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  • kittens October 17, 2013 at 4:35 am

    I always thought those were giant safety pins. Regardless, they are annoying to lock a bike to so I use the railing to lock.

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  • Martin Vandepas October 17, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Those racks are really hard to use. Classic form over function failure in design. Cant we have a creative rack that works well?

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  • kww October 17, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    They are going to make that corner sidewalk even tighter, bad idea…

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  • chipmunk October 18, 2013 at 9:03 am

    The sidewalk is actually getting 6′ wider with 2 curb cuts for crossing instead of 1 small diagonal. The bike parking relocated to the curb extension is freeing up the now tight space on the porch that is difficult for people to enter and exit, especially with bikers trying to park there and crossing in front of the doors. This plan gives more access to the front doors, a bigger sidewalk, and more space to lock up bikes on racks that will be to code. The art racks will be repurposed for something inside that will probably be more functional than they currently are. The new racks will double the current porch parking capacity. What’s not to like?

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