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OHSU’s Go By Bike Valet has doubled its users in three years

Posted by on May 20th, 2016 at 10:12 am

Go By Bike shop in South Waterfront-23

The valet in 2012. It’s co-funded by OHSU and the private bike shop that operates nearby.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

One of Portland’s most unusual experiments in privately funded bike promotion keeps growing and growing.

With a tram flying overhead, a raised bike lane across the street, a traffic signal shipped in from Europe and a streetcar running right through the middle of a two-lane street, the intersection next to Go By Bike Valet would be one of the most unusual locations in the United States even without 378 bikes valet-parked next to it — but that’s exactly what happened May 10 and 11, setting a new volume record for the valet launched in 2012.

Powered by improvements to Moody and the new Tilikum Crossing, valet usage is up 23 percent in the first four months of this year. But it had already been growing steadily every year — and the reasons for that success are relevant to any city looking for ways to deal with auto congestion and car parking shortages.

bike valet

The valet is largely the creation of two creative Portlanders: John Landolfe, transportation options coordinator for Oregon Health and Science University, and Kiel Johnson, owner of the Go By Bike Shop.

Back spring 2010, soon after the Aerial Tram opened connecting the South Waterfront to OHSU’s hillside campus, Landolfe noticed that people had begun biking to the base of the tram and wrote an email to BikePortland pitching it as the perfect location for a new bike shop:

Landolfe says he can imagine a doctor or EMT or office assistant dropping off his or her bike at the waterfront, riding the tram up the hill, and returning to a tuned up ride on the way home. “It’d be a great arrangement for the cyclist, the shop owner, and the local economy.”

One of the people who saw our post was Kiel Johnson, a 23-year-old recent graduate of Lewis and Clark College who had traveled to Copenhagen as a student and started reading BikePortland soon after. He’d then become deeply interested in bicycles, founded something he called a “bike train” for Beach Elementary and was looking for a way to combine his belief in biking with a job that could get him through the recession.

What started as a no-frills pitch to Landolfe to operate a bike shop out of an old camping trailer evolved into a combination bike shop and valet inspired in part by similar services in Europe. Open from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and free to the public, it operates on otherwise hard-to-use space beneath the tram, which it rents from the City of Portland for $2,500 a year.

The old camper doesn’t exactly fit in with the modern lines of other buildings in the South Waterfront.

OHSU, eager to maximize ridership of its tram and take pressure off Marquam Hill’s pricey, crowded parking garages, covers some of the costs for Johnson and his four employees, and shop revenue covers the rest.

It’s also become maybe the single most iconic symbol of Portland’s bike culture, visited regularly by out-of-town officials and study tours. Streetfilms visited in late 2013 to make this video:

As of this season, the valet has capacity for 400 bikes, which will be barely enough to get through this summer if the 23 percent growth trend continues. These figures don’t include what Johnson estimates as 100 to 150 non-valet bike parking spaces near the tram, which are frequently full.

I asked Johnson why he thought valet usage keeps rising.

“Everybody who rides the tram has to go over and see all those bikes parked there, and at least for a moment every day, think about, Oh, it’s so cool that all these people ride their bikes. Maybe I should do that too.
— Kiel Johnson, Go By Bike owner

“I think a lot of it has to do with the city’s investment on Moody and the bridge,” he said. “And I think there’s something also to just not having to worry about repairs. You know, if you get a flat tire, there’s somebody there who can fix it for you on the spot. And we probably see between two and five flat tires every day. That’s two and five people who if there wasn’t a bike shop right there would be like, riding a bike sucks and I have to figure out how to get me and my bike with a flat tire home.

“And I think that it’s just becoming a lot more sort of socially normal at OHSU to ride your bike to work,” Johnson went on. “I think the valet is very visible advertisement that everybody who rides the tram has to go over and see all those bikes parked there, and at least for a moment every day, think about, Oh, it’s so cool that all these people ride their bikes. Maybe I should do that too.

(Video by Johnson, who obviously thinks they should do that too.)

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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41 Comments
  • John Lascurettes May 20, 2016 at 11:02 am

    That’s what bike utopia is supposed to start looking like. Well done, OHSU.

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  • soren May 20, 2016 at 11:09 am

    The $20 a month bike incentive probably has something to do with this too.

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    • Nathan Alan May 20, 2016 at 7:09 pm

      Eh. My workplace offers the same incentive (for 80% ridership) and it’s both too little (in my opinion) and too much hassle to deal with. The twenty dollars is not worth the time I have to put in to get it. It’s not much of an incentive even if were easy to deal with (compared to if I drove.)

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      • soren May 21, 2016 at 2:45 pm

        The OHSU incentive only requires a “click” on a web site. Previously, it required getting a card punched and that was a hassle for me (but convenient for those who ride the tram).

        I agree that the incentive is too modest and especially so since mass transit users and people who drive get far larger federal tax credit incentives.

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  • Spiffy May 20, 2016 at 11:15 am

    “a traffic signal shipped in from Europe”

    which one is this?

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. May 20, 2016 at 11:26 am

    South Waterfront is our best model for shaping Portland growth going forward. There are even pedestrianized blocks between Moody and Bond!

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    • lop May 21, 2016 at 5:45 pm

      I would hope a model for future growth would include a closer grocery store.

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    • 9watts May 21, 2016 at 9:55 pm

      A resoundingly positive comment from Adam H.

      Made my day!

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  • mw May 20, 2016 at 11:34 am

    Another probably huge factor in high bike commuting rate (as well as high public transit use) at OHSU is OHSU’s refusal to increase parking capacity AND charging a lot of money for the privilege of getting a parking pass.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. May 20, 2016 at 11:36 am

      It’s almost as if making driving more expensive promotes the use of other modes!

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) May 20, 2016 at 11:40 am

      If OHSU charged as much for parking passes as it costs to add parking up there, you can bet they wouldn’t have a years-long waiting list.

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      • Ted Timmons (Contributor) May 20, 2016 at 11:45 am

        You should see the comments on their intranet about parking.

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        • John Lascurettes May 20, 2016 at 12:10 pm

          Share some? 🙂

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          • Ted Timmons (Contributor) May 20, 2016 at 12:13 pm

            OHSU should pay for parking, it’s outrageous that the waiting list is 3 years long, it’s silly they don’t build more parking, rates went up last year and up AGAIN this year (~2% each year).

            Predictable stuff, really. It does suck to be up on the hill, transit isn’t always easy (esp. for different shifts). But.. y’know, trip reduction isn’t exclusive to OHSU.

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            • Social Engineer May 20, 2016 at 12:50 pm

              Well let’s look at the current and distant future transit situation for OHSU…

              The aerial tram only runs until 9:30 on weeknights and doesn’t run at all on Sundays. It’s also getting pretty close to capacity during peak times.

              Line 8 takes slow and winding Terwiliger Blvd to get to the campus and is also pretty crowded during peak times. There are a myriad of express routes but they only run during peak periods, for the most part.

              Metro decided not to “walk the talk” and chose a penny wise/pound foolish Barbur alignment for SW Corridor, with miles of non-existent transit shed due to topography. This alignment will also require a separate funicular/escalator connection somewhere along the hillside.

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              • Ted Timmons (Contributor) May 20, 2016 at 2:48 pm

                The “tunnel to OHSU” alignment would have been the best, in my mind. Oh well.

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              • 9watts May 21, 2016 at 9:57 pm

                This is what population growth looks like.
                Someone had to say it.

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            • Kyle Banerjee May 20, 2016 at 1:09 pm

              Unless what’s going on in South Waterfront has really opened things up, wait list is 8 years, not 3 (i.e. employees who haven’t been here a million years shouldn’t expect to park) if you just have regular priority.

              BTW, parking is not all on OHSU. City of Portland controls most of the parking, and they are not willing to add more.

              In any case, the last thing the hill needs is more cars. Traffic on the hill is already hopeless and crazy slow, and that’s even if you’re on a bike and can go by everyone just stuck in a line.

              If you travel at off hours when a car can actually move, there’s plenty of parking.

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    • Steve B. May 20, 2016 at 2:21 pm

      This is a HUGE factor. I have friends who work at OHSU who switched from night to day shift, when the parking is much harder to come by and they all end up bike commuting whereas before they would drive most of the time.

      Beyond OHSU and Downtown, I think we’re starting to see similar impacts of limited parking in the CES.

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  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley May 20, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    I really enjoyed Kiel’s video. I found my way to his establishment from my downtown office at lunchtime one day a few years back. It was kind of by accident: I just decided I’d like to ride the tram, and I had no prior knowledge of the area’s other infrastructure. The separated bike lanes, the special signal, the vast and magical-seeming bike parking lot (I had no idea I was supposed to log in! I just parked near the food cart and rode the tram. Whoops) was such a great experience!

    If I had bike-riding visitors, I’d take them there. It would be so, so wonderful to have more of this kind of cohesive non-car infrastructure in Portland.

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  • Kyle Banerjee May 20, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    soren
    The $20 a month bike incentive probably has something to do with this too.

    I’d say it’s because you have to be out of your mind to take any other form of transport.

    Going down the hill is WAY faster on a bike because the cars are consistently backed up (it’s not that rare for it to be faster to walk) and even if parking weren’t hopeless, the roads are too choked up to provide any speed benefit over non motorized transport.

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    • soren May 20, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      and for me going up the hill is way faster than the tram…

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      • Kyle Banerjee May 21, 2016 at 5:54 am

        Always amazed me how few people ride up the hill — it’s noticeably faster. By the time you get to the tram wait for it to load/unload, do the ride, unload, walk through to the road, it’s significantly faster to pedal up. Plus, you get a lot more space.

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  • Go By Bike
    Go By Bike May 20, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    Children’s Hospital in Seattle pays employees $4 a day but they do not have the bike ridership we do (and they also have some nice facilities next to them like Burke Gilman Trail). There just isn’t the same culture though and all the bikes are tucked away in corners of the parking garages. There biggest success has been switching everyone to daily car parking passes.

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  • Kate Laudermilk (Contributor) May 20, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    In the months leading up to the shop and valet opening in 2012 I passed Kiel Johnson on my bike nearly every single day as he worked tirelessly on that trailer in his front yard. I didn’t know him then — and in fact thought he might be crazy. Little did I know that trailer would go on to be a Portland icon and that crazy man would become my husband. Cheers to the the individuals that have made Go By Bike a reality!

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    • Spiffy May 20, 2016 at 3:43 pm

      that’s really adorable…

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  • stephanlindner May 20, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    Thanks for this post — I work for OHSU at the waterfront and *love* the bike valet!
    Inspired by Cophagenize’s the arrogance of space, I was wondering whether it wouldn’t be cool to report / show how much parking space we would need if all the bike commuters used cars. That is in my view a great way to demonstrate how much space we waste by parking cars (and make people start realize that cars as a primary way to organize city transportation is really expensive and wasteful).

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    • Charles McCarthy May 21, 2016 at 7:24 am

      I came across a bike rack in Aarhus, Norway that was in the form of the outline of an automobile; it bore the legend “10 bikes = 1 car.” I think that’s close to correct.

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  • stephanlindner May 20, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    Sorry for the multiple posts — forgot the link to the Copenhagenize reference:
    http://www.copenhagenize.com/2015/12/arrogance-of-parking-space-copenhagen.html

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  • Jim Lee May 20, 2016 at 4:41 pm

    If ODOT/PBOT had anything to do with this there would have been 14,846 studies/plans aiming for a possible opening in 2385.

    Looking at you Matt. Looking at you, Roger.

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  • Mike May 20, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    How nice that their partner, Salem Hospital, put a lot of money into the anti-transit tax ballot initiative last year, knocked down historic building and old oaks for more (unnecessary) car parking and has crappy bike parking. I guess OHSU only thinks Portlander care about their community.

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    • Mumford May 20, 2016 at 7:02 pm

      Harsh. OHSU has a clinical affiliation with Salem Health. The two institutions still have separate executives, administrative staff and governing boards. Salem is a private non-profit and OHSU is a public institution that reports to the Governor. The two have completely different cultures.

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  • Vera May 20, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    I am a huge fan of the bike valet but I never use it because I find biking on Naito or even Corbett to reach it too scary. . . especially with my 1 year old in tow. And this is coming from someone who commuted in LA by bike. I hope Portland completes the circuit by investing in bike infrastructure in the rest of South Portland.

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  • Julie Davis May 22, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Ugh. When I went to OHSU I had to bike up that hill. Was hardly anyone doing it 20 years ago. Glad to see the change.

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