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The bike parking at Portland City Hall is really bad

Posted by on January 11th, 2018 at 11:52 am

This Portlandia themed rack is all that’s left of bike parking at City Hall’s main entrance.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

You’d think a city with a storied bike-friendly legacy and arguably the best bike parking facilities and policies in North America would make the main entrance to its City Hall a testament to those values. But that’s not the case. In fact, for some reason the bike parking at Portland City Hall’s SW 4th Street entrance has gotten much worse in the past several months.

They “put a bird on it,” but they also removed the racks that actually worked.

I started to notice the changes last fall and have seen a steady stream of gripes about it on Twitter. It’s also been a common topic of lock-up talk (which is sort of like a bicycle riders’ version of “water cooler talk”).

Here’s some historical context: Since at least 2007 there was a PBOT-issued corral of blue staple racks on the north side of the entrance with capacity for six bikes. In fall of that year, former Mayor and transportation commissioner Sam Adams added 13 more staples (capacity for 32 bikes) to handle an increase in bike use during the annual Bike Commute Challenge event. Adams tried to make those racks permanent, but they were eventually removed. Then in April of 2008, City Hall added another corral on the south side of the entrance, boosting overall capacity to 12 spaces.

city hall bike racks

Temporary corrals in 2007 that former Mayor Sam Adams hoped to make permanent.
New bike racks at City Hall-3.jpg

Corral on the south side that has since been removed.

In 2016, the City added two Biketown stations to the same plaza, while keeping both corrals. This boosted the total to 12 standard spaces and 15 bike share spaces.

Then last fall, both of the corrals were removed to make way for an art rack. Jen Clodius with the Office of Management and Finance (they oversee City Hall facilities) told me on the phone yesterday that the new rack was a gift from the crew of “Portlandia” — the hit IFC comedy series.

PBOT says the capacity of this rack is 10-12 bikes.

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Unfortunately, as if often the case with art racks and other attempts to improve on the standard U-shaped “staple” rack, this Portlandia rack doesn’t work very well. The tubing is square and has a larger diameter than the standard PBOT-issued blue staple racks (which means my u-lock can’t reach around my wheel, frame, and the rack tubing). The tubing is also a bit too high and it bends around in a way that reduces capacity and functionality of the rack itself. Based on my observations, the Portlandia rack can only fit about 5-6 bikes reasonably well. That means capacity at the main entrance to City Hall is now just half of what is was — and it’s much lower quality.

It’s very common for people to lock up to the ramp railings at City Hall when other spaces are full.

Lest you think I’m just another “whining cyclist,” the rack outside City Hall doesn’t even pass the City of Portland’s code requirements for bicycle parking. As published in Administrative Rule TRN-10.09, City Code includes a requirement that the bicycle frame must be supported horizontally at two or more places. City Code also says bike parking spaces should be “intuitive to users,” “accessible without moving another bicycle,” “a minimum of 18 inches wide between the two points of contact,” and so on.

“We want people to know that Portland City Hall is incredibly bike friendy.”
— Brendan Finn, Chief of Staff for Commissioner Dan Saltzman

The Portlandia rack offers only two spaces that meet that criteria. And that’s being generous without measuring the diameter and height of the tubing (which I suspect is also out of code).

I asked PBOT Communications Director John Brady to help shed some light on the situation. He claimed that capacity on the Portlandia rack is 10-12 bikes, “Which is an adequate supply for the parking demand.”

When I questioned that capacity figure and asked how he defines “adequate supply,” Brady replied by saying that the Portlandia rack doesn’t have to meet PBOT’s guidelines. “As long as the racks are installed to the specifications of the building code, the owners/responsible public agency can install racks to their liking. We don’t regulate that.” Brady then referred me to Clodius with the Office of Management and Finance.

Clodius also feels the capacity of the Portlandia rack is 10 bikes, “Technically that’s two spaces less than the PBOT racks that were there,” she told me. “However,” she added, “There’s also a bike rack on the 5th Avenue side which has another 10-12 spaces, so instead of going down two we’re actually up 10 if you look at both sides of the street.”

Brendan Finn is chief of staff City Commissioner Dan Saltzman (who happens to oversee PBOT). Finn has biked to City Hall for 18 years. He, like many City Hall staffers, brings his bike inside. He hasn’t locked up outside since getting a bike stolen in 2001. In a phone interview this morning, Finn said, “I think it’s really important for us to have good bike parking because we want people to get here by all forms of transportation — especially active ones like cycling.” As for the Portlandia rack, Finn said he’s grateful for it as a gesture of goodwill from a partner. “We’re not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, we love that show,” he said.

The Portlandia rack is here to stay, Finn says, but he’s aware of concerns that it doesn’t function well. He’s already made some calls to facility managers and PBOT to, “Look at what other bike parking options are available and to see what else we can do.” “We want people to know that Portland City Hall is incredibly bike friendy,” he added. “That’s something that’s personally important to me and I want it to be safe and comfortable for everyone.”

UPDATE: Nathan Howard, a policy advisor for Mayor Ted Wheeler, tells me there’s indoor bike parking on the 4th floor of City Hall (see images below). They’re publicly accessible (although there’s no signage about it outside) and Howard says, “We plan to install more racks in City Hall for everyone but we also need to get more parking outside of City Hall.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Evan
Guest
Evan

That rack does look cool, but why get rid of the other staples?

And the capacity claim is clearly wrong. Can Clodius or Brady provide a photo of 10-12 bikes locked to that rack? Even a diagram?

Doug Klotz
Subscriber

It’s maximum six bikes. Those diagonal braces remove four spaces out of the “10”.

Scott Mizée
Guest

ummmm… “We want people to know that Portland City Hall is incredibly bike friendy,” is empty talk when the number of usable bike parking spaces has been reduced. I’ll refrain from commenting on the rest of the issues raised in this article, but suffice it to say, there are many concerns that I have about the example this sets.

https://twitter.com/mezay/status/951511602972442624

Scott Mizée
Guest

Similar problem at new transit station in Chicago. https://twitter.com/greenfieldjohn/status/951499483304652805

maxadders
Guest
maxadders

“Portlandia” is just the gift that keeps on giving, isn’t it?

Jonathan Radmacher
Guest
Jonathan Radmacher

Within a block of City Hall there’s probably another 30 bike spots, and that’s without the spots that are now closed off because of the Portland Building rennovation; surely a short walk to City Hall is not really that big of an inconvenience.

Scott Mizée
Guest

That’s not the point, at all, Jonathan.

TonyT
Subscriber
TonyT

You roll up to City Hall and expect there to be bike parking. I shouldn’t have to then turn around, frustrated that there USED to be parking, but it’s now an art/vanity project and now I have to find parking. If the old staples were there and they were full, fine. But as it is, it’s a message that bike parking is valued less than somebody’s idea of cute.

billyjo
Guest
billyjo

hmm…. but all over town they take out car parking and put in fancy new facilities….. that should be encouraged. When a bike has to walk a block to park that is totally unacceptable.

soren
Guest
soren

Let’s make it harder to park bikes at the *symbolic* center of our city government because two years of declining bike mode share is not enough. /s

David
Guest
David

Thank you Jonathan for calling this out. I attended my first Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting earlier this week and in the agenda it states that “Good bicycle parking is available in the south loggia of the Portland Building.” Obviously that is no longer the case.

It was confusing seeing how poor and inadequate the setup is given the level of demand. The only thing worse than this was the parking situation for the Naito Open House last night.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

There used to be a vetting process inside PBOT for proposed ‘art racks’, to make sure they met code. Linda Ginenthal was in charge of the program/process.

Has that all gone out the window, or is the city just pulling a ‘do what we say, not what we do’????

9watts
Guest
9watts

What gets me is related. The cost to tax payers of all this (well-documented) installing and uninstalling of successive iterations of bike racks is not insubstantial. Why is it so easy to waste money like this?

joan
Subscriber

It would never occur to me to wheel my bike inside of any building that wasn’t my own house, workplace, or a bike shop, especially without signage outside suggesting I could do that. Once inside, I might assume those inside racks were for staff.

The City should step up its game here.

TonyT
Subscriber
TonyT

This!

Catie
Guest
Catie

I hate art racks in general for this reason. They are always more confusing and harder to lock to than standard racks.

Doug Klotz
Guest
Doug Klotz

And besides being harder to lock to, and causing you to have to figure out a new locking method for each one, half the time you can’t even tell they’re supposed to be a bike rack! Stick to the standard staples (welded to the appropriate thickness flat bar for corrals), which are easily recognizable, and we have all figured out how to lock our bike to them.

Lazy Spinner
Guest
Lazy Spinner

When will PBOT and The Street Trust put out a joint press release lauding Commissioner Saltzman’s and Mayor Wheeler’s “extraordinary vision of combining the worlds of art, pop culture references, and bicycling to, once again, cement Portland’s place as THE best city for biking anywhere in the known universe!”?

This town is fast becoming its own punchline.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

A dumbass bike rack from a dumbass show.

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

Have to agree. Need to move away from all references to that when we actually have a real art and literacy heritage to celebrate. Also I wonder when the first bike will be stolen from INside city hall. If not already.

Brian
Guest
Brian

Come on, the bookstore “Women and Women First” was great. And the fixie rider, too.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3nMnr8ZirI

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Alright… I’ll give you that.

TonyT
Subscriber
TonyT

“the new rack was a gift from the crew of ‘Portlandia'”

Head into desk repeatedly.

Joe Fortino
Guest
Joe Fortino

screw that show can’t stand it and ppl lable me now.

Rain Waters
Guest
Rain Waters

Portlandians one and all

2 wheel commuter
Guest
2 wheel commuter

The good news is that you can buy some really cheap, used bike parts right out in front of City Hall, also. If the seller is not right there, check across the street in the park. Unbelievable deals! Especially on seats and front wheels.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Suggestions:
1) Swap out all but 1 of the “bird racks” and distribute them to other city facilities (aka spread the love) and return the older corral racks to City Hall;
2) Swap out the old “wheel bender racks” on the 4th floor for functional corral style racks with felt/ rubber runners on the rack feet;
3) Plan [and fund] to build real bike parking for City Hall (secure, ground floor convenient and weatherproof); and
4) Retire the “bird racks” in five years once the ‘show glow’ is over…saving one rack for donating to a future ‘Portlandia media museum’…

chris
Guest
chris

put a turd on it

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

How come cars never have to put up with “art” parking spaces. I would love to see automobiles parked in donated “art parking” that looked like a tilted cheese wedge or a salad bowl or something like that.

maxadders
Guest
maxadders

Could you imagine the outrage? “This is taking up valuable space that could be used to park other cars!!”

TonyT
Subscriber
TonyT

It’s because they view car parking as serious and essential and bike parking as a bauble and they should be patted on the back for whatever they give us.

benschon
Guest
benschon

This is the best illustration I’ve seen for good and bad bike racks. It’s not complicated. https://twitter.com/SchonbergerBen/status/659433427788165120

9watts
Guest
9watts

I’ve never really understood the ‘two separate locations’ bit. If you lock your front wheel and down tube to the ‘post,’ for lack of a better term, on most of these (good and bad) racks isn’t that basically adequate? I’m all for good/better/best design, but the griping about racks that are chiefly vertical has always seemed a bit odd to me. Happy to learn why they are so terrible.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

My top three pet peeves with bike racks in Portland:

1. Manufacturers overestimate rack capacity.

2. Architects/engineers/installers rarely get it right.

3. The city has no reliable follow-up process to evaluate rack installations for code compliance.

Paul Cone
Guest
Paul Cone

Code compliance officers cost money. There are some in ONI that make sure the weed shops are in compliance, and they are paid for by the license fees to sell the weed. It’s not as easy with bike racks. Developers already complain enough about permit fees.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Not platinum!

soren
Guest
soren

some additional bike rack pet peeves:

* placement of bike racks a foot away from a building wall which essentially converts a rack for multiple bikes to a rack for one bike.

* businesses that lock their sideboards/signs to city bike racks.

* “temporary” construction signage or equipment that blocks bike racks.

* bike racks that are not properly bolted into pavement.

* people driving who smash into bike racks.

Brian
Guest
Brian

*bike racks bolted into the sidewalk right next to auto parking, ensuring your bike being doored because it’s “your damn fault the bike is parked there”

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

LOL, at least there ARE bolts!

This is a park, so the rack install would be the responsibility of PPR, yes? And BDS is supposed to ensure that the installation is code-compliant, no?

Scott Mizée
Guest

Actually no. From what I understand these are privately installed bike racks at the newly constructed tower, Park Avenue West.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Regarding the ‘two separate locations’ thing – if you’ve ever used a ‘wave’ rack the way ‘they’ ‘want’ you to (if you could even do that since they are usually installed too close to walls and other obstructions) and had your bike go down while it was locked to the rack, you would understand.

9watts
Guest
9watts

I have no particular love lost on the wave racks, and am well aware of the bikes are forced to be too close to each other problem, but that to me is a separate problem from the ‘two separate locations,’ but perhaps it is all mixed up and I haven’t understood quite how.

Alex Reedin
Guest
Alex Reedin

The problem with “wave” racks and similar is that bikes can get knocked over. If there are a lot of bikes on the rack, there can be a bit of a domino effect. After the bikes are knocked over, it’s obnoxious to right them, and you can do some damage if you force it (say, if a handlebar or pedal is stuck in someone’s spokes).

In this case, it looks like the art rack encourages extremely space-inefficient parking, so you probably wouldn’t have the problem of bikes knocking over other bikes. But even one’s own bike is somewhat annoying to pick up because applying force to the bike near the lock so as to pick up the bike and lock is awkward (the rest of the bike is in the way).

Spiffy
Subscriber

that leaves your rear wheel unlocked… that’s the second location… if you’re going to be parked long term then you use a U-lock on each wheel with one of them through the frame… it’s often easier to have a spare lock rather than clean yourself after replacing a wheel you took off to lock to the front U-lock… or use secure wheel spears…

9watts
Guest
9watts

And wouldn’t your idea have been truer to the whole ‘put a bird on it’ shtick?

Spiffy
Subscriber

I haven’t seen the show in years… maybe they changed their skit to “replace it with something crappier that has a bird on it”…

X
Guest
X

Lots of city staff moved from the Portland(ia) Building to 1001 SW Fifth Avenue. Try to find bike parking over there! At least city employees appear to be propping bike commuter numbers, rain or shine.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

Doesn’t everyone in Amsterdam carry around a giant chain because you might have to lock your bike to a railing on the other side of two bikes?

SE
Guest
SE

Todd Boulanger
Suggestions: Swap out the old “wheel bender racks” on the 4th floor for functional corral style racks with felt/ rubber runners on the rack

those wheel benders were old in the 1960’s , can’t believe that they are in use anywhere outside of rural Appalachia. 🙁

soren
Guest
soren

Nathan, I know you bike to work and those indoor bike racks likely make sense for you but when I’m taking time off from work/life to spend time at city hall I prefer to have a convenient place to park my bike. And trundling my bike into city hall and up an elevator to the 4th floor is not this.

Doug Klotz
Subscriber
Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Scott Mizée
Actually no. From what I understand these are privately installed bike racks at the newly constructed tower, Park Avenue West.

Even more reason for BDS to check for code compliance following installation!

Scott Mizée
Guest

Yes, Buzz. I’m curious to know how enforcement works. Does BDS have a mechanism for regular enforcement actions? Similar to Portland Fire or Building Code inspections? Is enforcement complaint driven like DEQ Nuisance rules?

Or is there no enforcement at all?

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

GOTTA STAY ON-BRAND!!! 🙂 #Bikelandia