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.
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.
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.
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.”
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