Portland’s bike lockers are a dying breed.
First installed in the mid 1980s, the Portland Bureau of Transportation once managed a fleet of nearly 200 fully-enclosed and secured bicycle lockers. Today about 80 lockers remain. They’re installed at seven downtown locations (mostly inside Smart Park garages) and are available to rent on a first-come, first-served basis. People who use them pay $50 or $95 for three or six month rentals.
As these lockers become damaged and unusable, they’re decommissioned and not replaced.
Portlander Derrak Richard works in the 17-story Pioneer Tower on Southwest 5th Avenue and has rented a bike locker at the parking garage across the street from his building for several years. “For me, I feel it’s worth the $190 a year to rent a locker with private access,” he shared recently. For Richard, it’s all about security. He doesn’t like walking into the depths of the parking garage where an enclosed bike cage is located. “I’ve never really felt physically safe down there, in the darkest part of the garage, nor do I feel like leaving my bike down there.” With his own private locker, Richard can leave everything on his bike without worrying that other bike cage users might swipe his lights or GoPro.
Richard recently reported to PBOT that one of the lockers near his was damaged. When the staffer told him it had already been flagged as un-rentable and wouldn’t be replaced, Richard contacted us.
According to PBOT, the cost of maintenance on the old, plastic lockers just doesn’t pencil out. Some of their lockers have also been taken out of commission because private property owners didn’t want them on their property.
There’s strong demand for high security, long-term bicycle parking downtown. Bike theft is rampant in Portland and there’s a strong perception that anyone who leaves a bike unattended for more than a few minutes is the next potential victim. The 80 lockers PBOT operates have an occupancy rate of 95-98%. (Note that TriMet, Portland State University, and private building owners also offer rentable bike lockers.)
PBOT will continue to manage existing lockers; but their new strategy for long-term bike parking downtown are bike rooms that are being added as parking garages are upgraded. PBOT has partnered with Prosper Portland on a $25 million renovation of the Smart Park garage at SW 10th and Yamhill. That project comes with a room that will have parking for up to 42 bicycles. I rolled over to see it yesterday but wasn’t able to get in for a photo. What I could see from the sidewalk on SW 9th is that it will be ground-floor accessible and have a double-decker rack. There will also be a free bike tool stand for basic adjustments and repairs. It’s unclear what type of security measures the room will have; but these type of facilities have been a very popular target of bike thieves recently.
Bike rooms will be much cheaper for PBOT to maintain on a per-spot basis than individual lockers and they’ll create more long-term parking spaces overall. But will people trust them?
“I would miss my bike locker if it were gone,” Richard shared with us. “Although I appreciate that more and more buildings are incorporating bike parking options, I don’t think they’re a direct alternative to bike lockers.”
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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A room??? Am I the only one that can’t imagine leaving a bike of any value with any accessories on it in a locker room?? The individual lockers are awesome, surely we could find a way to make individual storage boxes work. It feels like every day Portland slips further away from the bike utopia we could have been.
I am surprised to see that bike locker usage claimed to be at such a high rate. It is rare for me to see any of them used. There are a number of them outside downtown on the MAX yellow line. Bike lockers I see at Beaverton TC and the Goose Hollow stop seem to be very lightly used. A storage area accessible to multiple users has never seemed very secure to me.
One issue is that a locker is a waste of space to everyone except the person who rents it (for whom it’s great).
What I wish they’d do instead of rooms is rent lockers that could be opened with a cell phone or contactless card. That way, they could be utilized more fully and the potential would be there to see which ones were available — though they’d have to be really secure if bike thieves could just look on the internet to see which ones were occupied.
That the occupancy rate is so high is proof they are needed — the only reason I don’t have a locker myself is that none were available at the time I was looking.
Rooms are better than nothing but not a substitute for lockers. Aside from the entire bikes being more likely to be stolen, components and accessories are themselves vulnerable.
The main problem with lockers is they take a lot of space so only a few people can use them — and renting them only makes sense if you repeatedly go to the same place.
The only way this is going to work is with Orwellian levels of cameras and facial recognition only entry/exit systems.
You’re right. But Portland doesn’t like those cameras, and as long the city tolerates open-air bike chop shops, good luck!
Whats wrong with the bikelink ebike lockers used by Trimet. They are shared, first come first served, no long term contract, only 5 cents per hour, and maintained by bikelink. No cost to PBOT and can be placed on street within 20 feet from intersections to discourage illegal car parking.
There are only like 8 of them per location and 5 locations all along the Max line. Why not have bicycle lockers instead of the blue staples that are on nearly every corner?!
Hourly lockers only work if your need is hourly. My specific use is very much an outlier, admittedly: I rent a traditional locker for long-term bike storage because I live out of town, and enjoy having a bike on my regular (until last month) trips to the Portland area. For me, it allows avoiding rental cars, and avoids the prohibitive expense and hassle of bringing a bike back and forth on the plane. I would gladly use a smaller-footprint bike room, but so far even the bike rooms seem to be oriented around shorter-term rentals, and your bike will be considered abandoned if you leave it there more than a couple days.
But there are plenty besides me who have a need for long-term, secure bike storage at transit stops. One of the main use cases is someone who rides transit to near their workplace, but needs to keep a bike where they get off the MAX for getting that last mile (or five) to work. For those people, even leaving the cheapest, clunkiest bike locked up to a staple rack night after night is a guarantee your bike will be stolen or vandalized. I’m not sure why you can’t do a six-month contract for a spot in a bike room, as you can do with a locker, if that is what meets your needs.
This does not surprise me – from a product lifecycle standpoint – the structural use of plastic and wood has a much shorter lifespan in urban outdoor environments (UV, urine, road salt, etc.). To be honest I think that the vendors of these lockers would say – among themselves – that they have out performed their expectations if they lasted more than ten years in the field and these Portland units may be as old as 20 years now. As one of the earliest adopters nationally of the BikeLink lockers (stainless steel and galvanized) back in 2005, I am very impressed how well they have lasted out in the open on the streets in Vancouver now 10 and 15 years on.
PS. It is great news that the City has finally moved forward – 15 years late – with a real effort to integrate “Bikestation’ like parking at the City owned garages…but I am a bit surprised that such a garage would only have 42 spaces…this sized space would have been our smallest city center Bikestation back in the 2000s. The City really needs to either bump up the numbers north of 200 stalls (as these rooms will be in use for 30 years AND needs to be easily expandable) or add such a small public facility every block in the city center.
Additionally, I am a bit surprised that this “policy” issue [a “full” shift from lockers to “Bikestation” type parking rooms] was not brought up when we all worked on the City’s Bike Parking code a few years back. Such a shift was a missed opportunity to reflect as part of the process.
Hi Jonathan — just want to offer a minor correction. PSU no longer rents bicycle lockers. These were phased out several years ago in favor or bike rooms (or bike garages as we call them). Thanks!
I agree with everyone else – a bike room in most cases is a joke. Just an opportunity for someone to break in with an angle grinder and clean out everything there.
The existing lockers, which are much more secure, can fit two or three in a parking spot…we have city-owned parking garages with with spots for 100s of cars, but can’t find room for more than 80 bike lockers? Just another reminder that the Portland government just wants to bikewash their policies, not actually enact changes that would make it easier for people to give up their cars for bikes.
Dan, bike rooms a “joke”?
Please elaborate which bike rooms you have used frequently.
There is a whole spectrum of quality of “bike rooms” in the city. I agree many of the first generation – often privately run for apartments – using chainlink corral fencing are “joke level”…they are a product of the property owner’s priorities and the building code at time of construction, etc.
Just one example. I see these stories somewhat frequently, even when it’s a locked room, not a wire cage.
Near my work there are 5 doubled-sided lockers in 1 car spot, so 10x the capacity.
How much is a street parking spot worth in Portland? PBOT subsidizes these all over the place.
I don’t see why this can’t be a both-and thing. If the space is actually needed in some cases, fine. But I don’t see why we would be dismantling infrastructure that has > 90% utilization. I think the comments about the way the lockers are rented make sense. Some enterprising person/Portlander? needs to figure out the system to make the rent only when needed lockers work.
I’ve had locker subscriptions in the past, including a locker at Big Pink that I used more or less every day for 3 months, and it was very rare for me to see any other cyclists. Like, maybe I saw anyone else using those lockers once or twice per month, and that was in a pod of at least 6 lockers. Now, it’s possible that I missed them, but I had the distinct impression that the lockers are so cheap that people just keep subscribing because they ride a few months of the year and just hold onto it the rest of the time, knowing if they let their subscriptions lapse that they won’t be able to get another locker.
Net net, from a microeconomics perspective, this system is pretty screwy – an updated look at pricing and encouraging people to actually use them — possibly by having reservations on a daily basis, not long-term rentals — would improve things.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the city just doesn’t care about cycling. Perhaps it’s time we admit that and make other plans.
Back in the 80’s, I relied on the bike lockers at the Barbur Transit Station (similar to the tan ones in the photo). At that time, I simply leased it for a very modest monthly fee. The beauty was I could rely on it being available, and I could leave all my stuff. It was difficult to know if the locker was “occupied” or not.
I appreciate the above discussion about the pros/cons of lockers v. rooms. One big advantage of the enclosed lockers is a potential thief won’t know what’s inside, which makes it safer – same as leaving your valuables in the trunk and not on the front seat. Depending on design and security measures, caged rooms potentially enable thieves to do some window shopping and breaking in when they know it’ll be worth the trouble.
Unlike the older molded-plastic lockers, by the way, TriMet’s bike lockers have perforated metal sides that do allow a bit of visibility to what’s inside. They also only allow storage of bikes and bike-related gear, so you probably don’t want to keep too much of your “stuff” in one.
Montgomery Park has a large bike room with room for maybe 50 bikes. During the summer, it is just about full most days by 9am. I leave my lights and helmet on the bike because there’s no problem with theft. The reason: it’s a loading dock and entrance/exit hall with people going through constantly. Bikes are locked, and anyone trying to cut a lock would be very obvious.
Conclusion: bike rooms should not be hidden from view. They should be in open areas whose busy-ness discourages theft. Or within the vision of a receptionist/security guard. Not hidden in the corner of a parking garage.
Visibility is huge. This is why leaving things at the bike valet near the base of the tram is totally safe despite there being practically no security.
As much as I personally like lockers, they only really work for small numbers of cyclists. I’m sure they do affect how many people are willing to ride, but not as much as some here would like to believe — factors like distance, weather, darkness, terrain, road conditions, cargo, etc play a far, far bigger role.
Having said that, what would be really nice is a bank of secure rentable lockers at PDX. Absolutely no way I’m leaving a bike exposed out there, and I would totally cycle there otherwise.
Bike lockers always seemed ridiculous to me, like some kind of bizarre intermediate species on the evolutionary chain. They’re overkill too – all that space taken up for somebody’s Precious-Precious. Look, guy, if your bike is so nice that you can’t lock it to a staple rack, it’s too nice. You’re driving a Lamborghini to Wal-Mart. Ride an unremarkable bike, lock it securely to the rack, pull all the lights & crap off it and throw them in your bag, forget about it and get on with something more important.
Lol yeah, ok! Call me a greedy capitalist pig but I would rather not have my bike stolen by some homeless meth/heroin junkie every five minutes. I don’t care if it costs $500 or $5000 dollars. I work for what I got and I don’t want it stolen and disassembled in a chop shop under the burnside while the cops look the other way.
Some people need to be able to lock up their bike overnight. ANY bike is “too precious” to be left locked to a staple rack at night, even out at a suburban MAX station, and even a $300 Fred Meyer bike. Guess how I know! Don’t be so quick to judge others’ needs.
Isn’t this blaming the victim? Just because someone has a 1500$ bike that they ride doesn’t mean they deserve to be robbed..
If you believe more people should cycle, telling them they should ride something that not even the meth heads care about might not be the best game plan.
If you think the only reason people get nice bikes is some kind of coolness factor, your understanding of cycling and how people use bikes is extremely limited.
Comment of the week and I ride decent bikes but use U-locks properly and lock
up bikes all over town. Small risk to pay for not having to drive a car.
My wife and I had 3 bikes stolen from a locked bike room in the limited-access parking garage of our downtown condo. Theoretically, only residents with bikes in the bike room (not a cage) had keys to the room. Nevertheless, 6 bikes out of about 15 in the room were stolen in one night.
Strangely, our condo came with two car parking stalls in the garage; we rented one out for $90 a month. I would have traded that for a secure locker. The condo association wouldn’t even allow us to install our own locker in our stall. After painfully realizing the bike room wasn’t secure, we moved out. Ideally, condos would provide lockers, even if the residents have to pay extra for them.
Everyday I get e-mail from project529 with list of stolen bikes. Al most everyday at least one has been stolen when locked inside locked storage rooms. I’d never use one
i work in the fox tower and use(d) that bike room regularly. it’s very safe and secure.
The big difference between bike-rooms and bike-lockers is that bike rooms are easy to get into and steal stuff from, and bike lockers are hard too. I work at a local bike shop, and I have customers come in every day who have had wheels, or bikes, or other parts, stolen out of “secure” bike rooms. I call them Free Bike Shops, because that is what thieves see them as.