Video: Bike parking policy update with Chris Smith

Few people in Portland know more about our city’s bicycle parking policy than Chris Smith. During my chat with him yesterday he shared a history of the issue and we talked about recent efforts by the City of Portland and State of Oregon to roll back code requirements that encourage more bicycle parking. You can watch our conversation above (along with helpful graphics spliced-in along the way), or find it wherever you get your podcasts.

Smith is the consummate transportation reform activist who’s been involved with numerous efforts and projects over the years. I first knew him as creator of the excellent blog Portland Transport (first mentioned on BikePortland in 2005!) which still serves our community as a repository of KBOO Bike Show episodes. He’s also the inventor of the “Transit Appliance” — a wonderful device that posts transit arrival times and can be found at bus and MAX stations citywide. Smith has also been a candidate for Portland City Council and Metro Council. Smith has fought freeway expansions for nearly two decades and was a major voice against the Columbia River Crossing project and a co-founder of the group No More Freeways. And those are just some of his bona fides!

Smith was pulled into bicycle parking specifically for his expertise in how bikes mix with transit gleaned from his long-time position on the board (and as vice-chair) of Portland Streetcar Inc. (the private nonprofit contracted by the City of Portland to help plan and manage the streetcar). After the City’s Bicycle Plan for 2030 passed in 2010 and ridership skyrocketed, Smith was tapped to help update the code so that the hordes of local riders would have a proper place to park their bikes. BikePortland worked with Smith to host two events (one in 2013 and another in 2018) to garner input on the bike parking code and that effort led to a major update that passed Portland City Council in 2019.

Then Portland lost its bicycling mojo, the housing shortage became a crisis, and the politics shifted. As we reported here in detail over the past year or so, Portland’s vaunted bike parking code was put on the chopping block by Bureau of Planning & Sustainability Commissioner Carmen Rubio as part of a “housing regulatory reform” package. In my conversation with Smith, you’ll hear how and why this all went down, as well as the lessons he’s learned along the way.

We also talk about Oregon Governor Tina Kotek’s big housing bill passed just this week by the Oregon Legislature. One of them, Senate Bill 1537, included a relatively unknown provision that gives cities the ability to adjust their bike parking requirements to spur housing production.

Below are a few highlights from our conversation (which you can also listen to via our podcast in the player below):

Jonathan Maus:

“It also is worth saying that there was some really valid criticism [of our bike parking code]. You and I are working in the policy realm talking about words in a code. But people implementing this stuff down at the design review office or the permit office, they actually have people telling them what they can and can’t build and I think maybe one of the lessons here is this stuff can get pretty complicated and very troublesome. And we had somebody on the board of The Street Trust who was one of the biggest critics of the bike parking requirements. And I think probably had something to do with swaying the adoption at Planning Commission of rolling them back.”

Chris Smith:

“Right. It got really interesting politically for me because I had two groups that I consider myself a member of, the bicycle community and the pro-housing community…I’m a member of Portland Neighbors Welcome and I’m a member of BikeLoud PDX, who said, ‘What? You’re going to take away our parking? Come on!’ So I actually spent some energy trying to make sure those two groups didn’t go at each other’s throats”

Chris Smith:

“The [required bike parking] ratios got tweaked down. So instead of 1.5 and 1.1 [per dwelling unit], they go to 1.0 and 0.7 in the outer pattern areas. And that’s in effect for five years. So it’s not forever. And to my mind, that kind of makes sense in terms of balancing economics.

But the alcove standard [something Smith fought for in the bike parking code update to encourage higher-quality, in-unit bike storage] went away permanently, and I think that’s going to be a problem because if, if half the parking we build is ineffective in-unit parking, the it’s more like we have 0.5 left. Right? The other thing that was taken away was a standard we put in that a small percentage in large buildings had to be larger cargo bike spaces… So for five years [Portland is no longer] requiring building spaces for cargo bikes. And I think we got to have a public policy discussion about where those go.”


Jonathan Maus:

“I think the production of housing absolutely trumps in many ways, the ability to bike to that housing. But I wonder if you have any thoughts about that? Is it a choice between housing production or bike parking, and how can we avoid that going forward?”

Chris Smith:

“I think maybe one lesson I’ve learned is that 2019 package [of bike parking code updates] was kind of a gold-plated package. It was our first shot since the 1990s [to update the code] and we went for it; and we were successful in landing it. And maybe we overreached a little bit and I think we have room to go back and tweak that a little bit with some of the bike room standards and whatnot.

But, maybe we overshot a bit — it’s still the case that our Comprehensive Plan calls for us to have a 25 percent bicycle mode share by 2030. And the fact that we are not getting that mode share has some pretty devastating consequences in terms of traffic congestion in the city. Right? And if we don’t get there, eventually, we have to spend a lot more money on roads that we don’t have.”


Jonathan Maus:

“Do you have any faith there’ll be an opportunity to bring up bike parking [code revisions] sooner than later [the five-year sunset council passed]? Especially with the whole entire council change that’s going to happen in Portland with a bunch of new councilors and maybe more people who could spend some time on the policy side of this?”

Chris Smith:

“I hope. And I’ll be advocating for addressing some of the standards issues before that like the in-unit parking standard and what do we do about cargo bikes question. I’m a little bit dubious that we can revisit the [required bike parking per unit] ratios before the five years just because of the real impact and housing economics. I wish I could believe we’d be out of the housing crisis in five years. Given how many units we’re down compared to where we need to be – I don’t know that. So I’m much more focused on the standards and making sure that what we build is effective.”


And there was one question Smith wanted to make sure I posed to you. Please read it below and share your response so he can accurately represent our needs in his advocacy…

Chris Smith:

“I’m still fascinated by the bike room versus the in-unit question: Who wants to store their bike in their apartment versus in a bike room and why? Because to me, it seems like the vast majority of people, at least cycling for transportation, would want to be in a bike room. If you have a $10,000 racing bike, sure you might want to put that next to your bed. I can understand that. But for folks who are cycling for transportation, what do people really think about that?”

You can watch our full conversation along with helpful graphics by watching the video above, or listen wherever you get your podcasts.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Aaron
1 month ago

I’ve never lived in an apartment with “real” bike parking so for me it was always a matter of carrying it to my apartment and it always sucked. I would have loved a bike room during those years. Not having these facilities is just another example of bike commuting not being treated as a serious method of transportation. Unlike a car you can’t just leave a bike out on the street 24/7 and assume it’ll be fine, so bike commuters either need to store it inside their home or have some sort of secure parking available to them. I am fortunate to be renting a house with a garage, although honestly I would prefer an apartment if I felt I could store my bikes safely.

Imagine if there was no street parking for cars and only 0.7 off-street car parking spots were issued per unit, shared for the whole family. People would riot, the mayor would be voted out. Put that sort of limitation on bikes and nobody seems to care because who really expects us to get to that 25% mode share anyways?

If you include street parking (usable only by cars) and off-street parking, I wonder how many car parking spots we have per housing unit in Portland? I bet it’s a lot higher than 0.7, and I bet it’s higher still than 1.5.

If I were to move from my house to one of the nearby apartments in my neighborhood I’d likely have to buy a car to use as my main transportation method if I didn’t want to introduce a lot of new hassle into my routine carrying a bike up and down stairs or risk my bike being stolen by storing it on a rack on the sidewalk. That’s in apartments built before the new weaker bike parking requirements, so it is about to get worse than that.

Now imagine someone in that situation who doesn’t give a crap about all the urbanists/environmentalist issues I care so deeply about. Setting that sort of environment up for people who want to bike for transportation is how you never reach your cycling mode share goals.

Fred
Fred
1 month ago
Reply to  Aaron

Really great point about the ratio of housing units to car-parking spaces.

In my neighborhood, there are 4-5 cars in many driveways, not to mention all of the street parking.

I wonder if Chris can share any research on that question? Did he ever say, “Hey – you already allot 3.5 car-parking spaces per unit. The least you can do is require 1.2 bike spaces, which is a lot less room”?

Champs
Champs
1 month ago

Two things I’m not sure of are why it is so hard to imagine a person would rather have their bike with them in-unit, or why the cash value matters.

Many years ago, I pointed Jonathan to covered parking spaces around the corner from Hopworks BikeBar. He said he preferred to lock up up out front to keep an eye on it. The same goes for cars: the most popular parking space in this city is not down the block, in a garage, or even your driveway. It is in front of your house, where you can watch it.

The cash value of a bike—including, maybe even especially for transportation—is irrelevant if it is an item of great personal value.

The bike room is not a safe deposit box. It’s not even a convenient parking spot out front.

Kyle
Kyle
1 month ago

Honestly I have always felt like the bike parking standards unnecessary in the sense that:

-I lived in apartments without dedicated bike parking for a decade and just kept my bike inside (admittedly lugging a bike up stairs sucks tho)

-they seem unnecessary for the same reason car parking requirements are

-all the new construction is denser than what it is replacing and most of it does not have built in car parking so it will structurally tilt things toward more cycling since the availability of parking is a key driver of car ownership

Fred
Fred
1 month ago
Reply to  Kyle

Good points but talk to the young people living downtown in apartments w/ no allotted parking. Do they own cars? You bet they do! They play a kind of auto-roulette, moving them regularly to avoid tickets on the street.

The idea that not building car-parking spaces keeps people from owning cars is just not validated by reality. I’d prefer we built that cost into housing rather than externalizing it, as we’re now doing.

qqq
qqq
1 month ago

I always kept my bike in all the apartments I lived in, including small studios. I would have done that even if there’d been a separate bike room–no extra steps involved, no locks, no having to put on and take off lights or packs…and I’d certainly prefer it to increased rent to cover a separate room.

The only problem was when I had roommates once and they complained about running into it in the hallway at night. I tried solving that by getting permission from the landlord to enclose the balcony with some tarps. Then they complained it was too cold for them out there at night!

Fred
Fred
1 month ago

I enjoyed the podcast – Chris is a gift to Portland.

Chris asked for comments about the in-apartment vs bike-room question.

I’ve always preferred to keep my bikes in my apartment or house. When I stay on hotels, I always take my bike to my room, if the hotel will let me. I just feel safer about the bike and can relax knowing it’s safe with me. The value of the bike isn’t the issue – it’s having a secure means of transport. I feel the same about my cheapest bike as I do about the most expensive.

I think that in-apartment storage is also the better policy solution b/c it aligns with the American idea of self-determination. Builders don’t like bike-storage standards b/c it’s telling them how they have to build housing (yes, I know they have a million other requirements); renters and condo buyers don’t like bike-storage requirements b/c it’s telling them how they have to use their space. But if the space is inside the apartment and can be used to store a bike or anything else, then it’s up to the buyer how to use the space, and the builder can say “Look at this storage space we built you! You can use it to store a bike or whatever else you want to put there.”

In the podcast JM pointed (rightly) to the disproportionate amount of ire that bike-parking requirements generated from builders, which is really ridiculous b/c there are at least 148 things making housing more unaffordable than bike parking. But I’m sure they wanted to highlight that one b/c bike issues have become like a magnet for a kind of “wokeness” (or something) and therefore they attract a level of ire that is helping to defeat good ideas. So it’s really important that storage be required for whatever you want, including a bike, if you want to put one there.

I don’t understand why in-apartment bike parking was so difficult to require – why there were the issues with bike hooks over TVs etc. If every apartment had a required closet of a certain size within x feet of the front door, then you have bike parking but also storage. Just don’t call it bike parking!

The cargo-bike question probably needs to be handled separately. The idea that ALL, or even most, apartments, be required to park those honkin-big bikes is just unworkable. Put that kind of parking in garages or sheds or bike rooms, but don’t lump them in with other bikes, IMHO. Thanks.

Chris Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Fred

This approach:

But if the space is inside the apartment and can be used to store a bike or anything else, then it’s up to the buyer how to use the space, and the builder can say “Look at this storage space we built you! You can use it to store a bike or whatever else you want to put there.”

is essentially what the alcove standard was trying to create. And the builders hated it.

qqq
qqq
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris Smith

I haven’t been able to find the actual code section pre-change to see the exact old alcove standards, but I recall when I read it months ago that I wasn’t surprised people objected to it.

The requirement (as I recall) that it be an actual alcove, and within 15′ of the unit door, took a simple thing (space for a bike–or anything else if you didn’t have a bike–within a unit) and turned it into a design hurdle. It clearly was created by people who have never had to design units.

None of the apartments I ever lived in with my bike in-unit had an alcove that would have complied with that requirement, and every one worked well for storing my bike.

Chris Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  qqq

Well, the chair of the commission at the time we wrote that code was an architect who had included similar alcoves in buildings

But I’ll bite, how would you describe a requirement that would ensure space for an actual bicycle?

qqq
qqq
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris Smith

The fact that someone included similar alcoves in some projects doesn’t mean it’s something that should be turned into a standard requirement, although it could show I was wrong about it being created by people who’ve never designed units.

The first thing I’d get rid of if I were designing a requirement that would ensure space for an actual bicycle would be to get rid of the requirement that it be within 15′ of the unit door. The distance to the door is irrelevant to whether a bike fits in a unit. And although it would be nice if the space were close to the front door, that rule could be (as was, based on comments from architects and developers) a real stumbling block. Deleting it opens up a lot of perfectly good bike storage possibilities.

Like I said, I can’t find the old code language, but I also recall (could be wrong) that the rule required an actual alcove, versus simply requiring space. If that’s true, it could also be difficult to meet without distorting unit designs, and again is irrelevant to whether there is actual space. Again, deleting specific alcove requirements could open up a lot of perfectly good storage possibilities.

I understand that if there are no requirements, developers can simply say there’s space within the unit, without changing their units from what they’d be offering anyway. On the other hand, you can store a bike in quite a small space, which many units do have, and did have when the code didn’t have ANY in-unit bike space requirements.

Lots of people spent lots of time trying to solve this (which I appreciate) so I’m not trying to say I know the best solution better than anyone else. I’m mainly saying that I understand why architects and developers objected to the alcove requirement.

Serenity
Serenity
1 month ago
Reply to  qqq

I haven’t actually seen the code either, but I would sure be interested.. If you didn’t happen to move into a new apartment when the bike Alcove requirement was in effect, it would probably explain why you’ve never lived in an apartment with an actual bike alcove that would have complied with that requirement.

qqq
qqq
1 month ago
Reply to  Serenity

Yes, that’s probably true. And the reason it’s true is that the alcove requirement created a type of space that few designers would be likely to include in a unit, because the benefit wouldn’t outweigh the negative impacts to the unit and project.

Serenity
Serenity
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris Smith

Yeah, well I hate it that you can’t always get the things you want and the things you need ready-made, because they aren’t popular. Sometimes people have to do things they hate

Serenity
Serenity
1 month ago
Reply to  Fred

to the disproportionate amount of ire that bike-parking requirements generated from builders, which is really ridiculous b/c there are at least 148 things making housing more unaffordable than bike parking

I never really understood either. They have a million other requirements, yet they can still do their jobs. Why should the extra storage be any different?

qqq
qqq
1 month ago
Reply to  Serenity

The fact that there are a million (+/-) other requirements plays into it. So does the feeling that the requirements weren’t leading to better bike parking (at least within units) than what developers were already providing. So does the fact that bike parking wasn’t seen as something that many renters were seeking. So does the fact that many renters didn’t want to use the bike parking that was being provided. So does the fact that it was a lot easier for the City to reduce bike parking requirements than address some of the other, larger, more complex issues like seismic regulations, ADA requirements, SDC charges…

The amount of ire does seem disproportionate, given there are much larger impediments to building housing, but given all those reasons I think bike parking became a “last straw” requirement, making the ire understandable and in many ways valid.

Matt Villers
Matt Villers
1 month ago

I think an important callout on the question of bike parking in rental housing is that regulations dictate the availability of bike parking, but not necessarily quality or affordability. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s any good, currently.

At my last apartment, bike room use was $25/mo *per bike*, and the security was terrible – my bike was stolen within the first month of using it.

From that point I just kept it inside my apartment, but it was very impractical lugging it up and down and awkward to find space to put it. I can absolutely see why many people would not be willing to put up with that hassle, not to mention plenty who physically couldn’t lug their bike up and down stairs even if they wanted to. There’s a real accessibility issue there that’s worth including in the conversation.

Personally, I’d gladly pay for bike parking if it was:

  • Actually secure
  • Reasonably priced (a subsidy could go a long way here)
  • Not too far of a walk (<2 min/1-2 blocks)

Whether it’s part of the building or it’s a shared community thing is less important as long as it checks all those boxes (although renter’s insurance covers it if it’s on property, which is a huge plus because the police won’t even act on any theft under $5000).

Fred
Fred
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt Villers

I would *never* pay $25 to store my bike. I would simply live somewhere else. How ridiculous.

Todd/Boulanger
Todd/Boulanger
1 month ago

Aloha Chris – I enjoyed the update on the City’s bike parking situation and the post boom / lack of transpo leadership backlash vacuum. LMK if you gather together bike parking wonks / operators for a bike parking summit.

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
1 month ago

Its been a long time since I rented and had a bike. There was no bike parking so the bike came inside. But I don’t know anyone who has a garage that keeps their bike in the living room. I don’t know why most people renting an apartment would be any different.

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to  Ross Williams

I don’t know anyone who has a garage that keeps their bike in the living room.

Part of the idea is to make riding a bike more convenient than driving. I don’t have to lug my car up to my apartment every time I want to use it. Maybe a bike room isn’t the right solution, but we need something better than “park it in your living room” if there is any hope of convincing people that bikes make their lives better than cars.

Rubio’s code changes were simply a retreat from biking. I wish she had proposed an alternate path that would help make building easier without simply abandoning those of us who ride.

Serenity
Serenity
1 month ago

Thanks for the bike Parking update,Chris.

Serenity
Serenity
1 month ago

“I’m still fascinated by the bike room versus the in-unit question: Who wants to store their bike in their apartment versus in a bike room and why? 

There are advantages and disadvantages to storing your bike in a bike room. in your apartment. If you store your bike in a bike room, you have a secure place to lock up, around a lot of other bikes. On the other hand….. you need to lock it up before going back to your apartment, and unlock it before you leave. You need to be able to maneuver it around everyone else’s bikes. The bike room may not be located inside a garage & you run risk of someone parking too close to the door, trapping you.
if you store your bike in your apartment, you’ll have less room in your apartment to work with… But you also won’t have to lock it up, and you don’t have to worry about maneuvering around a bunch of other bikes. You can leave directly from your apartment, and You can go directly to your apartment when you get back instead of having to go lock up your bike in a Bike room.

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
1 month ago
Reply to  Serenity

If you store your bike in a bike room, you have a secure place to lock up, around a lot of other bikes.

Bike rooms are not a “secure” option in Bikethefttown.I’ve had parts stolen off my locked bikes and I’ve seen the sad remnants when bikes were stolen. As the comments above suggest, others have also experienced the relative insecurity of bike rooms.

Serenity
Serenity
1 month ago

I have heard many stories of Bikes stolen from apartment building Bike rooms, I know they are not completely secure. However, indoor biker rooms are still more secure than locking up outside.

Matt Villers
Matt Villers
1 month ago
Reply to  Serenity

Being one of the commenters who experienced theft, I’d agree with this.

FWIW a large part of the problem was my own naivety, assuming the indoor bike room with a high monthly fee, cameras, and security staff would be very secure. I had a fairly flimsy chain lock, and meanwhile the bikes with the “recommended” setup of heavy chain + U lock were untouched.

I only learned later that security staff didn’t actually monitor the cameras, and wouldn’t bother pulling footage since they already knew the police wouldn’t do anything. Their best advice was to contact insurance.

Ultimately if I’d used a more secure lock setup as the others did I would’ve been OK, but by that point I refused to keep paying the landlord $25/mo given how bad the experience was, so up into the apartment it went.

However I also recognize not everyone has that option, and if I had to park outside of unit I’d rather have a bike room than not.

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt Villers

Unfortunately storing a bike in an apartment violates some rental leases (and especially “affordable”/subsidized housing leases).

Daniel Reimer
1 month ago

In one of the apartments I’ve lived in before, there was a large ground floor bike parking area and then each floor had a small ~10 bike parking closet. There was no in unit bike storage.

I really enjoyed the smaller bike parking on each floor and seemed to be a great tradeoff between an easier to brake in ground floor bike parking and the hassle of an in-unit storage.

El timito
El timito
1 month ago

To me the question of in- unit storage vs. bike room also turns on the kind of bike and the kind of riding. If i only rode my 80’s touring bike (the lightest of my bikes) then sure, bringing it up to the apt. would be fine. When i primarily rode a long tail, that would have been all but impossible to manage. And now that I have young kids i tend to ride an e-assist cargo bike. Even if i had an elevator and could find space in the unit, who wants that dripping all over the place after a rainy ride?
But yes, the security issues of shared bike rooms are famous. The smaller, each-floor style rooms sound best, and I’m sure these are probably the least popular among developers.