Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Name Change and Some Wonky Thoughts on Bicycle Parking

As I mentioned recently, I don't update this blog nearly enough to warrant the "Daily" name, so I'm changing it. I got a few suggestions, and finally settled on a version of one that came from a casual conversation.
As I go in to the "dashboard" to change the name, I'm realizing it kind of feels like being back in a high school rock band, when we'd change our name every week, but never actually had any gigs.

Anyway, on a brief but more serious note, I recently read an article at www.grist.org on how more bicycle-friendly parking can draw in customers to local businesses.
While it's true that secure bicycle parking costs way, WAY less than car parking (even a 10-bike slot costs a fraction of a single car space, it's not even a close comparison) there seems to be two other factors working against an increase in bike parking, at least in suburban New Jersey.

First off is the economic stereotype of cycling. In spite of the increasing number of middle-class citizens using bikes for short trips or even going completely car-free voluntarily, bicycles are considered transportation for poor people, kids and DUI offenders. Business owners don't feel the urgency to cater to cyclists, because they may believe that anyone who might show up on a bike won't have money to spend.

The second issue I see, and noted from far too much time spent reporting on local planning board meetings, comes from the way many urban/suburban centers' land use laws work. Just about any business opening in a downtown area (which will draw the most transportation cyclists) is required to provide parking for a certain amount of cars. Often meeting the minimum requirement for a particular business is nearly impossible based on the available space, and requires the owner/developer to get variances and other special allowances to make up for failing to meet municipal requirements.

When a new business is already having a hard time getting clearance to build because it doesn't have enough car parking, what is the incentive to give up even a single potential car slot for bicycle parking? By the same token, many existing businesses are allowed to get away with fewer parking spaces than are required by current law because they were "grandfathered" in, but if they want to convert a motor vehicle space to bicycle parking, they may face zoning and planning issues that would make it difficult and expensive.

Obviously these aren't insurmountable problems, and not every municipality has the same requirements, but there is a pressure to provide more car parking, and at the very least, this makes the idea of providing a lot of bicycle parking unappealing to a lot of business owners.

I would like to see state and municipal laws address this, possibly even granting incentives for certain types of businesses that provide a certain amount of bike parking. This would also involve adopting some standards for bicycle parking as well, as far as sizing and security. Again, these are not impossible problems to work around, but they require willing politicians and common-sense advocacy.

Perhaps a smart advocacy group could take advantage of the fact that a number of NJ politicians are fairly pro-cycling (including our Central Jersey congressmen Leonard Lance(R) and Rush Holt(D), both of whom are members of the Congressional Bike Caucus).


Neil said...

Part of the problem is that, when bike parking is created, it's often left unused, conveying a perception of waste. Witness this awesome bike rack, laid over two parking auto spaces.

Eric said...

I can see why that bike rack goes partially unused, Neil... the average person might be hesitant to lock a bike to what looks to be a piece of art.