Need for Better Bike Storage in Apartments

Arlington County is doing a great job of encouraging more residents to bike more often. Between the ever-present roadies on expensive bikes wearing expensive kit and the low income people who have few better transportation options grows a population of people in between who are spending more and more time on their bikes.

But while this is great for those who live in dwellings with garages or other storage options, people in apartment buildings, especially in lower income apartment buildings, have considerably fewer options. New bike-friendly apartments are all the rage – if you can afford them. For the rest of us, we have to make do with the little we can scrounge.

A survey of a few blocks in Arlington show how badly needed proper bike storage is:

I think this is where bikes go to die. None of them appear to be ridden recently and some are clearly missing parts. Perhaps if these owners had had proper storage, this would no longer be a pile of nearly useless bikes.

I think this is where bikes go to die. None of them appear to be ridden recently and some are clearly missing parts. Perhaps if these owners had had proper storage, this would no longer be a pile of nearly useless bikes.

Some of these bikes might get more use, as well as the covered scooter. But I suspect that those kids' toys get used more.

Some of these bikes might get more use, as well as the covered scooter. But I suspect that those kids’ toys get used more.

These bikes look like they are in better shape. And the fact that one has a baby seat suggests that it's used more frequently.

These bikes look like they are in better shape. And the fact that one has a baby seat suggests that it’s used more frequently.

We watched this apartment complex get renovated and these new bike racks installed. I bet the residents were thrilled to have so much space for their bikes. Too bad covered bike storage wasn't installed instead.

We watched this older apartment complex get renovated and these new bike racks installed. I bet the residents were thrilled to have so much space for their bikes. Too bad covered bike racks weren’t installed instead.

Speaking of covered bike storage - they could build fancy fences and covers for the dumpsters but not for the bikes?!?

Speaking of covered bike racks – they could build fancy fences and covers for the dumpsters but not for the bikes?!?

Surrounding a nearby new and "nicer" apartment complex are bike racks labeled "temporary." But who can blame the residents from parking their bikes there?!

Surrounding a nearby new and “nicer” apartment complex are bike racks labeled “temporary.” But who can blame the residents from parking their bikes there?!

"Temp. bike parking - 4hrs max" - yeah right.

“Temp. bike parking – 4hrs max” – yeah right.

Rusty chain at a "temporary" bike rack suggests otherwise...

Rusty chain at a “temporary” bike rack suggests otherwise…

Well, where *do* you store your baby trailer when you aren't using it? For a small apartment, that's a big piece of equipment that can't easily get hauled up stairs. And once in an apartment - it's probably as big as a kitchen table.

Well, where *do* you store your baby trailer when you aren’t using it? For a small apartment, that’s a big piece of equipment that can’t easily get hauled up stairs. And once in an apartment – it’s probably as big as a kitchen table.

No doubt the bike racks next to this bus stop were intended for individuals to bike to the bus stop, to ease commute options. Now, however, it's yet another pile of dead bikes.

No doubt the bike racks next to this bus stop were intended for individuals to bike to the bus stop, a good “first mile/last mile” solution. Now, however, it’s yet another pile of dead bikes of nearby residents.

If the bike rack you are supposed to use is overly crowded, and you don't want to carry your bike upstairs, and don't have a place in your apartment, a sign pole works fine, right?

If the bike rack you are supposed to use is overly crowded, and you don’t want to carry your bike upstairs, and don’t have a place in your apartment, a sign pole is your best bet.

There's always the tree storage method.

There’s always the tree storage method.

Not everyone is as obsessed with dedicated to their bikes as The Mechanic and I, nor as willing to have bicycles as part of their interior design. But as this area becomes more bike-friendly, those who build and manage apartment buildings, especially affordable housing apartments, need to provide better bike storage. Why? I would summarize into two main points: maintenance and vandalism.

  • Maintenance. Unlike cars, which have their gears covered in sheets of metal, the functioning parts of bicycles are predominantly exposed to the elements. Fully enclosed chain cases are the exception here in the US, rather than the norm. Having seen the bike storage scenario in Copenhagen, I understand the popularity of chain cases so much better. But if your bike is left in the rain or snow for any length of time,  you are risking rusty parts, which will make it much less easier (and fun) to jump on your bike and go. If you aren’t a bicycle mechanic and can’t afford one, you are kinda screwed once your bike gets into bad shape. Replacing chains and other metal parts can set you back even at the best of times, and if you are already cash-strapped, well, good luck. You wouldn’t want to get into a car full of snow, would you? So why would you expect someone to get on a bike covered in snow?
  • Vandalism. In some ways, vandalism is worse than outright theft, which of course no one wants at all, and which is why properly locking your bike is important. But vandalism – missing rear wheel, seat stolen, pedals, even lights. Missing small pieces can add up to a very unrideable bike that either your insurance won’t cover or you don’t know how to replace or can’t afford to. Losing lights means possibly riding in the dark. Losing the seat makes for a very uncomfortable ride home or bus ride. Any sort of vandalism probably lead many people to abandoning their bike all together.

I don’t want to get into theft because there is a lot going on with locks and proper locking, but obviously any bike left outside unattended for a period of time is more vulnerable to theft than a car would be. It’s easier to steal a bike – no one notices, and they are easier to hide or throw in the back of a truck or whatever. Homeowner and renters insurance doesn’t cover a bike the way it covers a car, either.

Apartment developers and property managers should really consider installing bike lockers or at least provide covered bike parking, especially if they manage properties that have heavily used bike racks. High end buildings are beginning to offer free bike storage so there is no reason why the lower income apartments, including the historic garden style apartments, can’t provide bike lockers. At minimum, provide more racks – as shown in these photos, a few racks and a pair of staples here and there are not providing enough for the need. You can’t expect me to believe that rows of bike lockers are uglier than these piles of abandoned bikes. Charge a minimal fee, if you must – we pay an extra $10 a month to have a 4×4 storage cube. I bet apartments that can provide better bike parking solutions will have lines of happy prospective tenants.

This poor bike is a friend's - we had biked to dinner together in DC...

A common sight…

 

 

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Iceland Biking and New Looxs Bag

The Mechanic and I didn’t get a chance to do any bike riding while we were in Iceland, but saw some familiar bike things in Reykjavik. And I bought a lovely new pannier!

Edgar got to bike in Reykjavik

Edgar got to bike in Reykjavik

Apparently and understandably, mountain biking is a bigger deal in Iceland than basic city bicycling. I did see a group of women geared up against the cold biking past us while we sat in Slippbarinn having lunch. We also saw a consistent number of what appeared to be bicycle commuters every time we drove through Reykjavik, and even spotted a proper European bike lane.

The guy standing in the bike lane was also taking pictures of it. I wonder if he was American too.

The guy standing in the bike lane was also taking pictures of it. I wonder if he was American too.

There were also some fun bike racks around town, along with a complicated version in several places downtown.

I did find one “urban” style bike shop, catering to the Pashley/dandy crowd. I have Americanized the name to Berlin Bike Shop (Sorry!) because the true name is a bit complicated. I ducked in quickly and admired the bicycles and accessories, but didn’t linger because The Mechanic was sick. But I did grab a new bike pannier – a New Looxs bag I’d seen in Germany during our honeymoon and regretted buying ever since.

Turns out this bag was pretty expensive, after I figured out the exchange rate. Oh well – it’s extremely versatile and I’ll get a ton of use out of it.

New purchase on the couch at Slippbarinn

New purchase on the couch at Slippbarinn

It’s a nice size that can carry a folder and water bottle, but isn’t as huge as my full size pannier. It has shoulder straps to carry like a purse, pannier hooks in the back with a Velcro flap system to cover them up when not needed, a large front pocket and a small inside pocket that perfectly fits my phone.

Having a lovely new bike bag was probably the only thing that got me through my first day back. New Looxs 8As you can see, if fits nicely on my bike, and naturally coordinates.

I normally prefer my purse in my front basket, so I have my keys and phone and Kleenex close at hand. But this bag does indeed also fit in my front basket, so the days recently when I’ve had both my large pannier and this, I just put the New Looxs bag in my front basket. It doesn’t fit perfectly but close enough. Because it’s narrow, it does fit perfectly in a Capital Bikeshare basket, something few of my bags do.

I’ve been thinking about a new purse, and had decided I don’t need a bike bag to throw in my front basket, but having the ability to do both actually makes this a brilliant option. I wish the handles were a bit more comfortable on the shoulder, but it’s not that bad.

New Looxs 9

Wearing my #memade unicorn blouse on an early spring-like day

It’s hard to find these Dutch bags here in the US, of course, so even though this was crazy expensive (about $100!), I guess I would have ended up paying a small fortune in shipping if I decided to order if from overseas. And since we don’t (yet) have firm plans to return to Europe, well, let’s just say I am glad I spent the money!

Comfort Biking: Office Bike Racks

I am very spoiled by working for a company that encourages biking to work, and knowing that I am one of about half our staff who bike to work on a regular basis. The bike rack in our office building has always been packed full of bikes whose owners I know.

A little crowded here at the office bike rack!

A little crowded here at the office bike rack! (The owner of the bike whose front wheel is locked up next to the frame is not one of us – we know how safe the rack is.)

So it is with mixed emotions that I now approach our new bike room at work. Yay, we have a large, spacious area to lock up our bikes! Boo, now we have to bike past cars to get to it! Yay, more racks! Boo, the vertical kind I dislike….

Bike Racks 1

Imagine my surprise when I rolled up the garage ramp one day to discover that our “wave” rack was gone! Luckily you can see the new racks off in the distance – or I might have been upset (because of course there was no signage)!

Okay, let me get this off my chest, then we can move on with the post – I hate vertical bike racks. I find them intimidating, awkward and challenging. They are not what I categorize as “comfort biking.”

Are you kidding me?!

Are you kidding me?! (okay, maybe “hate” is a strong word – dislike)

When I voiced my disappointment on Twitter and Instagram, an employee of the company found me and said that the racks were installed incorrectly, and sent me some info on how easy they are to use.

I appreciate the public outreach, but frankly, watching that woman hoist her bike onto the racks did nothing to endear me to them. Sorry Dero, this is not a design you will ever convince me to love. Or like. Or use.

However, I want to encourage buildings’ efforts to add more bike parking, so here are my pros and cons on our new space:

Pros:

  • Check it out, we have a ton of space! It’s a room just for bikes! The floor is painted green, to reinforce the sustainability of bike commuting.
  • There are three vertical Dero racks, but the old “wave” rack remained, just moved into the green bike area. Arlington County Bicycle Parking Guidelines require at least 30 percent remain horizontal and ground-level racks to ensure access to “the widest ranges of ages and physical abilities.” (whew!)
  • The bike area is right next to the door to the elevators, and has nice sturdy pillars to protect the bicycles from larger vehicles.
  • In addition to the yellow posts, there is a huge no-parking area next to them. So that means there is no danger of cars backing into our bikes. Which happened to my bike once.
Green floor, yellow poles, right next to the elevator doors - check!

Green floor, yellow poles, right next to the elevator doors – check!

Cons:

  • I haven’t asked yet if there is a security camera on this area. I hope so. Previously our rack was right under the parking office window, so I was comfortable knowing that someone was keeping an eye on our bikes. My lack of knowledge makes this a Con, because a Pro would have been signs saying “This area watched by closed circuit TV” or whatever those signs always say.
  • Previously, we could roll up the garage entrance ramp and turn left into the bike rack. Now we have to turn left then right, and bike past a line of cars before making a U-turn to get to the bike space. This does make me feel less safe, knowing some careless driver could pull out and not see me trying to get to or from the lovely bike area.
  • Dislike of vertical racks. Listen, I lift weights, I do yoga, I do push ups – I am not an weak, unfit person. So telling me to just start working out so I can lift my bike into these vertical racks is not only sexist but missing the point. I shouldn’t have to feel intimidated by the bike parking in my office building. Don’t we keep talking about making biking easy and accessible to all? “All” should include people who just want to roll up on their bikes, lock up and go – not incorporate a workout into it. I mean, do we make cars jump through hoops to park? And please note: there are two cargo bikes in our office building.
  • Those yellow poles make it hard to get to directly to the wave rack….

Dero clearly got someone out to fix the racks, because eventually they were staggered, as they are intended to be.

I think his back basket is on the floor

I think his back basket is on the floor

Curiously, the wave rack has stayed well utilized. And I know that most of the bikes on the rack are owned by men. So it’s not a women vs. men thing with the style of rack.Bike Racks End of Sept 2

Some usage here

Some usage here

The bicycle area is not advertised, so I’m not sure how long it will take to be better utilized. I hope there are plans to eventually put up signs advertising the large bike parking area.

I understand the desire/need to pack in as many bikes as possible, hence the attraction of the vertical racks. I’m just grateful they aren’t the double-decker racks! Even the slick ones in Zurich didn’t sell me on wanting to use a top-level bike rack. I love the fun, creative racks (I want a squirrel rack in front of my apartment! Or maybe the book) that Dero makes, as well as the logo bike racks. If I was a company, I would want at least one logo rack in front of my office building!

(This is not a selling point to me)

This is not a selling point to me. I can’t see me doing this in my work clothes, either.

I imagine that for many people, having any kind of large indoor area to lock up bicycles while working is comfort biking and a huge feature, and it is an ideal amenity in an office building. I am glad we have it. However, it doesn’t entirely fit my personal definition of “comfort biking.” Maybe swap one of the vertical racks for some standard U-racks that can comfortably fit cargo bikes or larger Dutch style bikes? Having two vertical racks and two ground-level, horizontal racks would be ideal. Much more comfortable and friendlier for all, regardless of age, physical ability, bike style, and definition of comfort.

ICYMI: Apartment buildings in DC understand the bike storage demand. Let’s talk about apartments with “gear walls” built into them!!!  Love that!

That’s a Bike Rack?!

The Mechanic and I had a fun morning at a horse show somewhere in the wilds of Maryland. The horse show world is a very different world than cycling, even though both involve saddles and riding. It’s very concerned about posture and position and show. Thank goodness cycling is not like that! At least, not in my world – maybe the pro world?

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Afterwards we went to Tyson’s Corner for some errands at the mall. We were surprised to see fun bike racks in front of L.L. Bean! I was irritated that after we’d parked the Big Green Van, some car had parked next to the bike racks to load up something big from L. L. Bean, ruining the good shots of two of the four racks. IMG_5521

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We couldn’t quite decide if the Cannondale was a prop from the store or not. I am pretty sure L. L. Bean doesn’t sell that line, which would make me think shopper or employee, but the tires looked brand new. Despite the fact that they weren’t really being used, and that I don’t think Tyson’s is very bikeable at all, I was pretty pleased to see them, and know that if I biked out there, I’d have a hard time choosing which “shopper” rack I would chose.

Then we headed out to Bailey’s Crossroads, where I was shocked to see cool bike racks at the PNC Bank. IMG_5516

PNC bike racks cropped

They are the PNC logo! How cool is that?! And the logo actually makes a really great design. I could see that as a pendant on a chain or something. I love that PNC actually had the wisdom to install creative racks that match their brand! I wish more companies would get on this bandwagon. I’d love to see big red bullseye bike racks in front of every Target. What other companies have logos that would be perfect for bike racks? Or what other company logo or theme bike racks have you seen? I know there are some in DC and NYC, I’ve seen them, but there must be some in other cities. Anyone wanna share?

 

 

 

 

Bike Racks

I’d had a lovely walk home this evening (<gasp!> a WALK?! Yes, it happens) and was thinking about blogging about all the lovely things I saw on my walk home that I would normally miss whilst zooming past them on a bike, but then I read this blog post and felt a need to share it.

http://bikinginheels-cycler.blogspot.com/2012/04/whole-foods-bike-rack-fail.html

Biking in Heels Cycler was venting about the fact that Whole Foods (or at least the one in Cambridge, MA), which prides itself, markets itself, on sustainability and doing good for the earth, etc., fails at something as simple as bicycle transportation support with bike racks that are too close together and an inconvenient (dare I say outdated?) style. Some of the comments point out that the Trader Joe’s in the area is similar. And of all places, these are the stores that we expect to “get it”!

A while back, BikeArlington did a review of Arlington grocery stores and ranked them based on the guidelines issued by The Association of Pedestrian and Bicyclists Professionals. The 16 stores chosen for the project all earned a wide range of scores, with several failing altogether and some doing fairly well.  Accessibility to the racks seems to be the biggest problem. Asking cyclists to go down parking garage ramps and lock up next to dumpsters is barely complying.

Transportation Secretary LaHood, in his blog post today, talks about National Bike Month (of course!) and how DOT is working with many different agencies to support biking as a transportation option. And he’s right – the statistics that the pilot programs and special efforts produce show that supporting transportation biking positively changes communities. So it’s even more mind-boggling that retail giants like Trader Joe’s* and Whole Foods don’t seem to get it.

Hopefully this will start a conversation about national standards for bike parking. If you notice inadequate bike parking, even if you don’t bike yourself, please contact the store to complain.  Encouraging cyclists will only improve your way of life too.

*The new Trader Joe’s near me has some decent bike racks but not enough – it’s Trader Joe’s for crying out loud! Of course people are going to bike there to shop! And it’s in Arlington! Again, of course people are going to bike there to shop! They could have easily doubled the amount of bike racks in front of the store. The space is there.