North American Cities Need to Push for Secure Bicycle Parking


Over the last few months, there has been a steady stream of photos and videos showcasing the world’s largest bicycle parking garage that opened in Amsterdam. This facility, which is completely free for daily use under 24 hours, and this massive investment by the municipal government, is not simply to benefit those who ride bicycles.

It is also connected to a series of other moves Amsterdam is doing to keep its downtown free of traffic congestion, keep its sidewalks unencumbered by bicycles locked to every pole and tree around, and cut down on theft. It’s a policy that makes the downtown more livable and economically viable. And it’s something other cities already investing in protected bike lanes and other infrastructure should get behind.

The rise of bicycle commuting in urban environments has painted cities worldwide in a new shade of green. As the environmental, economic, and health benefits of cycling become increasingly evident, cities are taking measures to make their streets more bike-friendly. Yet, one critical element is often overlooked: parking.

It’s something that the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives has been pushing in New York City. One city that has seen a huge increase in daily cycling trips over the last few years.

The group released a major report on the need for bicycle parking in NYC early in 2022 and got immediate results with the New York City Department of Transportation promising to increase bike rack installation by over 15x, to 10,000 additional racks by the end of 2022.

“Building and expanding New York City’s safe and secure bicycle parking is essential for encouraging cycling, preventing traffic crashes, and ultimately meeting our city’s climate goals,” says Elizabeth Adams, Deputy Executive Director for Public Affairs at Transportation Alternatives. “While the City has taken steps toward expanding bike parking, we can and must do more, especially as we reach record numbers of bike trips.”

But bike racks are not enough. The provision of safe, convenient, and protected bicycle parking in downtown areas is essential in fostering a sustained cycling culture. Here’s why.

The Cycling Boom & The Need for Space

In recent years, there’s been a significant upswing in the number of urban residents swapping four wheels for two. These decisions aren’t merely based on whimsy; they stem from genuine concerns about the environment, cost savings, and a desire for healthier lifestyles.

However, as more professionals opt to bike to work, the question looms: where do these bikes go during the workday? Many downtown office buildings and commercial spaces lack the infrastructure to accommodate this influx. Without adequate facilities, these bicycles end up chained to poles, stacked against walls, or worse – left at home.

There are some bicycle parking facilities scattered across North American cities, but nothing that would move the proverbial needle. In Toronto, for example, there are five locations, mostly suburban transit nodes, that include secure bicycle parking areas that have fob-entry, 24-hour surveillance but no staffing, and limited space. They also cost about $22 per month plus an initial membership fee of $28. There are two locations downtown offering a total of 338 spaces in a city of three million that is one of the most congested in North America — this is low-hanging fruit.

There are also more bike parking options available than ever before.

The Threat of Exposure: Weather, Theft, and Vandalism

While seasoned cyclists might brave the elements and tie their bikes to any available street pole, new and occasional cyclists may be deterred by the risks. Weather conditions can degrade a bicycle’s performance and lifespan. Rain can cause rust, sunlight can fade paint, and wind can knock a poorly secured bike over.

However, natural elements aren’t the only threats. The fear of theft and vandalism is real. In many urban areas, a bicycle left in the open is a magnet for criminals. The cost of replacing a stolen bicycle, not to mention the emotional toll of losing a cherished possession, is a significant deterrent for potential bicycle commuters.

According to Transportation Alternatives, lack of parking “is the number two factor in their decision. Fear of bicycle theft may also deter cyclists from using a bicycle to travel to public transit or shop at local businesses.”

The Benefits of Large-Scale Bicycle Parking

Introducing large-scale bicycle parking facilities in CBDs and downtowns can make a marked difference:

  1. Security & Peace of Mind: With secure facilities, commuters would no longer need to carry heavy chains or worry about theft. Surveillance and controlled access increase the confidence of cyclists, ensuring their bikes are in the same condition when they return.
  2. Weather Protection: Sheltered parking means bicycles are shielded from adverse weather conditions, preserving their longevity and reducing maintenance costs for owners.
  3. Encouraging Commuter Cycling: A dedicated space sends a message: cyclists are valued and welcome. This can motivate more individuals to consider biking as a viable commuting option.
  4. Economic & Environmental Rewards: More bikes and fewer cars mean decreased carbon emissions, reduced traffic congestion, and less wear and tear on urban roads. Additionally, businesses near these facilities can see a surge in clientele, given that cyclists can park nearby.
  5. Space Efficiency: Bicycles require far less space than cars. Large-scale bicycle parking facilities can accommodate a vast number of bikes in a fraction of the space needed for car parking.

Bicycles as a Visual Endorsement

Another often underappreciated benefit of large-scale bicycle parking facilities is the potential for ambient marketing. In a world saturated with digital advertisements and fleeting online impressions, ambient marketing relies on embedding marketing messages in everyday environments. A packed bicycle parking facility can be a potent visual cue, subtly encouraging more people to cycle.

  1. Visibility as Validation: Seeing a facility filled with bicycles provides validation for potential cyclists. A populated bike rack acts as a testament to the feasibility and popularity of cycling as a mode of transport. When people witness their peers making sustainable choices, they’re more likely to consider making similar decisions.
  2. A Symbol of Modern Urbanism: Large-scale bicycle facilities, especially those with sleek and innovative designs, can become iconic landmarks in a city. They represent a forward-thinking urban environment, which resonates with the younger generation eager for sustainable living and modern amenities.
  3. Branding Opportunities: Businesses can harness the power of ambient marketing by sponsoring or partnering with bicycle parking facilities. This association not only promotes the brand but also positions the company as environmentally conscious and community-focused.
  4. Telling a Greener Narrative: A cityscape dotted with bicycles and well-designed parking facilities tells a compelling story. It suggests a narrative of sustainability, community, and health. For city administrations and local businesses, this story can be a vital tool for branding and promotion, aligning local values with global sustainability goals.

Looking Ahead

The movement towards a greener, more sustainable future is not merely about encouraging people to cycle but also about ensuring they have the infrastructure to do so seamlessly. As city planners and business owners consider the future of urban spaces, integrating large-scale bicycle parking facilities should be at the forefront of discussions.

Even in a small Canadian city like London, Ontario, new ways to provide secure bicycle parking are being considered. The Ontario city scattered 18 secure bike lockers throughout the downtown area as a pilot project which, according to a local news story, saw “a five-fold increase in the number of people who registered for the service last year, with an average of 85 hourly rentals per month compared to 17 the year prior.”

But, like in Toronto and other areas, people needed to pay a nominal fee of around $20 for the privilege. Secure bike parking in downtown areas should be free and subsidized by vehicle parking. After all, the more daily bicycle commuters a city can generate will provide greater benefits for the city via decreased congestion, decreased pollution, and a healthier and happier population.

Cities that prioritize cyclists by offering safe and convenient parking solutions can expect to see more residents making the sustainable switch. And in doing so, they’ll be crafting urban environments that are healthier, more vibrant, and truly bicycle-friendly.

Source : Momentum