Bike Parking needs to change fast

In my last post, I wrote about how comprehensive bicycle infrastructure networks, for the most part, are no longer necessary at this late stage of our climate crisis. But bike parking is a totally different story. We desperately need quality bike parking facilities.

The Dutch understand this and are investing massively, and have been for years. Which is why a new, state of the art facility that accommodates tens of thousands of bikes is opening seemingly every week. They understand that secure parking is almost (if not equally) important in getting people cycling as providing the safe routes themselves.

I don’t know if the Dutch are rolling these bike parks out at the immense clip that they are because they know how critically short we are on time to prevent climate tipping points; but they certainly are acting as if they do. As I mentioned previously, almost everything we do now as a world society to tackle the climate crisis has to be possible within a few years. That’s why we should ban cars now instead of copying the bike network of the Dutch. But there is no other option when it comes to parking. You have to design and build these facilities, which takes years of design, planning and construction. At the rate Britain is going, we might have one of these facilities, on the scale of the world’s biggest in Utrecht, open in 2026. And I’m far from convinced that it will actually happen. We have to move fast and put the money into this immediately. If we focus on bike parking as our transport priority, we could potentially have them in every major town and city by 2024 or 2025.

In order to achieve something like this, you would need to completely flip the transport budget upside down. The government has their £27.5 Billion road building program, but cycling is only getting a less-than-pathetic 1% of that amount. Any government serious about having a future on this planet would immediately swap those around, but of course almost no governments would do that. But let’s just pretend they would and imagine a better world for a minute.

You might be wondering in this hypothetical scenario what we do between now and 2025 when all of these bike parks are up and running. Do we all just not ride bikes in the meantime through fear of getting our pride and joy stolen? Obviously, we can’t afford to wait, and we need to limit theft as much as possible. The data for June this year showed a 50% spike in theft compared to the same month in 2020, near the end of the first wave of covid. Utility trips (and therefore bikes locked up) dipped by 20% in 2020, and even though it will have picked back up in the second quarter of this year, it wouldn’t have accounted for that huge uptick in thefts. It seems more likely that the demand for bikes and the manufacturing shortage has lead thieves to up their game in terms of organisation and “professionalism”. With highly skilled thieves taking advantage of the lack of secure parking, authorities have to move while we wait for the Utrecht style bike parks to come to fruition.

Smaller scale secure parking can be introduced quickly in residential and commercial urban streets, for example. And it’s also possible for existing buildings to introduce new or improve existing bike parking facilities for staff or customers. We’ve seen train stations introduce swipe card entry and CCTV to existing bike storage rooms for example. And I think folding bikes are going to play a big role in urban areas. They are always a great idea, and with the lack of secure parking, they’re essential to the growth of cycling in the next several years especially.

Cargo bikes are going to be increasingly huge in terms of the transport mix as we go forward, and they will also present a security challenge. However, their sheer size and weight will help deter thieves, and the most recent models often come with immobiliser type functions where they won’t roll unless they’ve been unlocked by the owner. I also think commercial cargo bikes won’t be effected due to them being either in constant use, or stored at the business premises. Cargo bikes for individuals and families will be more of a challenge in the short term; but as mentioned above, they are much less appealing to thieves than regular bikes. And let’s not forget, you can (and should) insure them like you would insure a car, except it’s a lot less expensive. Even if the worst was to happen, you could just get another one, and it would still be far cheaper than owning and running a car.

Bike hoops outside SpashPoint Leisure Centre in Worthing

But what we really need to get away from is shit bike parking. Don’t get me wrong; bike hoops are clearly the least bad of the options, but they’re not great; especially when they’re uncovered. Front or rear wheel racks are basically useless and they are not designed for all of the different tyre widths you see. No new (or relatively recent) development should have uncovered racks of any sort. SplashPoint Leisure Centre (pictured above) is the most egregious example where I live. They installed quite a few hoops, to their credit. But could you really not afford to at the very least cover them up?

When I was in Cambridge a couple of years ago, I visited a new station north of the city. It had hundreds of bike loops, and they were covered by a large roof, to at least keep the rain off. At that time, I remember being astounded that they would do anything that cycling friendly at a medium sized train station in the UK. That’s what living in West Sussex does to your expectations. But from now on, I think it is the absolute bare minimum we should expect to see at transport hubs.

And then there’s the other local destinations. Convenience stores, doctors surgeries, dentists, libraries etc. So many of these places have rusty old bike racks that hold maybe 4 or 5 bikes if you’re lucky, but they also have a car park for 20 or 30 cars. If we somehow did wake up from our climate slumber tomorrow and decide to ban cars, you’d have all sorts of problems with bike parking at these locations, 1 or 2 miles from home.

We clearly need a two pronged approach to this critical problem. Small, covered, sometimes secure parking in residential areas and local amenities, and massive investment in Utrecht style parking for tens of thousands of bikes in urban centres. We can’t wait any longer for this change. Cycling rates will stay relatively stagnant until something happens to show people that cycling really is respected as a form of transport, like it is elsewhere.

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