Bicycle Parking: Libraries versus Shopping Centers

by Robert Leone

[Ed. note–for those reading on a feed reader or aggregator, this is an image-heavy article, best viewed by clicking through to the original post]

The Usual Story

The usual placement of bicycle parking facilities is pictured below. The ribbon rack is an effective design. It has the virtues of being relatively inexpensive, available, and adequate for today’s modern locks and locking styles (U lock or other lock through the frame and as many wheels as possible). Some would say it’s uninspired. What does seem to be inspired is the way bicycle parking facilities are misplaced. Two prime examples are pictured below.

Above, a typical ribbon rack placement, far too close to a wall. A rack that would normally support several bicycles can now be used to secure perhaps two bikes. The installers at this Linda Vista shopping center were probably thinking: “Keep it out of the way.”

This is less a rack placement issue than it is stuff placed too close to bike racks. Racks are often placed by shopping center managers in “utility” sorts of spaces, areas where clutter won’t impede sidewalk users. Often that includes placement near pillars, walls, curbs, and railings. Here, a Mission Valley area shopping mall placed other sidewalk furniture in the same area. A ribbon rack that could support four parked bicycles now has only enough room for two, because of the inelegantly placed trash receptacle. This ribbon rack is also uncomfortably near a handicapped access ramp. One nice long cargo bicycle could block a wheelchair user.

Even when a bicycle rack is carefully placed, there is a seeming disparagement of that location. A prime example, which you can see on the left, comes from a San Diego Community College District facility just off Aero Drive. This ribbon rack is placed where it is out of the way of the appointed positions for standing in line, it is away from walls and pillars, and it’s even positioned somewhat near the entrance. However, it’s also in the smoking area. In fact, that “smoker’s post” in the foreground is the ashtray closest to the entrance.

The Library: Where the Rules About Racks Are Different

The basic theme is simple: Whomever is planting bicycle racks isn’t paying good attention to the function of the racks, or to the needs and desires of cyclists. That said, there’s at least one institution in the City of San Diego that seems to be “getting it,” at least most of the time. That institution is the City of San Diego Public Library System. With a total of 37 locations (the Central Library in downtown San Diego, an Adult Literacy Center, and thirty-five branches), a complete photo gallery of what the libraries do right would be prohibitive, but I’ll include some representative examples.

Serra Mesa/Kearny Mesa Branch

If you’ll be riding on over to the Serra Mesa-Kearny Mesa Branch Library at 9005 Aero Drive, San Diego, CA 92123, you’ll find the bicycle racks are as close to the door as any of the motor vehicle parking spots. Further, with two large ribbon racks (see picture on the right for details), you’ll still find room to park your bicycle even if a group of children, or a family, from some of the nearby housing developments, have ridden here. Aero Drive features a nice class two bikeway (“bike lane”), as do many of the arterial roads intersecting with it.

Linda Vista Branch

On the left, you’ll see the bicycle racks at the Linda Vista Branch Library, 2160 Ulric St., San Diego, CA 92111. You’d think these racks continue the theme of placing bicycle parking facilities further away from entrances than any motorist, but when you’re at the site, you’ll see these two ribbon racks, although placed at the far edge of the library’s walkway, are actually as close or closer to the entrance than any motor vehicle parking, with the exception of some handicapped parking spaces.

Tierra Santa Branch

On the left you’ll see the Tierra Santa Branch Library at 4985 La Cuenta Drive, San Diego, CA 92124. It has a nice inset pad on its walkway for the bicycle parking racks. The ribbon rack (a four loop model) is set well away from walls and hedges, unlike so many racks in commercial developments and shopping centers.

The Pacific Beach/Taylor Branch Library at 4275 Cass St., San Diego, CA 92109 features two entrances. It also features two sets of racks. Over at the main entrance, there’s enough rack space to independently park about two dozen bicycles (image to the left). About eight can be independently parked in the racks by the side entrance (image to the right). Even on a rainy day, this relatively flat, beach area community fields a number of library patrons on bicycles.

Pacific Beach Branch Main Entrance
Pacific Beach Branch Side Entrance
Pacific Beach Branch Side Entrance
Clairemont Branch

Most of the libraries I’ve featured thus far have been newer construction. The Serra Mesa-Kearny Mesa Branch Library, for example, has been open for only four years. However, even older library branches featuring outdated racks have been putting those racks in convenient parking locations. The Clairemont Branch Library at 2920 Burgener Blvd., San Diego, CA 92110 is an example. Their old, welded steel “wheel bender” rack is closer to the entrance than any motor vehicle parking.

Shopping center managers may not understand cyclists or their needs. On the other hand, service organizations such as public libraries seem much better able to plan to accommodate cyclists. In  part, while retailers seek to preferentially accommodate bulk consumers of goods, libraries justify their existence with the sort of clients shopping centers want to discourage — those meddling kids, the neighbors from across the street, the people who just want to borrow something, and the folks who are just stopping by to use the computer to download pictures of bicycle parking facilities.