How decent bike parking could revolutionize American cities.

How we get from here to there.
Aug. 17 2009 5:34 PM

What Would Get Americans Biking to Work?

Decent parking.

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The spatial and aesthetic challenges of having too many parked bikes attached to every last lamppost and historic building has prompted some wonderfully innovative design and market responses. The underground "Bicycle Parking Tower"—actually a series of 36 towers—at the Kasai Station in Edogawa, Tokyo, holds more than 9,000 bicycles, any of which can be retrieved within 23 seconds via an automated mechanism. In Zaragoza and a few other Spanish cities, meanwhile, the Biceberg, a small kiosk beneath which sits a storage bay, creates spots for 92 bicycles in the same space that four cars would occupy. Another approach is to combine guarded bicycle parking in a one-stop facility with mechanics, bike stores, education, and other services, as with Brazil's ASCOBIKE. Muenster's "Radstation" comes complete with a bicycle wash—for $4. In the United States, the for-profit Bikestation sells secure parking ("valet and controlled access") and provides air for tires as well as showers and Wi-Fi in its "bike-transit centers," in cities ranging from Santa Barbara, Calif., to Seattle. At Washington, D.C.'s Union Station, a similar concept — with everything from rentals to repairs — is scheduled to open in August, a swooping shell of glass and tubes, designed by KPG and at least partially inspired by the arc of a bicycle wheel.

Of course, even in a bicycling paradise like Copenhagen, bicycle parking is hardly ideal. "Parking is the last great challenge in a bike culture," as Mikael Colville-Andersen, who writes the Copenhagenize blog, told me. In its 2004 "Traffic and Environment Plan," the city of Copenhagen, noting that bike parking wasn't even assessed until 2001 (when it was found there were 2,900 spaces in the historic center), declared: "Only one third of cyclists are satisfied with their options for parking their bicycles and other road users, particularly walkers, are increasingly annoyed by parked cycles."

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This last point brings up another problem: So-called "bicycle pollution," or the clutter of masses of bikes chained to every last railing.In a city where bikes outnumber people, this is perhaps inevitable, but it's also a function of the inherent appeal of bikes—literal door-to-door transportation. As Colville-Andersen put it, "people prefer to park on the street, leaning the bikes up against the building. It's all about ease-of-use. If you can't walk out your door and get on your bike in under 30 seconds, it's irritating." Still, space has its limits, and in a design competition to upgrade Vartov Square, next to Copenhagen's City Hall—which the mayor's office notes "mainly looks like a cluttered and worn parking area"—there is a call for underground bicycle parking.

Meanwhile, back in Portland, Ore., as bicycle parking gets more respect, another bastion of the automobile landscape is getting a makeover: access, and perhaps even special lanes, for bicycles at the drive-throughs of fast-food joints.

Correction, Aug. 19, 2009: This article originally stated that Pittsburgh might require one bike parking space for every 20,000 feet of development.  The unit in this figure should have been square feet. ( Return to the corrected sentence.)

Tom Vanderbilt is author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, now available in paperback. He is contributing editor to Artforum, Print, and I.D.; contributing writer to Design Observer; and has written for many publications, including Wired, the Wilson Quarterly, the New York Times Magazine, and the London Review of Books. He blogs at howwedrive.com and lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/tomvanderbilt.