Appeared in LA Streetsblog, May 4th, 2010.
I love riding my bike, even when it gets tense on the streets and even when I experience conflicts with motorists who don’t respect my space and come too close, cut me off, or endanger my life with their reckless driving. When I ride, I feel everything. Not just physically, when a small rock hits my leg, when a gust of wind throws me to the left or into the door zone, or when it rains, but also emotionally. I feel fear, anger, frustration, as well as freedom, joy, and playfulness.
When I get to my destination, oftentimes all that feeling turns into frustration. Frustration because of parking.
Motorists are quite vocal about their rights to a parking space, be it free or cheap, and it is the rule to accommodate motorists in communities, in developments, at businesses and on the street. It’s normal to provide parking facilities to those who arrive in a motor vehicle. I think motorists take it for granted. I don’t think they realize how great they’re actually having it. Drivers can find parking at any major destination without any problem since LA’s building codes specify how much parking is needed for each planned land use, from barber to butcher, from motel to mortuary. There is also a municipal code for bike parking and what the bike parking must look like, where it needs to be located and how it needs to protect the bike and how it needs to be installed, but that is overlooked and not adhered to, so cyclists are typically an afterthought, an intrusion, an unwelcome guest with an inconvenient parking problem – a bike!
So this is why when I get to my destinations, I usually feel frustration and anger and sadness because I’m always being inconvenienced and then treated as if I am the problem.
When I ride to the grocery store, to the theatre, to pick up some movies or to the book store, or to get some coffee or to go out to dinner with friends, I typically struggle to find the bike parking, if it exists. I usually look around and I have to scan the place, the street, the parking lot, usually finding lots of parking for motor vehicles but not much of a welcome for the cyclists. I look at what is the most sturdy location that can hold my bike frame and that will accept both my U-lock and my cable. I prefer the U-lock for the frame and wheel and the cable as a back-up and for the front wheel, both locks connected to whatever fixed pole, rack, tree, handrail, sign, or other improvised bike rack I can create. I also look for a well lit location and also to make sure that it is visible to a passersby and that it is not blocking a walkway or in a position that will allow it to get bumped or hit by motor vehicles jockeying for position. Typically I get two or three but rarely all of my bike parking preferences.
When I find that perfect spot for my bike, I also have to consider what is safe for me as a person. Is the place safe enough for me, so I can bend down over my bike to remove the lock when I leave the venue? Is there space for me to fumble with my bike lock without having to either step off the curb into a traffic lane, or are there other bikes locked so tight to mine that I would rip my stockings or my skirt will get grease on it from another chain.
There are many ideas of how to lock up a bike and most ideas that come from cyclists have a valid point. All worries need to be taken into consideration but unfortunately I don’t see any consideration from the various departments which includes the Department of Transportation, who don’t have a standard in installing racks, the Metro, who don’t even bother installing racks at their transit oriented development and if they do, it’s so badly installed and out of sight that I wouldn’t even put a shopping cart to it, and even City Hall, who can’t talk to their own departments to install racks that are visible to security or to the public.
Private developers are known for hiding bike parking as if it is a dirty little secret, putting bike racks behind walls in enclosed areas that are popular with the people who are looking for a secluded area for their business, whatever it is that they need seclusion to do. These shortcut developers also tend to favor “toaster” bike racks that only accept the front wheel, making it easy to bend the wheel and tough to lock the frame. Most of all, they put bike parking where it fits, not where it’s needed, demonstrating that cyclists are an afterthought.
The frustration has caused many of my cycling friends to abandon their bikes and either get back in their car or take public transit. The frustration has gotten me into yelling matches with security guards like the ones who threw a chain over my bike to punish me for locking up somewhere where I thought I would be safer than what they provided.
Bike racks seem so simple and so miniscule compared to all the other problems that business owners face but that simple solution is quite complex if you look at basic needs for those who ride. We ride dressed up and dressed down. Some of us ride for sport, some for work like the messengers, some for recreation and fun, and some of us ride as a main means of transportation.
I belong to those people whose bike is their main transportation solutions. I ride dressed up and down. When I dress up, I want my dress and shoes and my stockings to stay clean. Even when I ride dressed down, I don’t want to walk into my meeting with grease all over my hands because I had to maneuver my bike into some tight parking quarters. When I go somewhere on my bike, I want the same respect towards my mode as motor vehicle drivers do. I need space, a well lit area, eyes on the parking area, and I want the parking attendant to be as friendly and accommodating to me as s/he was with the motor vehicle driver in front of me.
Parking is one of the basic elements that would make cycling more enjoyable because when I arrive on a bike and find great bike parking, I relax and enjoy myself. On the other hand, when I have to lock my bike up in a bad place, when I get yelled at by security guards, when I worry that my bike will be damaged or stolen or “booted” I have a hard time paying attention at my meeting, or enjoying my meal, or spending my money. It’s my first impression and it’s either good or bad, but it has an impact on my entire experience.
Cyclists shouldn’t have to fight to be treated like motorists, to have accommodations waiting for them when they arrive, to be supported with the same consideration and respect as others who require lots of space. Nobody should be mistreated, pushed, scolded, lectured, and given a long list of “No!” responses to the simple request for bike parking. Why does it happen? Because we allow it to happen and we fail to demand the simplest of accommodations, safe and efficient bike parking.
It took us 6 months to get bike racks installed at the new downtown LAPD headquarters across the street from City Hall. 6 months after the grand opening, the DOT finally installed racks on the street, out of sight of the LAPD officers stationed in the lobby and short of their own meager bike parking standards. Even when they finally comply, the LADOT falls short. (bolts missing, distance to each other varies, location is abainst code, etc.)
For 3 years I’ve tried to get good bike racks at the Museum Square properties but have been dissed by the property managers assistant many times, and have never been put in touch with the manager until 3 weeks ago when Stephen called him because my bike got booted again. I had parked it where it was safe, not in the wheel crowded wheel benders that I always pass up. When did security guards get the right to seize personal property? When did the Museum Square get a variance that relieved them of their obligation to provide bike parking?
The Hollywood & Vine Metro station still has no bike parking, in spite of the fact that it’s was in development and construction for over a decade. The ribbon cutting came and went three months later, no bike parking. Again, cyclists are not important to bother with.
It would be funny if it weren’t so sad but the City Council offices that finally installed bike parking did it so poorly, they are not usable. The Hollywood City Hall bike parking is an example of what not to do. It’s hidden from the street by large palm trees. It is accessible only by stairs. It is packed so tightly that the three racks look great when empty, but if bikes were loaded to capacity, it demonstrates that the person who installed them has never ridden a bike, or even simply attempted to lock one up. The end rack works only if the back of the bike is lifted into the planter. Best part is, they ran out of bolts and failed to complete installation, something that the Councilman, the LADOT, the City staff, the contractor all failed to notice. But I did!
For two years I have attended the Artios Awards Ceremony at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Century City, arriving on my bike and then wasting time looking for bike parking. When I finally give up and lock up to a rail or a pole, I end up incurring the wrath of a valet who somehow feels comfortable yelling at me for daring to lock my bike up on their property. So both times I gave in and locked up on the street, one time to a light pole in the rain.
I frequent local theatre companies and I typically call or email ahead to ask about bike parking but rarely do the theatre managers respond. The Fake gallery was the only theatre in East Hollywood, who said, if you ride, bring your bike in, and we place the bikes in our little storage room. That gallery has no space at all and yet they shared with us cyclists that little room to make us feel welcomed and enjoy our stay.
Great bike parking is such a small gesture in the grand scheme of things but a good, safe and effective bike parking is such a loud and clear message that getting out of the car and onto a bike was a good choice.
By arriving on a bike, I am not giving valets and security guards and property managers permission to push me around, to scold me, to lecture me, or to insult me. I am not a child, I am not a vandal, I am not a problem, I am a cyclist. I fully expect to be treated with respect. To threaten my property is to threaten me. It is unacceptable.
We, the people, some on foot, some on bikes, others in cars or in buses, are all guaranteed certain inalienable rights. I’m sick of being treated like a second class citizen just because I ride a bike. I want to be treated with respect and if there are in fact codes for bike parking then the businesses and property owners need to adhere to it. If they don’t, I expect the city to fine these developers and make sure that the code is enforced and not excused. To make our streets bike friendly, we need to provide bike parking that is secure for the bike riders personal safety as well as for the safety of the bike.
For all the talk of bike friendly streets and for all the debate of our place on the road, the simplest and cheapest thing our city leadership can do to support cyclists is to make safe and efficient bike parking the standard and not the exception. Help us achieve that by asking all your local businesses that you visit to provide bike racks at their stores. Give them a printout of the national standards for bike parking instructions and let’s make Los Angeles a bike friendly city.