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November 20th, 2002 Anne Laufe | News Stories
 

Attack of the Phantom Bike Racks

     
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Die-hard bikers like Lisa Caron are finding that many new buildings lack the bike parking required by city law.
IMAGE: jason goodman
Although Lisa Caron owns a car, she usually gets around on two wheels. For example, when Caron worked in the development office at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, she rode her old Bridgestone to work and locked it in a covered area designated for bikes.

When she recently pedaled over to the new Pho Van in the Pearl District, however, she couldn't find a bike rack, so she had to secure her bike to a parking meter. "I always find someplace to lock it," Caron says. "Trees, parking meters.... Once I had to lock it to an electrical meter; that was probably the most awkward. I've wondered if it's the building's responsibility to provide bike parking."

In the case of new buildings like The Gregory, where Pho Van is located, it is. The glamorous 200,000-square-foot mixed-use edifice is home to several retail outlets, including Pizza Schmizza, Bibo Juice Bar and the Vietnamese restaurant Caron was patronizing. According to city code, The Gregory is supposed to have 17 short-term bike parking spaces, half of them covered. The permit approved by city planners in November 2000 shows 14 spots nestled in alcoves on all four sides of the building. But when Caron wheeled up, she found the bike racks were a myth.

The Gregory isn't the only building with phantom bike parking. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance recently conducted a survey of a dozen new buildings and major renovations and found 10 had no visible bike racks. "No one wants to cut a little alcove in the footprint of their building," says Randy Albright, a bike commuter and member of the Bicycle Advisory Committee, a city panel that helped draft Portland's bike-parking ordinance and participated in the BTA survey.

No one tracks the exact number of bike parking spots in the city, but activists such as Roger Geller are convinced there aren't enough. Geller, known around town as the Portland Department of Transportation's bike guru, notes that, according to the 2000 Census, twice as many people commute to work on their bikes as did a decade ago. At the same time, the city is removing three-fourths of the parking meters in the central city area, severely reducing the number of de facto bike racks.

"In some areas, there's absolutely a parking shortage," says Geller. "Sometimes you'll see four bikes attached to a rack made for two. In certain areas you'll see bikes locked to trees, gas pipes, Willamette Week boxes." Not only are some of these spots illegal (hitching up to private property is a no-no), they also pose a hazard to pedestrians and bicycles.

"We are installing between 150 and 300 bike racks a year," says Jean Harrison, a city transportation manager, "but with such a backlog of need, that doesn't really take care of the problem."

The shortage exists despite a 6-year-old law aimed at ensuring that bike parking keeps up with urban growth. A 1996 city ordinance requires architects, developers and contractors to include a specified number of bicycle parking spaces, based on the use and size of the proposed building.

The BTA survey looked at short-term bicycle parking at Northwest Portland buildings constructed or renovated within the past three years. All 12 randomly selected residential and commercial buildings that are required to provide short-term bike parking; all 12 had problems. Whole Foods, for instance, had the requisite spots, but they weren't in the right location (racks are supposed to be 50 feet from the main entrance). The new addition at Powell's is short four spaces, due to a new, lower-capacity "art" rack. The other 10 buildings, including The Gregory, had no racks.

That's not supposed to happen, according to Susan Feldman, principal planner at the city's Bureau of Development Services. "If they don't have the bike parking," she says, "they don't get the permit."

So why were so many new buildings, including the Fox Tower, 5th Avenue Commons (on Everett Street) and The Gregory erected without it? City planner Kristin Cooper, who saw several versions of The Gregory's plans, doesn't know. "The plans show that there should be bike parking," she says.

Steve Poland, a designer with Ankrom Moisan, was the project manager on The Gregory. He says developer John Carroll wanted to avoid using alcove space for bikes, and the city initially approved bike parking in the public right of way, where the trees and parking meters are, if Carroll paid for twice as many spaces as were required. But once construction was underway, Poland says, the city's transportation office changed its mind.

So, in November 2000, nearly a year after construction started, the architects penciled in 14 spaces of bike parking in the building's alcoves. The U-shaped racks, however, didn't appear until two weeks ago, after the BTA met with Feldman's office.

Kasandra Griffin, interim director of the BTA, says city planners are "not the bad guys," but notes that the Bureau of Development Services "hasn't been doing a stellar job of making sure that all new buildings have the short-term parking they should."

The BTA is may get more involved in the design process so that the bike racks that appear on architects' plans actually get built. "We want to get it on the architects' radar," says bike advocate Rick Browning, himself an architect. "It's not what they think about first when they sit down to design a building. It might be the last thing."

 
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