All Dressed Up With No Place to Park

5_4_10_enci.jpg

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.

Parking at Ralph’s
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.

Michelle Mowery from DOT hands out her misguided bike rack installation guide.

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.

5_4_10_labonge.jpgBike Parking at Tom LaBonge’s field office in Hollywood.

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.

  • What a timely post. For the most part my commute is a point A to point B deal. I rarely stop anywhere along my route. However, today I needed to stop at the store on the way in. My first stop was at the Rite-Aid on Vermont and Santa Monica. I saw a security guard so I asked him where the bike racks were. He told me there were none, so I locked up to a Handicapped Parking Sign, pretty far from the store. Next stop at CVS on Vine was the same thing. However, they did have a handrail right near the front door to lock up to.

    I guess I just took it for granted that there are places to lock up to everywhere, but today was eye-opening. Thanks for the post.

  • Brent

    As it happens, I work across the street from the Century Plaza Hotel. The next time you find yourself in the neighborhood, why not check out the excellent racks at the AIG SunAmerica Building? They’re just to the right side of the main parking entrance. They’re designed such that you just need a single padlock to lock front and back wheels securely.

  • Bobby

    Regarding the bike rack at Tom LaBonge’s office, what’s so wrong with pointing the bike the other way? Only rack hogs park a bike like that.

  • joe

    Someone once told me, never ask if it’s o.k. to bring in your bike, assume it is. Never ask if its o.k. to lock it up here or there. Just assume it is. Let the employee or business owner make the move to tell you that you’re not welcome. Usually people would rather let someone do something against the rules then have a to confront someone about it.

  • Chris Loos

    @joe

    “It’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
    (Advice I learned the hard way after getting denied a permit for PARKing day in DC)

  • @Bobby Actually that is the proper way to attach a bicycle to a U rack it allows you to secure the frame along with the front an back wheels to the rack so none of it can be removed like in the second photo of the post. it also gives the Bicycle support so it does not bend and/or misalign any parts

  • I’ve also found that while most places lack a bike rack, EVERYWHERE has disabled parking with convenient poles holding a sign with the disabled picture.

    I also hate the racks that only let you tie up the front wheel. Who ever thought that was a good idea?

  • DanaPointer

    I agree, bike parking should be better, but instead of waiting for things to change in SoCal, or abandoning riding, there is an answer:
    Brompton

  • Oscar

    Great article, Enci. I very much enjoyed it. And as a concerned citizen, whom has actually met Tom LaBonge, I will say this…he is an arrogant windbag who couldn’t care less about bicyclists or Runyon Canyon enthusiasts, for that matter.
    Too bad.

  • Bobby

    @Mattapoisett In LA

    That is exactly the same way I lock my bike up except I do it with the bike pointing the other direction so that it’s easier for the rack to accommodate a second bike. The way the cable needlessly loops around the other leg of the rack really would make it tough for someone to lock up a second bike without them bumping into each other. In 25+ years of using bicycle racks having a bicycle “bend” or any parts “misalign” themselves has never been an issue. In fact, with that style of rack and a properly placed u-lock, it would be virtually impossible for a bike to tip over.

  • Sad but true… I too get really irritated when a guard wants to command me to use a wholly inadequate rack – like the one in the Ralphs photo.

  • Enci,
    Thanks for an *amazing* blog entry. Even an infrequent rider like myself confronts those problems – and then I get deterred from patronizing their business. The Ralphs I used to frequent in Westwood has the same wheel bender bike racks as the one pictured in this blog entry. And my favorite inconvenient bike parking location prize goes to the Bed Bath and Beyond “flagship” store by Bundy and Olympic. They have U-Racks but they were installed so close to the actual store that the only way to park a bike is parallel to the rack. I actually decided after that day that I would never patronize that store ever again. There are so many places I can spend my money; why should I bother when it’s obvious that the retailer doesn’t really care about me?
    Thanks again for an insightful and well-written entry.
    Sirinya

  • Enci, your article is spot on. However, I would like to give a shout out to some businesses who never seem to mind me bringing my bike in, either for a few seconds, or for an hour and a half. When I to my ballet class at Dance Arts Academy, even though I have since found a safe and suitable place to lock up, the owner had no problem when I wheeled my bike in the first day, and merely asked that I put it in her office so none of the kids messed with it. She said feel free to bring it in any time. (Yay, Carla Luna!) Also, for some reason 7-11 employees never care when I wheel in for snacks or water. They don’t even blink. Also, and this is funny, once when I went to a Taco Bell and another time to McDonalds for a coffee, wheeled my bike in and no one cared for a second. Those are probably random instances though.

    The one thing that kills me is parking at the Electric Lodge in Venice, which is a space committed to green living/theatre/etc. I’ve mentioned to them many times, why don’t you have a bike rack, especially since the owner rides too, and they gave me some run around about the City wouldn’t install because of location. All I could think it, you’re a nonprofit and part of your mission is about the environment. Come on, we can’t write a small proposal to get some adequate bike parking?

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