Why Chicago Is Lagging Behind Other Cities on Bike Parking Corrals

IMG_1834
The Wicker Park on-street bike corral. Photo by John Greenfield.

Not surprisingly, Portland, Oregon, leads the nation in on-street bike parking corrals, with 97 installed since 2004 and about 20 more going in each year. San Francisco, which installed its first corrals on Valencia Street in May 2010, now has 32 of them. New York City, which began installing corrals in August 2011, currently has 12. But Chicago, which debuted its first on-street racks, in front of Wicker Park’s Flat Iron Building, a month before New York, only has four corrals so far, with a fifth slated for Logan Square’s Revolution Brewing this spring.

The Chicago Department of Transportation’s forward-thinking Commissioner Gabe Klein has been an outspoken proponent of the corrals, which can fit up to 12 bike in one car space, because they promote cycling, clear space on sidewalks and make businesses more visible. “Studies have shown that having bike facilities in front of your business can increase business by double digits,” Klein said at the Flat Iron ribbon cutting, promising more on-street corrals around the city soon. So why, 19 months later, does Chicago only have one-third as many as New York and one-eighth as many as San Francisco?

7457095994_88fd0f96fc_z
San Francisco bike parking corral. Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Bicycle Coallition

The difference is funding. CDOT recently used a federal and local Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant to hire Tony Giron part-time as bike parking corral program manager, with the goal of arranging 20 installations by September. They’ve created an attractive brochure to promote the on-street racks and Giron’s services to business owners and community organizations. But while the city governments in Portland, San Francisco, and New York pay for the materials and installation for the corrals, Chicago does not. The on-street racks installed and planned so far have been bankrolled by chambers of commerce, Special Service Areas – a district where an additional property tax pays for extra services – and/or business owners.

Therefore, Giron, who was promoted to the full-time position of bike parking manager [a job John Greenfield held in the early 2000s] on Monday, responsible for sidewalk rack installations as well, has a daunting task. Not only does he need to convince merchants and community leaders that swapping car spaces for bike parking is a good idea, but he has to persuade them to pay for the corrals. The brochure estimates the equipment and installation costs for a five rack, ten-bike corral at $2,500-3,000, plus annual expenses of $75 for a public way permit and $800 for winter removal and spring replacement for racks located on snow routes.

corral_1
New York City bike corral. Photo by Josef Szende/Atlantic Avenue BID.

In contrast, the city of New York pays for their corrals, estimated at $3,000 each for materials and labor, using 80% federal grants and 20% municipal funds, according to spokesman Scott Gastel. San Francisco also provides corrals, valued at about $2,500, at no cost to businesses that apply for them, with funding coming from city, county and regional sources plus federal Transportation Enhancement grants, said spokesman Paul Rose. In Portland, where corrals cost about $2,600, the city has bankrolled them, mostly via a bicycle parking fund that developers pay into when they cannot install short-term bicycle parking on their property, according to bike coordinator Roger Geller.

Asked why his city chooses to invest in bike corrals, Portland Bureau of Transportation spokesman Dan Anderson said, “Providing ample, convenient and secure bicycle parking serves the ever-growing number of people who bike in Portland. Bicycle parking infrastructure is a key part of any bikeway network and integral in Portland’s plan to increase the share of trips taken by bike.”

3884235695_45cb5ac825
Bike corral in Portland, Oregon. Photo: Bike Portland.

Chicago has the same goals, so why isn’t our city lining up funding for on-street bike corrals instead of trying to convince businesses and community organizations to pay for them? Since the 1990s, CDOT has installed over 12,000 racks on sidewalks using CMAQ grants, and the sidewalk rack construction contract is currently in year three out of five, Giron said. “When the contract went out to bid, the city did not foresee the need for bike corrals and so it was never added as a line item. I imagine the city will add bike corrals to the next contract that goes out to bid in a couple years.”

In the meantime, Giron is trying to figure out a way to temporarily modify the contract to allow for bike corrals to be installed, perhaps in conjunction with bike lane projects. “I want corrals to be a key element when CDOT is designing a ‘complete street,’” he explained. Hopefully he’ll succeed, which would make his assignment to get 20 corrals installed in six months a much more realistic mission.

  • Anonymous

    Doesn’t our inane privatized parking deal also make it harder? Any spots lost have to be replaced, right? In the areas that need the bike parking most would seem to be the hardest to get replacement spots for.

  • That does make it more complicated, but it doesn’t seem like it’s been a big deal so far. LAZ apparently has been pretty cooperative about swapping parking space locations.

  • Anonymous

    It may not be an issue now when we only have 5, but when we get more and more, it’ll be more and more of a problem. Just one of the many reasons the parking deal was so bad.

  • John Greenfield

    Let’s worry less about that and more about how the parking deal will affect protected bike lane plans!

  • Anonymous

    I do like the idea of bike corrals being funded by local organizations. It allows them to differentiate themselves from other neighborhoods and use that as a competitive advantage.
    The last thing I want is budget maintained by the city and spread evenly among all wards even if it is not a priority for a given ward. Should a ward where unemployment is an issue, or safety, of truancy, be forced to spend their money on bike corrals?

  • There’s no way we’re going to get anywhere close to the number of corrals in those other cities as long as we’re relying on local businesses and community organizations to pay for them. As detailed above, the funding would probably come from CMAQ grants, not money that would otherwise be used to create job programs or put more cops on the street.

    In NYC, SF and PDX the city usually lines up the funding but the corrals are put in at the request of businesses, not randomly sprinkled around town. In Portland, where they’re putting in about 20 corrals a year, there’s a two-year waiting list for the corrals.

    The corrals work best in areas where there’s already a high demand for bike parking, but that doesn’t mean they’re only appropriate for neighborhoods with low unemployment and crime rates. Pilsen has its share of challenges, but the corral at Cafe Jumping Bean is a success.

  • Can we allow alderman to use their menu funds to purchase corrals? Compared to most infrastructure projects, the cost of a corral is relatively cheap.

  • I’m not aware of any reason they couldn’t do that right now, except concerns that constituents would consider it a waste of money. Participatory budgeting, like they’re currently doing in the 49th and 47th wards, could be helpful because then residents could vote for the corrals.

  • vremark

    Giron is working hard and we’ll be seeing dozens popping up come Spring. I’m confident we’ll be rivaling Portland in a few years, and after on-street bike corrals, the next mission should be covered or indoor parking in heavily trafficked locations. What we can easily do now to aid the bike parking cause is to report abandoned bikes (especially ones taking up a rack in a busy area) and suggest new bike parking locations. http://www.chicagobikes.org/bikeparking/

  • Anonymous

    and how it impacts the BRT plans. It makes removing parking in metered areas of Ashland or Western a lot harder.

  • Thanks for the feedback. You’re talking about dozens of sidewalk racks, not corrals, correct? Even Portland’s not putting in dozens of corrals a year – they’re doing about 20 a year.

    No one’s arguing that Giron’s not hustling to get the corrals in – quite the opposite. However, as mentioned in the previous post about Revolution Brewing’s incoming corral, the chambers of commerce in Wicker Park and
    Andersonville also want to install additional corrals, and he’s gotten
    interest from the Flats real estate development in Rogers Park,
    Metropolis Coffee in Edgewater, Intuit arts center in River West and
    Simone’s Bar in Pilsen. So that’s one planned corral and a handful of maybes, heavily dependent on whether those businesses and community orgs are willing and able to pay for the racks and installation.

    Think how much easier Giron’s job would be if he could simply offer the corrals for free to the businesses and community groups that need and want them. Asking him to compete with Portland, which has dedicated funding for the corrals, is like sending a boxer into the ring with one arm tied behind his back.

  • Very true, although the best configuration for BRT on those streets, center-running with travel lanes removed, would involve minimum parking removal.

  • Anonymous

    True, but there might be places where it makes sense to remove some parking near major intersections for turn lanes or local bus stops.

    As an example, I don’t think the no-left-turn-anywhere aspect is a good idea, as it’s very restrictive. At major intersections (ie at least a 1/2 mile street, and not even all of those), there could be a left turn lane that gets an arrow at the end of the signal sequence.

    Concrete example, Lincoln/Western. If you’re driving on Lincoln, you get put onto Western a block north/south of Lawrence. Go through the Lawrence intersection, then have to turn left to continue on Lincoln. I don’t find it reasonable to completely disconnect a major diagonal street, but that’s what the current center BRT plans do. Instead, take out parking (for the through lane), put in a left turn lane, and then let the left turn lane go at the end of the cycle.

  • They’d be removing about 10% of parking on Western and/or Ashland, so the LAZ contract is going to complicate things, but it’s not a dealbreaker. In general, center-running BRT is not compatible with left turns, but there may be some exceptions. I believe the Lincoln/Western situation you outline is almost unique in Chicago – I can’t think of anywhere else in the city where a diagonal street detours like that. I believe that reconfiguration was done to accommodate the conversion of Lincoln south of Lawrence into a semi-pedestrianized zone.

  • Brian

    Definitely agree. We will never match San Fran or Portland without funding from the city at some point. It is just too difficult for Chambers, SSAs, and small businesses to find the funds for these types of projects when their budgets are already so tight. It took a lot of work to find the SSA funds for the two we installed last year. I don’t think we can continue to do that for much longer.
    One thing that would potentially make the corrals more affordable and accessible in the mean time, would be to keep them in year round. Most of those other cities do not have to pay to remove and then reinstall them every fall and spring. This is an expense that adds up very quickly, plus the added wear and tear to the corrals and to the street are not helping either. I know that the city is concerned about snow plows crashing into a bike corral or people spot, but a bike corral sits much further away from a plow zone than a parked car and I rarely hear of plows hitting parked cars.
    As for Tony Giron, I have to give him a lot of credit for championing bike parking in the city all by himself. It is not an easy task to sell the idea of a bike corral to a business or community, let alone an entire city, and I think he has done a great job. I am confident that we will get to 20 by the end of this summer with his help.

  • Brian, thanks for providing your perspective as someone from one one of the community organizations that has worked to put in corrals and parklets, and thanks for your efforts.

  • Anonymous

    Okay, Lincoln was a bad example (and you’re ready it was for the block south with all the restaurants/shops).

    There are plenty of other major streets (Peterson, Foster, Irving, Belmont, Fullerton) though that I think it’s unduly restrictive to say NO LEFT TURNS EVER, just because there’s a BRT lane in the middle that in most cases isn’t going to have a bus even there. That’s where I was getting into having something like “left turn on arrow only” at the end of the sequence. That way left turns can coexist with a center BRT lane.

  • vremark

    Haha, I’m optimistic. I couldn’t agree more– allocating funding for corrals specifically would make the challenge a heck of a lot easier, but if Klein is here to stay, I do think I have a right to be optimistic.

  • Dedicated left-turn arrows would slow down the center-running buses. It shouldn’t be too tough for people to adjust to not making left turns on these trips – just plan your trip so you’re approaching from the other direction and make a right, or else do a “jug handle.” Folks get used to it when streets are converted to one-way, so this shouldn’t be a big deal either.

  • Robert Kastigar

    Left-turn arrows take time away from pedestrian street crossing. When the left-turn arrow is active pedestrian traffic must be halted in all direction, just to accommodate the car traffic.

    Left turn arrows are never a good idea and should be avoided.

  • Except when they’re used for protected bike lanes, like on Dearborn! Although I hear that drivers aren’t always obeying the signals…

  • Anonymous

    “adjust” is going to mean “use a parallel street instead”. My big fear is that if both Ashland and Western get BRT, Damen is going to be well and truly screwed.

  • Anonymous

    The city should come up with some way to put CMAQ grants into play for these. You’d get a lot more businesses/SSA’s/etc to pony up if a big chunk of the money could come from a grant.

  • Christopher Gagnon

    Unfortunately, bike parking cannot be funded from the aldermanic menu. Why not? Because bike parking is not considered “permanent,” or a “capital improvement.” A permanent bike parking structure can likely be funded by menu, but not regular bike racks or corrals. And for some reason, the menu can fund bikeway striping and, I believe, pavement improvements, both of which we might consider less than permanent. But not bike racks. Aldermen would need to take action to change the menu limitation.

  • Christopher Gagnon

    It’s perfectly appropriate to include bike corrals in CMAQ-funded bike parking contracts. When I was CDOT’s Bicycle Parking Manager (2007-2012) I wanted to include corrals in what became the current contract, but this was before Commissioner Klein, when corrals were novel and worrisome unknowns, and therefore not a CDOT priority. I’m glad to see this interest in corrals taking root at last. Including corrals in the next CMAQ contract, which I believe provides more than $1 million for bike parking construction–the richest bike parking contract yet–will likely happen, but putting together such a contract is a SLOW moving process. Two years is not an unreasonable estimate to get from development to construction.

  • Christopher Gagnon

    Aside from the funding issue, which is quite serious, there is also the matter of burdensome bureaucracy. Not only does the City ask private businesses and quasi-governmental organizations to pay for the corrals, they also expect them to sign use agreements, pay for (and renew) permits, plus the previously mentioned seasonal install/remove/reinstall costs.

    The parking meter deal introduces additional barriers. While it hasn’t been too difficult to find car parking spaces to trade for corral space so far, one of the larger problems with this is the time it takes. Moving parking spaces requires an ordinance, which can take months to pass. The City should explore ways to make shuffling parking spaes more of an administrative process, rather than a legislative one, similar to the corral permit, which now thankfully does not require an ordinance like other permits.

    The current procedure is better than it was a couple years ago, but it’s still just onerous enough that some business owners seem to lose interest when they find out what they will have to do to make a corral project happen, and how long it will take.

    I’d like to see City Council come up with a better, easier, more streamlined process for doing these that gives CDOT more authority to implement such projects without the bureaucratic hurdles, which themselves cost a lot of money in staff time.

  • Christopher Gagnon

    Brian, you are spot on with the removal issue. I believe City Council could pretty easily pave the way, so to speak, by creating an exemption allowing corrals to remain. Any issue with visibility, avoiding conflicts with snow plows, etc., are all solvable problems. People who care should start lining up aldermen to support this.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the info. I guess I should have known it’d be a potentially years-long thing when dealing with the feds.

  • Chris, I know that the 49th Ward was considering using menu money to install “artistic” bike racks: http://www.ward49.com/participatory-budgeting/. I don’t believe this happened, but are you sure that menu money can’t be used for racks? After all, you can’t get much more permanent than steel bolted into concrete with mushroom spikes! Or perhaps that was the reason why the Rogers Park racks weren’t installed.

  • Thanks for the details. It does seem that, besides the financial costs, there are a lot of bureaucratic hoops for business owners and community orgs to jump through to get corrals.

  • I did some Googling and came across this PDF: http://www.chicagobikes.org/pdf/bike%20park/Menu%20Page%20-%20Bike%20Corrals.pdf

    So, apparently, something did change and bike corrals can indeed be purchased with 2013 menu funds. Note that I have a copy of the 2013 menu list that does not include bike corrals, so this might have been a late addition.

  • Tony Giron

    Kevin, nice research.

    Alderman CAN use menu funds to pay for bike corrals. I made sure to get this in before the yearly menu hearing. SSA service providers, businesses, and chambers of commerce would still have to enter a maintenance agreement, name the city as an additional insured and store the corral over winter if it is on a snow removal route.

  • Brian

    Hey Chris, great to hear from you. Shoot me an email sometime, I would love to catch up. I Definitely agree that we should gather people together to try and push for an exemption this year. It would be a huge help.

  • Brian

    In my personal opinion, the city needs to make a much more solid commitment to these projects, soon. Whether it be a people spot or a bike corral, the city currently does everything in its power to ensure that it has no legal or financial connection to these spaces. If something were to happen, the city was never involved essentially. This does not instill a lot of confidence in the long term success of these spaces on their part. This should be of concern, because they will not be able to ask community organizations and small businesses to shoulder all of the responsibility for these projects much longer. Very quickly they will run out of people who already think these amenities are important or cool, and the extensive process will deter people on the cusp. Then installations will just plateau. They can’t just ask Tony to go around to each and every potential corral location by himself, convince them the loss of parking is worth it, spend several months working out all of the intricate details of each location, remove the parking and then help each one through the labor intensive permit process. It just won’t work and I also would be concerned for Tony’s sanity at that point.

  • R

    John, in the 45th ward, another one of the 4 wards doing Participatory Budgeting, we have put together a proposal for Bike Corrals and have gotten the go ahead from the Alderman. Here’s to bike corrals hopefully coming soon to Jefferson Park!

  • Very cool. Where would you place corrals in the JP?

  • R

    Our committee decided to revolve our plans for bike corrals around the three best streets for bicycling in the ward of Lawrence, Milwaukee, and Elston. Since bike share was not coming to the 45th ward (at least this year), we decided to try to go ahead and improve infrastructure in the ward though. Fischman’s on Milwaukee is and will continue to grow as a big draw to the area, the new Mariano’s on Elston, and a scattering of businesses, bakeries, pubs around Lawrence and Austin were the ideas with which we decided. We’ll see if we can get the votes. I think this point was made earlier, but compared to other ward projects, bike corrals are relatively inexpensive and are very visible in the ward.

  • matt

    Cycle shelters or bike shelters are specialist shelters that keep cycles safe, secure and

    out of bad weather conditions. There are many different places in the
    UK that have cycle shelters, including schools, colleges and
    businesses. One of the best UK cycle shelter manufacturers that I
    know of is All Shelters. They can produce bespoke shelters to fit
    more cycles in a smaller space. I have to recommend them.http://www.allshelters.co.uk/index.php?webpage=cycle–shelters