Eyes on the Street: Parked Bikes, Meet Stationary Bikes

20 bikes, or two cars? Photo by author.

If you’re looking for bike parking along trendy commercial streets in Chicago, it seems to be a lot easier to find around fitness centers than almost anywhere else. Surely this is no mistake: Either the gyms, or their neighbors, must be requesting many bike racks, and their patrons might be taking an active way to get to their indoor physical activities.

At the same time, many health clubs also seem to have a ton of “free” car parking. Some recently proposed (and approved) developments in Chicago neighborhoods – many of which have large fitness centers within their retail spaces – have a large amount of parking, which is sometimes touted by the developer as necessary for success. For example, Addison Park on Clark, a development with just 148 residential units but 493 parking spaces, may include an XSport Fitness center within its 170,000 square feet of commercial space.

Down the street, XSport is allegedly in talks with another developer to build a fitness facility alongside a Mariano’s grocery store – and 280 parking spaces. Both developers are working on a faulty assumption that fitness centers require hundreds of parking spaces.

Health and fitness clubs have their own section of the Chicago Municipal Code, 4-6-020, which states that no license for a health club may be issued unless there is off-street parking, either on-site or contracted, within 500 feet (about one block) of the premises, and that can accommodate ten percent of the capacity of the health club.

Chicago’s north and northwest sides have an abundance of gyms, many of them located near transit, Divvy stations, or near bike racks. At the same time, many of these gyms offer subsidized parking to members, either in the form of parking validation at nearby garages, or else in their own parking garages.

One of several bike corrals in Andersonville, in front of the Cheetah gym. Image: Jeremy Bressman, via Edgeville Buzz.

Despite the overabundance of parking that’s resulted from almost 60 years of arbitrarily high zoning requirements, at least a few neighborhoods have made it easy to bike to the gym. Eco Andersonville, a program of the non-profit Andersonville Development Corporation, has sponsored several 10-bike corrals throughout the neighborhood. One of these corrals sits outside Cheetah Gym on Clark Street in Andersonville, and it (as well as the several traditional U-shaped bike racks) are often full in the evening.

Bike corrals aren’t the only way to make biking to the gym easier: the Lakeview Athletic Club has several blue- and orange-colored bike racks outside the Lakeview Athletic Center, which combined can hold 20 bikes. Even before the evening rush, these racks were largely full.

Finally, one more great example of a fitness center that has a ton of bike parking is the recently opened Mariano’s/LA Fitness complex in Ravenswood. It looks like there is room for more than 60 bikes in a space tucked under Mariano’s, but still visible from the street. While some of the racks are probably used by Metra commuters, that sort of sharing is all the more appropriate for uses with complementary hours.

So while there is still a lot to be done in terms of lightening up the city’s zoning requirement that fitness centers (and nearly every other land use) provide tons of parking, it’s great to see that many gyms also provide a large amount of bike parking, too. Being welcomed to the gym by dozens of your neighbors’ bikes might reinforce the message that being fit involves how you get to the gym, just as much as what you do inside.