Eyes on the Street: Monumental Bike Parking on Lawrence Avenue

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Photo: John Greenfield

I spent about five years in the early 2000s coordinating bicycle rack installations for the Chicago Department of Transportation. One of the main takeaways from that very enjoyable job was that, when it comes to bike parking, form really does follow function. Although designers are constantly trying to reinvent the wheel by building a better bike rack, it’s hard to beat the no-frills “inverted U” style CDOT has been putting in since the early Nineties.

Therefore, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at the rather grandiose bike parking structure that was recently installed as part of the successful Lawrence Avenue road diet and streetscaping project. That “four-to-three conversion” transformed the segment of Lawrence between Ashland Avenue and Western Avenue from a desolate speedway into a people-friendly street with wider sidewalks, space for cafe seating, and bike lanes.

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Photo: John Greenfield

Even before that stretch became more bikeable, there was a huge demand for bike parking at the Ravenswood Metra station at Lawrence and Ravenswood Avenue, which has recently grown with the addition of a new supermarket and housing complex. There are “wave” racks with space for dozens of cycles under the Metra tracks, but that still isn’t enough capacity — bikes often overflow onto railings.

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Photo: John Greenfield

Therefore, it was a no-brainer that the streetscape project should include additional bike parking, but the design that was chosen is a bit of a head-scratcher. The streetscape included four colorful, roughly 30-foot-high “neighborhood identifier poles.” One of these, at the southeast corner of Lawrence/Ravenswood, was retrofitted with six curved bike parking fixtures made by Bike Arc, a company based in Palo Alto, California.

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Photo: John Greenfield

Placing your bike in the curving metal wheel trough is a little tricky, and might be a heavy lift for smaller individuals. I also guessed that it would be impossible to secure a wheel and the frame of my bike to the fixture’s locking loop using a Kryptonite Mini U-Lock, one of the most popular types among urban cyclists. However, I found I was able to do this with a bit of finagling, although my hand got a little greasy as I maneuvered the lock past the chain, through the rear triangle.

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Photo: John Greenfield

The relative merits of the Bike Arc fixtures aside, one thing’s for sure. The placement of this particular installation is pretty laughable. One of the fixtures is jammed right up against a curb. While it’s barely possible to load a bike into that trough, as you can see in the above photo, doing so requires a little communing with nature. I’d like to think, due to the location of utility lines and whatnot, there was no other choice for the location of the identifier pole. Otherwise, this placement was a honey of a boo-boo.

  • duppie

    That is indeed a rather awkward installation.

    The good thing is that with the opening of Mariano’s they installed new bike racks that I estimate to hold 80 or so bikes. The bikes are covered from (most of the) elements and the racks are sturdy (although too narrow as usual)
    Depending on where you come from, it can also be accessed while avoiding the intersection of Lawrence and Ravenswood, which can get really busy when commuters stream in and out of the train station at rush hour: rding south on Wolcott, you can access an alley and get onto the Mariano property using a pedestrian only passage.

    Overall a very good bike parking improvement.

  • Hadn’t noticed that — thanks for pointing it out.

  • Trent Santonastaso

    This thing is really pretty cool. But, it seems like much ado for the accommodation of 6 bikes. Especially for a high traffic area that needs relief from the parking load.

  • Charlie Short

    In my short times as interim bike parking manager, we had some requests to approve this sort of rack. I liked the look of it but the practicality and usefulness was pretty low. The other issue is safe install. One of the great things about all of the racks that get installed by the city is that they are (mostly) easily serviceable. Any sign crew can install and remove them as necessary. All that said, bravo to these folks for trying something different.

  • tooter turtle

    The Marianos rack is only partially covered. That’s a huge fail, because the entire roadway is covered!

  • Dennis McClendon

    I was amused recently when village officials proudly showed off the racks newly installed around downtown Skokie, with a sheet-metal S welded in the center of the inverted U. Good for reinforcing the brand to passing motorists, I guess, but for an actual cyclist attempting to properly use a U-lock . . . not so much.

  • **

    That whole part of the design seems to need tweaking. It’s harrowing to watch people riding under the train bridge, especially headed west when a lot of cars are backed up to try to turn right into the Mariano’s/LA Fitness parking. You also have to walk in the street to get to the Divvy station.

  • Right now that corner (Ravenswood & Lawrence) is a bottleneck. Here’s hoping that after the bridge work is finished the flow is improved for all.

  • PulSamsara

    nice !

  • BlueFairlane

    I just shake my head whenever I see some overdone piece of crap design like this. People don’t go out of their way to make the concrete blocks fancy in car parking lots. Bike parking should be something simple that blends into the background and ubiquitous enough that it doesn’t get noticed. It’s just there.

  • duppie

    I park there mostly on rainy or snowy days, when I am not commuting downtown. I can leave my bike there all day without a saddle cover. Not sure why that would qualify as a “huge fail”?

  • High_n_Dry

    Sounds similar to the WPB Chamber racks. Great design but that is the area of the rack I use to lockup.
    http://tinyurl.com/pwo3dxx

  • I disagree with the generally negative sentiment towards this bike rack. In fact, i think things like this make a strong argument for bike-oriented infrastructure. I agree that the typical ‘U’ rack is most function but, unlike cars, bikes have the capability of having beautiful infrastructure (the 606, once it matures, is a great example). Besides certain bridges, i can’t think of an instance where autos and their infrastructure enhance the area around it. More often than not, auto-oriented infrastructure lowers the value of everything around it. (I keep having flashbacks to architectural history class of looking at pictures of beautiful churches with dozens of crappy cars parked outside.)

    Is this a particularly functional bike rack? Probably not. But besides the more commonly cited benefits of bikes/peds versus cars, a city with more bikers than drivers is a more beautiful one.

  • R.A. Stewart

    My reaction to it is along the same lines. I don’t think you’d want to rely on this design for most bike parking, but there is something elegant and celebratory about it. Your bike becomes part of a public sculpture while it’s locked up there.

  • Check the conversation above.

  • If the goal is to have bike-racks-as-sculpture, it’s still possible to have functionality as part of that.

    One of the three sets of artistic bike racks at the Morgan CTA station is highly functional and eye-catching.
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesbondsv/7223027742/

    The second set is mildly functional.
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesbondsv/7223054674/

    The third set is bad.
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesbondsv/7223047534/

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