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CDOT Bike Rack Contract Delayed Once Again, Switches to Plain Galvanized Steel

Chicago will no longer be installing the iconic black powdercoated bike racks. Photo: Josh Koonce

Last May I reported in the Chicago Reader about how the Chicago Department of Transportation's bike rack installation contract was delayed by 18 months due to paperwork hold-ups. I talked to frustrated business owners who had been waiting for more than a year for bike parking. (Disclosure: In the early- to mid-2000s, I worked for the Active Transportation Alliance as a consultant to CDOT, arranging bike rack installations.)

The good news, at the time, was that CDOT announced that the bureaucratic logjam was broken, and the bike rack contractor was about to get to work installing 500 to 1,000 racks annually over the next five years. The department planned to put in about 100 racks within the Far South Side dockless bike-share pilot zone by July 1.

Workers did install 125 racks within the DoBi zone this summer (although the pilot ended at the beginning of this month, so there's currently no dockless bike service the area.) But I recently learned that barely any other bike racks have been installed this year due to yet another snafu, which means that some businesses have been waiting about two years for the fixtures at this point.

According to CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey, this latest delay resulted due to the want of a nail or, rather, a concrete anchor bolt. "The bolts that were specified in our bid package are no longer made by the supplier," he said. "We were able to locate another supplier that made a comparable fastener of similar price and quality."

Claffey said that only about 25 more racks were installed this year in addition to the Far South Side ones, for a total of roughly 150. All of those additional fixtures were purchased by the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce and installed by CDOT in the neighborhood.

300-400 locations have been requested by residents at the city's bike rack request webpage, Claffey said. The department plans to resume installations as soon as the first order of bolts comes in, hopefully in December, and continue the work through the winter.

I also learned that, after installing the now-iconic "inverted-U"-style bike racks with a glossy black powdercoated finish for about two decades, CDOT is switching to gray uncoated galvanized steel racks. It's likely some residents, merchants, and property owner will find the new style less attractive, and the rougher surface may be more likely to scratch the finish of bike frames.

Galvanized steel U-racks. Photo: ArchiExpo
Galvanized steel U-racks. Photo: ArchiExpo
Galvanized steel U-racks. Photo: ArchiExpo

When I asked Claffey about these arguments against switching to galvanized, he referred me to the Association of Bike and Pedestrian Professionals' "Essentials of Bike Parking" guide. "Their guidelines state that galvanized provides high durability with lower maintenance and lower initial cost, whereas the powdercoating has poor durability with a higher cost."

Indeed, the guide states that powdercoated racks come at a "generally marginally higher than galvanized," "[Require] ongoing maintenance," and are "generally not durable enough for long service exposed to weather." I'm not sure that I'd agree with that last part but, in fairness, there are plenty of Chicago racks that look pretty ratty due to sections of powdercoating that have been chipped off by years of bikes being banged against them.

On the other hand, the guide states that galvanized racks have a "utilitarian appearance" and "can be slightly rough to the touch." Claffey said CDOT doesn't believe that the galvanized coating will be any different than the powder coating in terms of scratching the finish on bikes.

What do you think about the switch from black, glossy, and smooth to gray, matte, and rougher? Let us know in the comments section.

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