The Beauty of Bikes is in the Parking

2014.02.06

Indianapolis has been pushing hard to catch up with leading bicycle cities such as Portland and San Francisco. Seeing all that two-wheeled traffic in downtown and surrounding neighborhoods has been a blessing in so many ways – less pollution from cars, less vehicle congestion, better public health outcomes, and especially watching people get outside and reconnect with their city.  But I wanted to share what I consider the key benefit to bringing back bicycles:  the opportunity for dense downtown development without parking lots or subsidized garages!

Bicycles and Cities, together again!

Bicycles and Cities, together again!

Bicycles seem to be sprouting everywhere in Indy

Bicycles seem to be sprouting everywhere in Indy

Our current renaissance of downtown required some big bites of that dreaded sandwich of compromise. While many of us at Urban Indy have taken a stand against subsidized vehicle parking, seeing it as a continuation of the old “highways first” policy that doomed many downtown areas to begin with, it is true that city leaders and business developers have a hard time seeing how any modern city could function without adequate parking. Finding a place to park is the most important concern for many commuters and shoppers, especially since densities have been creeping ever lower and people have to travel further for their jobs. But bicycle infrastructure gives us that magical silver bullet to end this concern, and reverse the trend in our cities.

Bicycle parking is radically more efficient than car parking

Bicycle parking is radically more efficient than car parking

Bicycle infrastructure generates beautiful cities!

Bicycle infrastructure generates beautiful cities!

I certainly don’t want to imply that everyone should be riding bicycles, but it is clear that bicycle infrastructure does benefit everyone. Every dollar not spent on gasoline (or expensive cars, insurance, and vehicle maintenance) is a dollar that is likely spent on local goods and services. The economic benefits are huge! Every bit of mode share (the percentage of people using a particular type of transportation) that bikes can capture means that Indianapolis sees real job growth, real increases in quality of life, and real improvements in household savings.

And never forget that bicycle infrastructure can serve double-duty for accessible routes - Vastly improving Quality of Life for some citizens

And never forget that bicycle infrastructure can serve double-duty for accessible routes – vastly improving Quality of Life for our citizens

Coming back to the issue of parking, this is where bicycles really deliver their benefits to Urban Design. Building a city to mimic the old streets of Paris or Brooklyn is impossible when everyone must drive. Instead, we end up with a “stroad” and collector system, typically with a design life of 20 years before the cancer of dead mall syndrome takes over.

Car lots don't leave room for the cities they serve

Car lots don’t leave room for the cities they serve

Filling car lots requires this kind of infrastructure

Filling car lots requires this kind of infrastructure

But a city with intensive bicycle infrastructure means that beautiful cityscapes don’t have to remain a fantasy. Because bicycles require so little space for their parking needs, they encourage well-designed traditional urban landscapes. Old-style city blocks become feasible, and in fact become more economical than the sprawling parking lots of suburbia; houses can once again use narrow lots when they don’t need a driveway and triple garage door; and streets can once again use names like “lane” or “avenue” without sounding like a cruel joke.

This clever addition to the old meter means I never look for parking near the Circle anymore

This clever addition to the old meter means I never look for parking near the Circle anymore

Bike parking can pull in new customers no matter the location

Bike parking can pull in new customers no matter the location

So here are some examples of great bicycle infrastructure that I’ve collected in the past few years. We may never “catch up” with the great cycling initiatives of the West Coast or Copenhagen, but trust me when I tell you that in the case of bicycle infrastructure The Deed is its Own Reward.

A new kind of garage, fit for a modern city (image credit: unknown)

A new kind of residential garage, fit for a modern city (image credit: unknown)

Portland's bike lockers remind us that some bicyclists demand higher levels of protection (image credit: H. Simmons)

Portland’s bike lockers remind us that some bicyclists demand higher levels of protection (image credit: H. Simmons)

New York's bike lanes next to the Flatiron remind us that bicyclists are part of the city too and deserve space on main routes

New York’s bike lanes next to the Flatiron remind us that bicyclists are part of the city too and deserve space on main routes

Munich reminds us that multi-modal commuters need a place to store bikes, or people will make their own

Munich reminds us that multi-modal commuters need a place to store bikes, or people will create their own

Milwaukee's "Marsupial" bridge reminds us that there is always room for innovation in bicycle infrastructure

Milwaukee’s “Marsupial” bridge reminds us that there is always room for innovation in bicycle infrastructure

Just because Milwaukee is known for gas-fired two-wheel monsters, there is always room for new technology

Just because Milwaukee is known for gas-fired, two-wheeled monsters, there is always room for new technology

Black Rock City reminds us that bicycling can be a joyful shared experience

Black Rock City reminds us that bicycling can be a joyful shared experience

Bicycles, and their smaller parking requirements, allow us to create the cities that people like to inhabit. Bicycle parking holds the power to invigorate our local economies and unleash the power of our local architects.
Support for bicycle infrastructure is support for a city of humans, rather than a city of vehicles.

Option #1: Cede the city to parking spaces, Detroit style (image credit: Sean Doerr/WNET.org)

Option #1: Cede the city to parking spaces, Detroit style (image credit: Sean Doerr/WNET.org)

Option #2: Help people build a better city with bicycle parking, as in Amsterdam (image credit: Airbete/Wikimedia)

Option #2: Help people build a better city with bicycle parking, as in Amsterdam (image credit: Airbete/Wikimedia)

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Categories : Bicycling  Neighborhoods

Fountain Square Grand Prix

2012.08.31

The month of August has spoiled those of us who enjoy awesome things.  Case in point: The inaugural Fountain Square Grand Prix bicycle criterium race held on August 18th, 2012.

Fountain Square Grand Prix (image: Curt Ailes)

Fountain Square Grand Prix (image: Curt Ailes)

I loved the race being held on that day. There was a strong symbolism to the FSGP being held on the same weekend as the MotoGP at the Speedway. Indy is a town that loves to host a good competition.  But it also loves to host a good party, and that’s why the Cataracts 2012 music festival being held at the same time and only 1 block away from the bicycle race made this a perfect Indianapolis blending of Sports & Entertainment.

A competitive race at high speeds on city roads – these races do test people (image: Curt Ailes)

A criterium race is a timed race held on a closed city street.  You can imagine that the street patterns in Fountain Square can provide some interesting course geometries, and indeed the course was set up in an almost-figure eight configuration, which means that you see each rider at least twice on each lap at the main intersection.

Queuing up for the start of the race

The view from Red Lion, a local pub next to the finish line

It was also fun to see people being able to use the streets and sidewalks for a public celebration.  Currently, the square of Fountain Square is being rehabbed and integrated into the cultural trail and cycle-track, which makes for a bit of construction mess, but you can tell that it is shaping up really well.  This new public space is going to be a great rallying point for future events like FSGP.

Construction is progressing well in preparation of the newest fountain

Thanks to everyone who planned, raced, sponsored, or worked at the FSGP or Cataracts.  It was an enormous but greatly appreciated effort.

Well done and congratulations to all the winners of this year’s race

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Mass Ave Crit and FtnSqr Grand Prix

2012.08.15

It has been a great summer for cycling action here in Indianapolis.  We are seeing great returns on our infrastructure investments, and our citizens are starting to embrace bicycle culture more enthusiastically.  A good example of this was the Mass Ave Crit 2012 held last weekend.

Whipping around the Mass Ave triangle at full speed

 

The Mass Ave Crit is one of the most established races in the area, and it was a great turnout from spectators, fans, and cyclists.  The event was blessed with beautiful weather and a lot of support from the community.  I watched as many of the races as I could, and there was great action on every lap.

Mayor Ballard about to start another race

 

A pop-up biergarten from the generous sponsor

 

Celebrating the finish

 

So now that the MAC and IndyCrit are complete, we have one more event to look forward to.  It’s going to be a big weekend in Fountain Square, and the weather is looking good for the first Fountain Square Grand Prix!  And of course, this neighborhood is ready to usher in the bike race with a great lineup of music, food, and a big race.

FSGP is a great excuse to visit the neighborhood and the newly completed Cultural Trail (image credit: Curt Ailes)

 

Concert Schedule at the bottom of this Indy Star article “Psyched in Fountain Square“.  These are gonna be some great tunes.

Race map and race schedule on this flyer by Joe’s Cycles (and also an interview with Joe here).  If you had any doubts about whether Fountain Square has “made it” as a neighborhood yet, just look at the sponsors at the bottom of that flyer.  If you don’t recognize any of them, you need to be spending more time in this part of town because they all kick ass.  It’s a great opportunity to celebrate summer cyling and the urban vibes that drive this neighborhood.

(image credit: Curt Ailes)

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A Bicycle Built for Transportation

2012.07.09

US cities have a long history of bicycling, and Indianapolis is no exception.  However, much of the attention over the past few decades has focused on bicycles as recreation, instead of transportation.  But if we look at the example set by cities where bikes are truly integrated into the transportation scheme, we see they have evolved quite differently from our own rolling stock.  An in-depth look at Copenhagen Cycle Chic will bring you many examples of this bike from Denmark and around the world.

Recently, I had the opportunity to buy an old City Bike and learn more about it.  This bike came with a story: a Dutch man brought it over to the US many years ago and used it to explore American cities outside of a car.  This story was somewhat of a mystery to me when I first heard it.  After all, what would convince a person to ship a huge and heavy bike across the world when local bikes were readily available?

A vintage dutch Gazelle (image: Curt Ailes)

After several months of riding this bike, I can honestly see why someone would grow attached to it in this way.  It is unlike other bikes I have owned, even a recent comfort bike marketed for city cruising does not compare.  It all comes down to having the right design philosophy.  These European City Bikes have developed into their current form because of their adherence to 3 key principles:

  1. Reliability
  2. Convenience
  3. Affordability

 

This, along with 100 years of constant improvement, have created a form that is ubiquitous in cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam.  The features of any given bike depend on the particular climate and needs of the owner, but here is a summary of some common features:

A City Bike is a solid machine intended to get its rider to their destination no matter what the weather or street conditions.  This dependability and durability fosters a relationship between the rider and the bike.  Truth be told, I would gladly pay to ship this bike across the world if I thought that a similar one were not available at my destination.

The upright position and relaxed geometry make city travel comfortable (image: Curt Ailes)

The luggage racks are incredibly strong (image: Curt Ailes)

City bikes have modern technology powering their lights (image: Curt Ailes)

The dealer tag shows the bike’s origin (image: Curt Ailes)

These bikes are great for the demands of a city-dweller.  Any weather, any time of day, and any trip can be accommodated.  The steel frame provides a very comfortable ride compared to a carbon fiber or aluminum option.  The headlights really get attention.  The carrying capacity is only bested by long frame or cargo bikes, and a city bike is often used for 2-up riding. The shifting is smooth and solid. And you never have to worry about getting chain grease on your clothing.

After a relative scarcity of City Bikes in the US, new models are once more becoming available.  Look for Batavus or Gazelle for an authentic version, or check out some of the others on this list. If interested, I suggest talking to your local bike shops first.  Just remember, these bikes are made to last for generations and only rarely require maintenance.  But when it is time, you will want experienced hands working on these mechanisms.

The city bike excels at everything urban

And finally, a word about affordability.  The use of a steel frame and standardized components really brings the cost down, compared with space-age exotic materials and integrated shifters found on most American bikes.  Even with my purchase price, the new front hub and lighting system, and professional maintenance, I have less than $500 invested in my bike.  I know it’s not an insignificant amount, but a really good value when all is considered.  It is my hope that even if a city bike revolution is not just around the corner, that everyone understands a bit more about them.

 

(acknowledgments:  thanks to Curt Ailes for helping me photograph these.  Also, thanks to those at IndyCog and the Mayor’s office who have worked hard to improve bicycling infrastructure, you have made City Bikes useful in Indianapolis and I am very greatful.)

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Categories : Bicycling  city bike