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Updated: How Free Car Parking Could Lead to the Loss of 165* Bike Parking Spots

The affected downtown area

On August 11th, the Eugene City Council voted to make car parking downtown free, affective October 1st. The area runs from Willamette St to the east, Lincoln St to the west, Seventh Ave to the north and 11th Ave to the south.  Whether or not this was a good idea is a debate for somewhere else.  Will the possible revitalization of downtown offset the loss of $220,000 a year in parking revenue?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that when things like this went down in other cities (Chicago, Oakland, Sacremento, New York,  Toronto, etc) it sometimes led to a huge decrease in available bike parking.

Why? The removal of parking meters.  According to Jeff Petry, Eugene Parking Services Manager, the City Council has directed that left it up to city staff to decide whether the heads be removed off 288 parking meters downtown. This would make the meters inadequate for bike parking since bike locks could simply be lifted off the pole.  It would be a grave mistake to remove 288* 165 bike parking spots from an already inadequate downtown bike parking scene.

* Update: It was just brought to my attention by Petry that many of the meters are double heads on a single pole, so the actual loss in bike parking would be less than the 288. It’s actually 165 meter poles with 288 meter heads attached to them.

Eugene wouldn’t be the first city to make this mistake.  Take the jump to read about some cities that have made this mistake in the past, and how other cities have avoided it.  This issue is real and it is now, and we have only a few weeks to change the momentum of this project.

The January/February Momentum Magazine ran an article on Chicago’s struggle with the removal of parking meters. In this case the culprit wasn’t free parking but rather “pay-and-display” parking, but the result was the same.  Chicago cyclists stood to lose 36,000 meters/bike parking spots. Quoted from the article (view the full article in PDF form at the bottom of this post):

Talks between [Active Transport Alliance] and the city led to a policy of leaving one out of seven meters in place on retail blocks with no bike racks, says CDOT spokesman Brian Steele. The city is also using much of its annual supply of federally-funded “inverted U” bike racks to replace parking on blocks where meters were removed. In the future, CDOT may retrofit the remaining meters, removing the heads, capping the poles and bolting on rings to create “post-and-ring” bike racks, said Steele.

New York also ran into a similar problem.

New York recently removed all the meters along many Manhattan retail streets before the city began addressing the bike parking issue, said Transportation Alternatives’ Wiley Norvell. Roughly half the meters on Madison Avenue will get rings and the DOT vows to install 5,000 bike racks over the next three years, but about 15,000 meters are already gone. “The lesson for other cities is not to play catch-up,” said Norvell

Toronto, however, didn’t screw up. We should follow their example:

Toronto is a shining example of this strategy. Before conversions began in 2001, a bicyclist who sat on the board of the parking authority advocated for preserving all bike parking. “He said, ‘The city’s promoting bicycle use and yet we’re going to put all these cyclists at an inconvenience,” recalled Dave Tomlinson from the Toronto bike program. The parking authority agreed to bolt rings onto all the meter poles or, in cases where meters were too close to the curb, install new post-and-rings. These retrofits and racks account for half of Toronto’s 16,000 racks – the most of any North American city.

“If the parking infrastructure’s program is creating extra work for the cycling infrastructure’s program, that’s a waste of resources,” Tomlinson advised. “You need to make the case that you can’t have one department working against the other.”

This seems like a no-brainer.  Removing meters:

  1. is expensive.
  2. will cost the city more money since bike parking will need to be replaced.
  3. will hurt pedestrians, since bikes will be forced to lock to things like handrails.
  4. will hurt car traffic, since many cyclists will be forced to drive (imagine 200+ more cars downtown!).
  5. will hurt downtown businesses since cyclists will be unable to park nearby.

So why isn’t this a no-brainer? We’re not even fighting for more bike parking, we are fighting for the status quo!

Firstly, I think it’s a matter of awareness.  I don’t think the Eugene City Council, much like Chicago and New York, realized that removing meters would affect bicyclists so much.  It doesn’t matter if we have a million bike lanes, paths, and cycletracks – if cyclists have nowhere to park their bikes, they won’t be able to ride.

Secondly, there is a cost involved.  Petry is aware of the situation:

We have already looked at the cost of adding bike [rings] to the meter posts. Each [ring] is over $100 to purchase. We are thinking about how to fund the purchase of the bike [rings]. The parking $ can purchase a small number of [rings], but is there a partnership in the bicycle community so we can purchase more?

Toronto meters retrofitted with rings

$100+ a ring is crazy, and charging cyclists to fund bike parking issues that only exist because car parking has become free is also crazy.  Bike parking doesn’t affect only cyclists – it affects pedestrians, drivers, and businesses as well (see above list). Cyclists already fund parking through taxes, just like everyone else.  According to a 2008 Bicycle Transport Alliance (BTA) survey, 89% of cyclists own and drive a car.  We’re already paying our way, yet doing much less damage to the roads and taking up much less room when parking.

However, Petry does make good point, and it doesn’t hurt to ask if we have extra money laying around to help out.  The city probably can’t afford $28,800 $16,500 to put rings on all the meters, especially when we’re already losing $220,000 a year due to free downtown car parking.  Petry, like most City of Eugene employees that I’ve had the pleasure to use as a source, wants to help the cyclist community solve this problem.  However, cyclists aren’t the only stakeholder in this issue.  Rings are expensive, and the other obvious solution – just leaving the heads on the meters – may be ugly or confusing to some.

Stickers on a decommissioned Chicago meter (click to embiggen)

But why not?  Why not just leave the heads on the meters, and affix a sticker that says something like “meter left as a courtesy to cyclists?”  It worked in Chicago! Sure these “racks” wouldn’t work as well for cable locks as a ring would, but cable locks are dangerously insecure anyway, and at least this leaves the bike parking situation the same instead of making it worse.  Sure, rings would be great, but we can put those on later when we have the money (although we should make our rings stronger than the ones in Toronto).

Update: Petry responded to me shortly after this article was published with a list of reasons why city staff is planning on removing the heads.  It’s worth reading to understand both sides of the debate:

Meter head removal is recommended because it:

  1. Sends a clear message to vehicle drivers that they have entered a meter free zone.
  2. Eliminates confusion between paying at a meter and adhering to a time limited sign in the free parking zone, and thus the ability to enforce the time-limited zones and have the presiding municipal court judge adjudicate parking tickets.
  3. Meters are expensive assets, at $400-$700 each (single/duplex). Assume an average of $500/meter, then we would have $144,000 worth of assets sitting un-operational for the next two years. Adding the suggested stickers to an expensive asset is not appealing.
  4. 200 new meters are being added to the Campus Parking District around the new basketball arena and within a few blocks of campus. Moving the downtown meters to the campus areas will save $100,000 in parking resources. This will add 200 new bike parking locations around the University of Oregon.

The City does plan on installing three downtown bike corrals soon, but this won’t make up for 288 165 lost bike parking spots (576 330 if you go two to a pole).  These corrals are meant to help improve the current situation.

It is worth mentioning that Jeff Petry seems to be a driving force behind the corral project.  The following letter from Petry and Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator Lee Shoemaker appeared in the Register-Guard on Saturday:

Bike corrals are coming

We would like to thank recent letter writers for highlighting the need for more downtown bicycle parking. The need for more secure bicycle parking also has been identified in the city of Eugene’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Strategic Plan. Epark, the city’s parking program, is happy to report that we are working to provide more bike parking in downtown Eugene with the installation of bike corrals at several locations.

A bike corral converts an on-street automobile parking space to bicycle parking. The space provides secure parking for 10 to 20 bikes versus one or two cars. Bike corrals are marked clearly for bicycle parking with paint, flexible bollards, buffer zones or a combination of these options.

Epark is planning to install three downtown bike corrals at Morning Glory Cafe (450 Willamette St.), Cornucopia (207 E. Fifth Ave.) and the Kiva grocery store (125 W. 11th Ave.).

Bike corrals give bikes a designated place, acknowledge their importance in our community and help keep the sidewalks clear for pedestrians. They provide a great place for cyclists to park and increase local business activity.

While supporting a healthy lifestyle, they also work towards making Eugene greener and reducing our use of fossil fuels. We look forward to welcoming more bikes to our downtown!

Jeff Petry

Parking services manager

Lee Shoemaker

Bicycle-pedestrian coordinator

Clearly Petry and other city officials are working to help cyclists be successful downtown.  Now it seems that they may need our help.  The cyclists community needs to let our wishes be known that, at the very least, the meter heads should not be removed so we do not lose our bike parking.  We must not let the city make this mistake.  The more public support we have for the meters staying, the easier it will be for folks like Jeff Petry to make that happen for us.

The information for how to contact the Eugene City Council is at this page on the left.  If you decide to contact them please be respectful and non-combative.  The City of Eugene has a great history of working with cyclists; we just need to make sure our wishes are known. You may want to thank them for the Alder St. Cycletrack while you’re at it.  Maybe try for a compliment sandwich and include a thanks for the Bike Corrals.  Just make sure you don’t do this.

For more information check out this New York design contest for re-purposing old meters.  The standard ring isn’t our only option!

Below is the full Momentum Magazine article complete with pretty pictures:

Momentum #43 article on how removing parking meters affects bike parking

5 comments to Updated: How Free Car Parking Could Lead to the Loss of 165* Bike Parking Spots

  • Jacob Blair

    I don’t think we should overdo the reaction to the change as a biking community, but I do like the idea of having a push for more dialogue & action on downtown bike parking. I think it would be quite helpful if we had a better indication of how many bikes on average use meter posts for parking in the 12-block zone. I work in the zone, and in my experience post-parking is not heavy at all during the week, but balloons during Saturday Market and events. Also there could be more racks downtown, but with more consideration for their placement and style. Many racks look like they were put there to satisfy some code rule, not to make it easier to bike downtown. I’d rather have something that’s well-done, rather than a code afterthought (or a simple fix for the post replacement).

    Also Eugene, one suggestion: bike corral by the DAC. Whoever parks the Xtracycle there, I’m jealous but I’m also having to walk around your extended frame.

  • Agreed, some things that have come to mind while thinking about this:

    If meter heads really average $500 each, then removing them and adding $100 rings is a much cheaper option then just leaving the heads on.

    Since free parking is only set to last for two years as a test, they won’t want to remove the poles entirely – but I wonder how much staple racks to replace the poles would cost. More than $100 a piece?

    On one hand, the cycling community probably needs to pick the best “bang for our buck” parking option there is. But on the other hand, free car parking should not make cyclists have to “tighten their belt” in this manner.

    I feel that the cost of retrofitting the meters with rings should have been figured in to the $220,000 loss in funding figure from the start of the free parking debate.

  • Joe

    Um,
    Do you not see this is only temporary until the put the expensive pay and hang electronic things no poles will be needed. Yes, the city crying poor for bikes is foul but business as usual Remember it was OK to subsidize Parking Garages for Whole Foods so $16,000 for bikes is really chump change. I mean the slush fund for the beam building is more. Or they could take around $20K of that downtown Urban Renewal away from the cops and actually use it downtown, Even better they could require that there be a singe 24 hour Cop patrolling downtown as part of those “Urban Renewal” funds to protect the bikes that are parked downtown as well as the pedestrians and other people.
    Any time there is a reason to be downtown even with the current poles there is no parking (like Science Pub at Cosmic Pizza). Who needs to park a bike at Morning Glory or Cornucopia? We need parking at Broadway and Willamette, the park blocks for Saturday market, and around the club district. How about we get some space back from Diamond Parking… And while I am on a downtown rant: Who’s idea was it to put the little fences on the downtown benches to try to move the transients along. Come on Eugene!

  • So I’m hearing from a few people that racks really do fill up and that the loss of meters would have an effect. That hasn’t been my experience, but my trips downtown are more routine day-to-day stuff and not usually for popular concerts or other big events that may draw a lot of people. Anyway, rings aside, I think it might be useful — for any future dealings with the city — to identify the spots most likely to run shot of bike parking. “Joe” mentions Cozmic Pizza and Saturday Market. Are there other spots? Where? How often do the racks fill up? How can we improve those spots? And is it reasonable to try to have capacity for the busiest times, a Eugene Celebration concert, say, even though most of the spots will sit empty from November through May? I don’t know. But identifying some specific problem locations that we could pass on to the city, might be a good idea.