Bike Rack Bonanza: How the City Places Them, And How to Get One

4183580096_df8b9b04d3_b.jpgFlickr photo: Neal Patel

Brand new bike racks have been popping up all across the city in the half-year since the city got partial-relief from the long-standing Bike Plan injunction. Along with countless sharrows, they're one of the most visible and widespread improvements to the city's bike infrastructure during that time.

But with so many racks being installed, how does the city determine where to put new racks, and how can people request a rack near their home or favorite business?

For the most part, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) installs racks on a first-request-first-serve basis, with the most deserving requested locations (like Church and Market) occasionally jumping the line, said SFMTA Bike Plan Implementation Manager Damon Curtis.

The SFMTA still has a backlog of over 700 requests, many of which built up during the injunction, that it's plowing through. That backlog had grown to about 1,000 by the time the injunction was partially lifted in November. The agency has already installed 300 racks since then, and is on pace to do about 600 per year.

In fact, the SFMTA has pretty clear guidelines on its website for how to request a rack. Start by calling 415.585.BIKE or 311, or emailing bicycle@sfmta.com, with a message that includes the address you want the rack installed at, the cross street, and your name and phone number or e-mail address.

Before sending the request, be sure to check SFMTA's criteria for bike rack locations. Racks must still leave a six-foot clear walkway on the sidewalk, they can't be directly in front of building entrances or driveways, they need two-feet of clearance from utility vaults, they can't be in front of a blue disabled parking curb zone, and they have to be at least two feet from the curb. SFMTA likes the walkway clearance to be even wider on sidewalks with high pedestrian traffic volumes.

4594439826_b1c68a0eff_b.jpgA stenciled sign of good things to come. Flickr photo: Jeremy Brooks

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's Andy Thornley has an additional suggestion for people requesting a bike rack, whether they ride a bike or own a business and want parking for their customers: briefly make the case for your request in your message to the SFMTA. "Make the case why this rack matters and don't just say, 'I'd like a rack on this corner,'" says Thornley. "You're more likely to get that rack sooner if you can say, 'There's a daycare center that has lots of bikes that don't have any place to park.'"

Thornley has another piece of advice: just make the request, and then be patient. "Don't just sit back and wait for that rack to show up," he said. "Folks that ask will eventually see a rack, so go today and ask for a rack -- ask for ten racks. It costs nothing."

Curtis offered another point of clarification. You don't have to live in or own a building to request a rack in front of it -- people can requests racks anywhere. But SFMTA staff will stop in businesses when they survey the site to see if the rack is wanted, so it helps to make your case to business owners when you make a request, too.

"It would incumbent upon you as a customer to educate the business that, 'Hey, look, I frequent your business, I ride my bike to get here, I'd like bike parking,'" said Curtis.

For the most part, businesses are happy to have racks installed in front, said Curtis, though occasionally things are a little more complicated. Patrick Marks, who owns The Green Arcade bookstore on Market, said that when he requested bike racks, the SFMTA was prompt to show up and take a look at his storefront, but there wasn't a suitable spot because of existing infrastructure on the sidewalk. Some of his neighboring businesses were hesitant to have bike racks installed, so he had to settle for racks across Market instead.

Some of the many customers who arrive at his store by bicycle get "kind of cranky" about the lack of bike parking directly out front, said Marks, but he gives the SFMTA high marks for working with him to quickly identify the nearest possible location for bike racks.

"MTA was excellent," he said. "They would have put them in if there would have been a spot for them."

The SFMTA has plenty of racks, said Curtis, and plans to keep installing them at a fast clip. The main obstacle to installing racks even faster, he explained, is that each request goes through a rigorous process that includes logging it in, physically surveying the location, marking it with a stencil, sending the location to the Planning Department for Environmental Impact Report clearance, and then on to the agency's meter shop for installation.

Once the SFMTA catches up on its backlog of requests, said Curtis, the plan is to role out a clearer prioritization scheme for installing racks, which it already has in draft form.

IMG_0584.jpgNew bike parking at the Harvey Milk/Eureka Valley branch library. Photo: Michael Rhodes

"Hopefully in the next year, as we put in another 700 or 800 racks, then we'll be able to get the list down to a manageable level, and then we can actually implement our prioritization scheme," he said. That includes looking at the type of businesses racks would serve, whether they're on a bike route, how many existing racks are nearby, and whether a bike corral might make sense.

Thornley has some ideas for what the city should prioritize, including the city's major destinations, such as parks, libraries, museums, and major Muni stations.

He also points out that when the judge allowed the SFMTA to install bike racks and sharrows last November, he explicitly did so with the understanding that they were reversible measures, if need be, so until the injunction is fully lifted, all the new racks are technically subject to being removed at the judge's discretion.

But after three-and-a-half years without a new rack, said Thornley, "having bike racks pop up is a wonderful thing."