Why the SFMTA Doesn’t Install Short-Term Residential Bike Parking

A bicycle rack stencil marks the spot of a future bike rack. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Earlier this year, I hired one of my favorite bike courier companies to deliver an urgent parcel. When the messenger arrived at my door to pick it up (I work from home), he complained about the lack of bike parking in the neighborhood. He knew who I was and asked, bluntly: “Why doesn’t Streetsblog have bike parking?”

It’s a good question. I told him I’m working on it. What I’ve come to learn since is there is a long-standing informal SFMTA policy against installing bike racks in front of residential buildings for short-term parking. I live in a large apartment building in a dense neighborhood on Sutter Street, so a bike rack outside my building would potentially get used by a lot of short-term visitors.

Here’s how SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose explained the policy: “Since we can’t put bike parking where everyone wants it, we strive to prioritize locations that’ll be used by as many as possible. And the commercial mixed-use locations will have a lot more visitors, so the bike racks there are going to have a lot more use.”

“When racks are installed in front of residential buildings,” he continued, “there’s no specific way to know if they’ll be used by visitors to the building, or long-term parking for the building’s residents.”

Businesses are a priority, and any merchant can request a bike rack on the sidewalk, or even a bike corral. In a Streetsblog story on San Francisco’s bike rack bonanza last year, the SFMTA was also urged to target major destinations, such as parks, libraries, museums, and major transit stops.

Since the bike injunction was partially lifted in November of 2009, the SFMTA has installed more than 700 bike racks at a cost of $380,000.

Generally speaking, public bike racks aren’t installed on private property. In San Francisco, bike parking is required on all new commercial and residential developments, and major renovations. If you want secure bike parking in your apartment building, you have to take it up with your landlord. Or if you live close to a business, you could get that merchant to request a bike rack.

Oakland’s short-term bike parking policy is similar to the SFMTA’s, and bike racks are also concentrated in commercial districts. In Portland, however, the city does install bike racks for short-term parking in front of residential buildings.

“We only install city bike racks at locations where there is a short-term bike parking need – this can include multi-family dwellings (i.e. apartment buildings rather than single family residential areas) because you will see a visitor bike parking demand,” said Sarah Figliozzi, a bicycle program specialist at the Portland Department of Transportation.

The SFMTA has actually installed a few residential bike racks, but it’s not a wide practice. What do you think? Have you requested a residential bike rack for short-term parking? Should the city change its policy?

  • Jhenders

    I have requested this twice and got the same answer twice. It’s frustrating. The SFMTA should relax this policy and maybe place signs that say “guest parking” or “short-term parking only”. They could paint this on the racks. Paint them red and white like parking signs. Or hang them from the rack in some clever way. In the spirit of pilot projects – try it at a dozen or so large apartment buildings. Lay out an array of racks. Monitor. See what happens.  I bet most people will not leave their bikes out long-term or overnight, and that it contributes to encouraging more cycling.

  • mikesonn

    So we have long term street parking for residents at a paltry sum of $95/year. Heaven forbid we provide short term parking for cyclists because it could be used for long term parking! What the hell, SFMTA?!

  • mikesonn

    So we have long term street parking for residents at a paltry sum of $95/year. Heaven forbid we provide short term parking for cyclists because it could be used for long term parking! What the hell, SFMTA?!

  • guest

    Could a group of residents acquire a residential parking permit and use it to put in an on street corral? If there is enough interest in the neighborhood for this, it would seem on par with allowing nanny parking spaces to have access to residential parking.  

  • Ladies’n’goims, did I ever tell ya the one about the Martian who had read the NACTO bike guide cuvuh’ta’cuvuh, I swears, cuvuh’ta’cuvuh, but then landed in Holland and axed them nice people to see some “sharrows”? Poor people had no friggin’ idea….

    So there is no policy or guidelines for residential long-term parking from SFMTA? Rather than Google “Portland” and “world class parking” or some other meaningless verbiage, when we call something “long-term parking” in the residential context, is it necessary to first determine exactly what this means, and what kind of bike does it have to protect? Should it be reasonable to expect a nice Dutch bike you really don’t want to carry up the stairs which costs 1500 bucks and locked with the best lock to be there in the morning? Is this unreasonable? Is it, therefore, necessary to start considering things like this http://www.bakfiets-en-meer.nl/2009/12/17/de-fietshangar-bike-hangar/?(also from NL… there must be a reason for that….). What level of security and accessibility do the aforementioned building code-based regulations proscribe?

    The future of bicycle parking is at ground level, as safe as possible but on the shortest path from the inside to the street. Not in hallways, courtyards or underground storage rooms. Shouldn’t the building code parking regulations – if good – be extended to all relevant buildings? There is simply too much housing stock in S.F. which will never be covered by the existing codes.

  • Nick

    Why don’t people just install their own? Follow the MTA guidelines for placement, acquire a metal rack or fabricate your own, drill into the concrete with a roto hammer, and set the 4 anchors with a hammer.

    If the MTA won’t, the people will.

  • Nick

    Why don’t people just install their own? Follow the MTA guidelines for placement, acquire a metal rack or fabricate your own, drill into the concrete with a roto hammer, and set the 4 anchors with a hammer.

    If the MTA won’t, the people will.

  • Collinssfca

    All bike parking on the street is short term.  It is either moved by the owner or removed by a thief.  

  • Collinssfca

    All bike parking on the street is short term.  It is either moved by the owner or removed by a thief.  

  • Selizabethvaughan

    Absolutely the SFMTA should install more bike racks in front of residential buildings.  If the SMFTA did that, wouldn’t more people bike to visit each other?  As it is, I have a few friends that I don’t visit on my bicycle because of the dearth of bike parking.  I take the bus instead. Imagine if I were a car driver, however.  And I could use a few bike racks in front of my own building for the times when I have multiple visitors who come on bike.

  • icarus12

    I find it hard to believe that you don’t use your bike to visit certain friends because there is not much bike parking.  Come on! Can’t you use the nearest stop sign pole, parking meter, street sign pole, etc?  I am sorry if I am wrong here, but when fellow bikers make this kind of claim, it sounds a bit like make-believe.  I don’t think we bikers need to make up stuff to get infrastructural improvements.  Our cause is just, and our arguments for them pretty rational.

  • icarus12

    To Bryan or anybody else who might know: From the story it would seem each bike rack costs over $500 to purchase and install.  That seems incredibly high.  Why is that?

  • The Greasybear

    I often have trouble finding parking at destinations which draw a lot of cyclists. How are we going to handle this when cycling becomes more popular?

  • Patrick S

    I requested and received a rack in front of our residential building. I run a home based graphic design business here. I simply affirmed to SFMTA that there was a small business on premises. That seemed sufficient. They don’t do a big investigation. A letter testifying was enough.

    I am the property owner, so maybe that made a difference.

    But I encourage any and all to call, request a rack, and insist there is a business on premises. This worked for 63 Walter Street (though it took 5 months to get installed…)

  • EL

    And the “short term parking” or “guest parking” would be enforced by whom?  Obviously, if you need a sign, it isn’t self-enforcing because as mikesonn puts it, people are selfish.

  • EL

    @ Greasybear – Exactly the MTA’s point.  If there isn’t enough bike parking at popular destinations that already draw a lot of cyclists, why would the SFMTA shift their focus to residential bike racks?

  • I don’t understand why they’re putting a requirement that it be for short-term use only.  They don’t place that level of restriction on street parking for cars, which take up a lot more room and costs the city a lot more than $500/vehicle.

  • $500 per *2* vehicles.

  • mikesonn

    Bike corrals on the street! One car parking space = 12-20 bike parking spaces.

    Done and done.

  • mikesonn

    Still don’t see why bike parking has to be “short term”. If someone is parking there bike up long term on the street, someone will pick it clean in no time and the problem will solve itself.

    EL, what does “people are selfish” have to do with this?

  • If you break it down, it’s actually not ludicrous.  I’m guessing, but it looks like at least 7′ of 2″ square stainless steel with what I would assume is around a .25″ wall thickness.  The material alone is over $200 retail (though I assume the MTA or whoever produces these gets a bulk discount).  Then you have to bend it and weld the foot plates, which takes time in a shop.  Add to that a least an hour of someone’s time to install, plus all the paperwork and planning and $500 isn’t way off.

  • Anonymous

    I requested a bike rack several months ago and was denied. I don’t understand what substantiates the rationale behind reserving parking for the ‘short-term’ – what stops individuals from locking their bikes to racks outside businesses for a long term? Is there an authority that businesses have that could request the removal of bikes parked long-term? Since there is a dearth of installed racks outside residences, what data do SFMTA have that conveys that there is no assurance that those racks will be used for short-term parking? My building is adjacent to a stop sign and I never see bikes locked there for more than 12 hours. 

    What SFMTA dictates for street parking could conceivably, loosely, be implemented for bike parking – you must move your car at least 1 mile every 72 hours – perhaps that’s a bike parking policy that could merge with street parking signage, with a lot of tweaking, obviously. I don’t know how to track bike parking but it seems as though that would help deliver a change in policy.

  • Being a resident of Portland, the mixed-use racks and residential neighborhood racks are so widespread and popular that I don’t even notice them. A great way to encourage diversified traffic, break up the landscape, keep eyes on the street and cut travel times.

  • Oliver

    I think the obvious answer as to whether they’ll be used as long term storage by residents is that only the short-term-future bike-less leave their bicycles out overnight.

    Come on, that’s not a good excuse.

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