Let’s talk about bike parking

Let’s talk about bike parking

There are days when it’s hard to shake the feeling that this city is actively trying to discourage people from not using personal cars for everything all the time.

For instance, nobody would accept a city not investing enough in infrastructure for vehicles. If safe parking for cars was so rare that people couldn’t actually go anywhere, there’d be riots.

But parking a bike? Meh. Any old bit of metal will do, amiright?

I just about lost my shit when I heard the city would slash the bike parking budget by 25% — from $400,000 to $300,000 a year. I wrote my Ottawa Citizen column about it this week.

Having your bike stolen is a giant pain in the ass at best and a catastrophe at worst. Some people rely on theirs to get to work and can’t afford a new one. Or insurance. It’s crucial that they have a place to park their bike where it won’t be stolen. And no, bike locks don’t prevent bike thefts. Not even the good ones.

That’s why it’s important to have secure parking for people who, not unreasonably, don’t want their bikes stolen while they’re in the office or shopping or whatever.

One solution I especially like is the one currently offered by the City of Gatineau and the STO. It’s a small, enclosed bike locker that fits six bikes and protects them from theft and also the elements. STO spokesperson José Lafleur explained that use of the lockers more than doubled between 2022 and 2023, with peaks between April and September, unsurprisingly.

The lockers are produced by a Quebec company called Vélo-Transit and they are a particularly awesome innovation in active transportation. First of all they are relatively inexpensive (about $5,000 per individual space), they are light-weight enough to be moved easily to various locations to accommodate demand that might change with user feedback, they can be painted and customized to a specific brand, and they work off the grid.

I had a great chat with Vélo-Transit’s CEO Jean-Marc Blais who explained that the older model of lockers uses solar power to operate the locks. The new ones work by sucking just a little bit of power from users’ phones instead, which makes them work more reliably than solar, especially when it snows.

There are many solutions to offer more secure parking spots for bikes, including adding spaces in underground garages that are already monitored by video surveillance and/or humans. What’s needed most of the time is imagination more than big dollars, but you do need some money, too.

We spend inordinate amounts on roads for people who drive cars and trucks and I don’t remember anyone at the city suggesting we cut 25% off that budget. Cyclists pay taxes, too, and they cost so much less when they travel on two wheels than when they’re driving. Stop treating them like they’re a nuisance.