Important Bike Parking Ordinance Soon to Go Before Planning Commission

parkingbikeThis is what we’re trying to prevent. Fortunately, since this picture was taken, UPMC has installed bike racks to help remedy the bicycle parking situation for their employees. Thanks!

Important Zoning Code addition in the works – Read on for this exciting news

An important component of creating a bicycle-friendly, sustainable City also involves providing safe and secure bike parking. Just like automobile drivers, cyclists want to be able to store their vehicles in a place that will minimize theft and vandalism, yet still be convenient and accessible. One of the advantages of parking a bicycle (aside from it being FREE) is that bicycles don’t take up very much space, so it allows for parking in front of a business that you want to support, or your place of employment. Oftentimes, however, secure parking isn’t available or it’s full. When bike parking isn’t convenient or secure, it discourages people from riding. Well, we’re hoping to change that in the near future by making it safer and more convenient to ride your bicycle.

Over two years ago, at one of our many meetings with the City of Pittsburgh, we noticed that the Zoning Code had a page dedicated to Bike Parking. However, the page was blank. The automobile parking section has lots of rules and regulations requiring X number of spaces depending on the use, size, and occupancy of a building. Like many cities in the country, we thought it would be great if the City of Pittsburgh also had a set of parking requirements for bicycles, so that when a building was built or rehabbed to change the use (say residential to commercial for example), the design must include some bike racks. The City also thought this was a good idea, and tasked zoning specialist Corey Layman and the Bike/Ped Coordinator, Steve Patchan, to the task. Two years later, we’re preparing to formally present the ordinance to the Planning Commission, and ultimately to City Council for approval.

In the past few years, the necessity of this type of requirement has become painfully obvious. Several times, a new business or development has been built, opens up, and lo and behold, cyclists start showing up to buy things. Given that they weren’t provided with a place to put their bike, they start locking to any available sturdy item such as shopping cart corrals, signs, trees, or worse…they start complaining about it. We then receive frantic phone calls about what to do about the situation. Now at this point, adding bike racks is an additional cost to the project, as opposed to the cost to build. An additional $500 for bike racks once a business is open is very different than adding $500 to the cost of the overall build. Also, if architects plan for the bike parking, it can be placed in the most ideal locations, as opposed to wherever there happens to be enough space after the fact.

Steve Patchan and Corey Layman put a ton of research into what other cities have done, compiling the “best practices” from around the country, basically, including what works, and nixing what doesn’t. Diana Nelson Jones, of the Post-Gazette writes, “It’s a modest proposal – one space every 20,000 square feet – and flexible enough to allow the developer to put the spaces outside the development.” One other the main components to the proposed rules is to provide a monetary incentive for developers to provide bike parking in lieu of car parking (it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to provide a space for a bike than a car). Just two months ago, Philadelphia passed a similar ordinance in one of Mayor Nutter’s first acts after announcing his ambitious sustainability and greening initiatives.  If Pittsburgh follows suit, we’ll also be ahead of the curve nationally.

Please keep following the development of this story

There will be a public comment period in the near future, as well as the opportunity to go to the Planning Commission meeting to express your support for more bike parking. We’ll let you know when this occurs because we’ll need lots of emails, letters, and testimonials from everyone.

Some ways to stay “in the know”

  • Join our email list – put your email address into the box to the right. Be sure to sign up to receive our “Action Alerts” as well. If you already receive our eMessenger in your inbox and want to get “Action Alerts” as well, simply put your email address into the same box and you will be prompted.
  • Follow us on Twitter
  • Follow us on Facebook

Not a member of Bike Pittsburgh? Join today! We need you to add your voice! Bike Pittsburgh works to protect cyclist’s rights and promote the vision of making Pittsburgh a safer and more enjoyable place to live and to ride. For more info, check out:


  • jet says:

    What about indoor bike parking like they have in Tokyo?

    A couple photos of what I saw in Harajuku:

  • erok says:

    that of course would be great, and would be up to developers. the more progressive “green minded” ones will be the ones exploring it here. it wouldn’t be required

  • Lyle says:

    Instead of phrasing the requirement as “1 space per 20,000 sq feet”, it might be productive to phrase it as “5 sq feet of bike parking per 20,000 sq feet of building”.

    For comparison, let’s look at one local project that is in the news recently. According to the Bakery Square website, that development provides 1031 auto parking spaces. What’s that, 200,000 sq feet of auto parking? That’s for a retail, office and fitness center space totalling somewhere around 400,000 sq feet. Plus a 110-bed hotel that is a long way off.

    Does anyone really believe that 20 bike parking spaces is going to be anywhere near adequate for that project?

    So for anyone who gets huffy about space for Schwinns, remind them that we’re only talking about one half of one one-thousandth of the space allocated to automobile parking.

    I can hardly believe that myself. Someone please check my math.

  • ieverhart says:

    Donald Shoup, a professor at UCLA, has a lot to say about zoning ordinances that require off-street parking ( for but one article).

    My clumsy summary of the relevant chapter from his interesting (to me, anyway) book “The High Cost of Free Parking” is that cities’ requirements for off-street parking lots (a) vary broadly, (b) are based on little except what other cities seem to be doing and (c) generally provide for way too much excess capacity–building lots as if every day they expected crowds as on the day before Christmas, with 360+ days’ worth of half-empty lots.

    Putting in tons of “free” car parking means also that the cost of that is bundled into the goods and services we purchase at those businesses, whether we drive, walk, bike, or take the bus to get there.

    Bike parking is different, I’ll assert, because it takes up a lot less space per single-passenger vehicle, and costs less, among other reasons. That said, if Shoup is right that most car parking zoning requirements are just pulled out of thin air, I’m not sure that bike parking requirements generated without serious study make any more sense. But if developers (apart from the ones already green-oriented) don’t see the merits in bike parking, they may need some official encouragement in a way they don’t need for car parking.

    Setting the requirement too high would probably generate its own grumbling from developers and landlords, complaining that the bike racks aren’t being utilized. Actually, that might not be such a bad thing if it also makes them think about the vast swathes of parking lots where cars fill in only on the biggest shopping days of the year…

  • ieverhart says:

    Oh, and as the Post-Gazette article mentions, developers could get rid of up to 30 percent of their required parking allowance by substituting bike parking. Developers wouldn’t do that unless the costs of the extra car spaces were greater than their benefit–as they probably are in an area where the lots have excess capacity. (Parking lots needing expensive maintenance all year round versus the benefit of customers parking there 3-4 times a year.) So long as it’s an option, the market would decide which makes more sense, car parking or bike parking.

    While I’m on a roll, I’ll repeat (probably incoherently) Shoup’s argument that too-high off-street parking requirements contribute to urban sprawl and an unlovely aesthetic: as each business is required to maintain a parking lot of a certain size, the ratio of “main building” to “parking lot” shrinks. Businesses don’t want others free-riding, so they put up “Parking for customers only while shopping at X” signs. Each business removes itself from its neighbors, and shoppers have to walk across expanses of asphalt or (more likely) will drive fairly short distances just to cross the parking lot. On a bike, it’s easier to ride across adjoining huge parking lots, but especially if I’m making a lot of stops and using a double-lock system, I’d much rather park once in a business district than go through the “look for a sign post to lock against”-locking routine at each of several destinations in a mall setting.

  • Lyle says:

    I think that large, empty, private parking lots in urban areas, where there is a very high demand for parking nearby are deeply antisocial. Practically criminal. I’m thinking of the Board of Education lot in Oakland, for example, though at least they don’t chain it off like the owners of that light store in Regent Square.

    There are a lot of incentives that encourage the asphalt wastelands, and I would hope that the urban-planning folks could figure out creative ways to develop these blighted areas for the common good.

    Oh, and before I forget, kudos to Bike Pgh, Layman and Patchan. This is a good start. And cyclists — let’s keep those bike racks full!

    I do have a technical question — will this ordinance control the type of bike rack that is installed, or can a developer add the classic wheel-bender, with access from only one side, so it can only hold 5 bikes, but claim it creates 10 bike spaces because there are 10 slots in it?

    Also, does it control the placement of that parking? If the developers of Bakery Square (to continue the example) place a wheel bender in the basement of their parking garage, it’s just not going to do any good. People will lock their bikes to trees and railings and signs instead. If the property managers then use the existence of the mandated parking as an excuse to cut locks… well, that’s not doing us much good. So I hope that there is some provision for location as well.

  • erok says:

    good question. i’m not exactly sure, to be honest. there are “recommended” placement and rack styles. the city has a list of styles in what they allow in the public right of way. none of which are the wheel benders. as far as what types of racks and where they place them on private property, i don’t think the city can regulate that, only recommend (but i could be wrong).

    as far as bakery square, i’ve seen the designs on where they are planning on putting bike parking, and it seems good. now i want to emphasize the word “planning” as anything can change.

  • Lyle says:

    All building codes and zoning regulations are limits on what you do with private property.

    In any event, we will still have the same tools we always did: reason, logic, and public pressure. This is just one more tool.

  • capeek says:

    Land Use Control File Nos. C-723
    A copy of the proposed text amendment may be reviewed at the Zoning
    Office on the 3rd floor of 200 Ross St., Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. until 3:00
    The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed text
    amendments on:
    Tuesday, September 1, 2009 @ 2:00 p.m.
    John P. Robin Civic Building, 1st Floor
    200 Ross Street, Pittsburgh PA
    Testimony presented by individuals will be limited to 3 minutes each. Testimony
    presented by a spokesperson representing an organization will be limited to 5 minutes
    each, and the spokesperson shall provide a “Letter of Authorization” from the
    appropriate officers. Prepared comments may be presented in lieu of testimony, and
    testimony should not be read from a prepared statement but may be summarized as
    testimony with the prepared statement handed to the Commission for their review.

  • erok says:

    lyle and others: here is a link that has the draft ordinance on it. it does give guidelines and recommendations for where racks should go.

  • […] couple weeks ago, we reported about an important Bike Parking Ordinance that will be going before the Planning Commission.  Well, the date is set, and we need you to show […]

  • Lyle says:

    At first glance, this looks great. Thanks, erok. I put it on my calendar.

  • Lyle says:

    Do the city zoning regs apply to all construction in the city, or do the hospitals, universities, public schools, federal, state, and local government all get a pass on zoning review?

Leave a Reply

Supported by