Politics of the simple bike rack: How far we’ve come since 2004

How simple things are often complex

Bike racks are often used as symbols of bike friendliness.  Although they are an important piece of a city that is friendly and welcoming to bicycles, they are also relatively easy to put in and not very controversial.  They help business districts with limited auto-parking fit a few more customers onto the street, while providing a secure place to lock a bicycle.  It’s a win-win situation between cyclists and politicians.

Things weren’t always so rosy though.  Let’s take a trip back in history to 2004, when BikePGH didn’t have any paid staff, and was held together through the tireless volunteering of David Hoffman, and others.  We were able to secure an early Sprout Fund grant to pay for the design and fabrication of the iconic Three Rivers Bike rack that we all know and love.  We proudly debuted the rack at on of the first Hothouse celebrations next to a bicycle-powered blender that was churning out stiff margaritas.  Little did we know at the time, how many hoops we’d have to jump through to actually get one put into the ground.

So, in order to make this happen, we got to work.  Until this year, in order to put a simple bike rack in the public-right-of way, business owners had to, in order:

  1. get approval from their building owner
  2. get approval from adjacent businesses
  3. buy a rack
  4. get approval from the public art commission
  5. get approval of the location from City Council
  6. pay the city $150 encroachment fee, assuming it actually met right of way standards

Needless to say, not many bike racks went in the ground, as any Pittsburgh cyclist can attest.

The initial Sprout Funded racks that you see at coffee shops like Kiva Han, the Quiet Storm, 61C, etc, had to get the approval of City Council.  However, back in 2004, bike racks were controversial.  Former City Councilman Gene Ricciardi came out against the one bike rack that was to go next to the Beehive Coffee Shop in the South Side.  Taken from a 2004 Post Gazette article, Ricciardi said “Am I going to have 20 bikes in front of the Beehive crowding in? That could be a major problem,”  He also worried the bike rack legislation would increase bike usage, which he said would make cyclists unsafe, since the city has few dedicated bike lanes. “By doing this, am I inviting more bike traffic on the streets, without bicycle lanes?” Ricciardi asked.

Well, that is kinda the idea, but a little off topic.

Thankfully, Councilman Doug Shields came to the rescue.  He assured Ricciardi that under state law, bicycles have the same rights to city streets as cars do.  [Then Councilman] Hertzberg, who owns mountain and street bikes, also advised Ricciardi to ease up. He followed [then Councilman] Udin’s earlier pro-bike comments by saying cyclists are good for the city, its trails and parks and its businesses.

City Council tentatively approved the plan in a 7-0 vote with Ricciardi and Motznik abstaining.

In 2006, our work to install Pittsburgh’s first bike rack in the public right-of-way eventually inspired the City to write and approve a document that set standards for bike rack design and placement, effectively eliminating step 4 from above.  This past January, we worked with the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian coordinator (who didn’t exist in until ’08) to create a new ordinance that unanimously passed City Council, making it easy for businesses to install bike racks in the public right of way.

Now, with the Ricciardi incident in mind, take a look at this picture:

Taken yesterday, we see Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, flanked by State Senator Jim Ferlo, State Senator Wayne Fontana, Councilman Patrick Dowd, and BikePGH’s Scott Bricker as the Mayor announces a new citywide bike rack program that will provide 200 bike racks for small businesses and business districts, as well as create a system for businesses to request racks directly from the City of Pittsburgh.

In a few weeks, an important ordinance, which has already unanimously passed through the Planning Commission, will be going before City Council that will require all new buildings to install bike racks.  We’re fairly confident it will pass, but it still needs to get approved by Council.

I now want to take a moment to thank David Hoffman for his volunteer work that paved the way to install the initial bike racks.

I also want to thank our members, who, because of their support, enabled us to work toward improving conditions for local cyclists, even if it’s for something as “simple” as a bike rack.

If you like these developments, we need you to become a member.

Then, we can work on things that are actually complex like installing bike lanes.  And the Pittsburgh Bike Map.  And the Bike Commuting 101 Guide.  And BikeFest.

Do it before tomorrow, and your donation will automatically be doubled in our dollar-for-dollar matching program.

Ps.  I couldn’t end this without thanking Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Senators Ferlo and Fontana, Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Steve Patchan, the Richard King Mellon Foundation and William Benter Foundation

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: www.bike-pgh.org/membership


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