by Gina Morey (May, 2007)
May I point out the elephant in the middle of the room? It's still there--one year after I first noticed it. Don't you see it?
Folks, it's not built for bikes. It is an Automobile Infrastructure. Whether you know it or not, before you did it easily, you spent many difficult hours learning to travel in an automobile infrastructure. Now, savvy and with instincts honed, you know how to be seen by someone driving a car, how to relax as two-ton rockets race by, and when to tickle the brake lever. We have each learned to accommodate the Auto Infrastructure.
By infrastructure, I mean physical, fiscal, and psychological: how we build, fund, and think about traversing our cities.
Let's turn to "Bike To Work" week. Civic officials and advocates alike are cheerleading the masses to, dust or rust, pull their old rigs out of the garage and experience the joys of a bicycle-based life.
We know the theory, we see the dream: hordes of two-wheelers taking charge of the streets, chatting, sipping coffee, giddy with the pleasure of going to work.
The reality sees a few hearty souls who attempt to accommodate the Auto Infrastructure. They crank their creaking rigs (or delicate racing machines) stoically, coaxing them between parked cars and roaring traffic, making the early and uncertain ride to safety. Once at their destination, they drag their bikes onto the sidewalk and wonder what to do next. To their right is a light post too thick for their new Kryptonite U-Lock. To their left is a low-slung, six-slot bike rack crammed with $90 mountain bikes--owned by those invisible riders who get to work at 4am.
By "crammed" I mean there are 4 bikes in it. Because the slots are so close together that filling every slot is akin to solving a Rubik's Cube.
So the bike goes inside. Wheeling it indoors to turning heads and confused stares, the new rider skulks to their workstation wishing the day to end, but for the burden of the bike.
Last year I wrote about how hard it is to commute to work in the auto infrastructure. How the L.A. MTA made it free to enter the system with your bike, but doesn't allow one on the train during rush hour. This is part and parcel of the auto infrastructure.
This year I want to comment on the end game: where the bike goes after you get to the end--your destination.
I'm talking about the bike rack--that little bend of modest steel found in parks and recreation centers. Forget secure bike lots or rental kiosks. Forget carriers mounted to the front of buses and allowing bikes on subways during rush hour. The bike rack lives at the core of a bicycling infrastructure. A place to park and secure your vehicle while you are away doing stuff.
This past weekend, I went to my local Whole Foods Market (Fairfax and 3rd, here in Los Angeles). Whole Foods promotes the most organics and local farms when compared to its supersized peers. I understand that Whole Foods also promotes sustainability and other environmental issues. Until this weekend--until this trip to Whole Foods Market--it never occurred to me how savvy I had become at accommodating the Auto Infrastructure. The little bike rack was "crammed" with four $90 bikes. No slim parking lot poles, either. I will not lock my bike to shopping cart returns and risk it being bashed. So I locked it to a sign in the front, alongside the flower shop that has bled out the front door.
I came out of the market to a 6'2" red-faced security guard who yelled at me. How dare I block the view of the flowers? How rude I was. How inconsiderate I was. How stupid I was.
We had an "frank and open exchange of views" as I tried to explain that there was nowhere else to park safely. How I would have much preferred to park in a decent rack if they had one. He would have none of it. I had had enough of it. I went to the manger.
Upon my asking for adequate bike parking, Justin Crane, the calm-natured young manager, said he had never considered the problem and had never had a single person even mention it to him before.
That's when it struck me. Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Wild Oats--all the grocery chains we think as responsible(ish) to the environment and community--none of them bothers to provide adequate bike parking. Some do not provide any bike parking at all.
They have accommodated the Auto Infrastructure. Stretching out from most of them is an expansive asphalt floe, barren of life, scattered with steel sarcophagi ( a weird scene, if you think about it). Thousands of square meters given over to accommodate dozens of autos, and not six meters lent to bicyclists.
You'd think they would know better, but these companies are swayed by fifty long years of auto industry hype, of course. They believe in the Auto Infrastructure by default. For all intents and purposes, the facilities managers, architects, and construction managers of these companies (who grew up with cars on TV) do not believe that bicycle transportation does a damned thing. It is not even on their radar. Yet, short of growing your own produce in the back yard, riding a bicycle is about the most-local bit of sustainability you could ever support. And it's cheap.
I pick on these companies because of my recent experience. They are not alone. Ever look at the sporting goods stores? Big 5, Sports Chalet, Sports Authority, and the like? Not much better. They, too, should know better--most of them sell bikes!--but they've accommodated the Auto Infrastructure. Haven't we all? Look at the way you live, where you live, how you ride and when. Yet we rarely mention a useful word about the inconvenience. Like codependents to an abusive spouse, we allow it to continue, and so are participating in its growth.
Bike To Work Week? A non-starter. It encourages cyclists to put up with the Auto Infrastructure. We need Accommodate A Bike At Work Week. We need an intensive letter-writing outreach effort to inform those who decide how a commercial property is put together about good bike racks.
No, no, not corporate CEOs. They're busy fencing with investors and board members. I mean facilities managers, architects, and construction managers. They are the real influencers here, and many high-level decisions are made based in part on the recommendation of such mid-level specialists.
Let's break the cycle, and remake the infrastructure, physical, fiscal, and psychological: how we build, fund, and think about traveling in and around our cities.
Write to the markets you frequent. Write your own company. Even write restaurants and small shops. If you lead a bicycling organization, arrange face-to-face meetings with these key influencers.
Let them know that you are interested in having a decent place to park your bike. Not a recreation center rack for youths. A good one where often-valuable adult-sized bikes can park. Let them know that it's not expensive to do. Let them know that bike parking can be attractive and tidy. Tell them that many municipalities offer incentives to companies who help build a Bicycle Infrastructure.
Let them know that bicyclists are fairly affluent. Let them know that one parked car brings one household to the market. But in the same space, 10+ households could visit by bicycle. (My estimate.) And those households are local, which could mean greater frequency of visits.
Let them know that they are partners in this effort, and that together we can make something happen.
Here are your partners in this effort, the people to contact:
Big businesses have their own on staff, usually listed on their websites.
- Corporate facilities managers
- Corporate architects
- Corporate construction managers
- Facilities (a.k.a. property) managers
- Plant managers
Supermarkets, restaurants, and chains with large stores
- Store managers
- Corporate facilities managers
- Corporate architects
- Corporate construction managers
Individual restaurants and smaller shops
- The store manager
- The building owner (if you can discover who that is)
- The management company or on-site manager
- The owner (nearly impossible to discover in many cases)
You'll have to dig these up on your own, since there are thousands of companies and owners involved, differing from place to place. But it's worth it. It's time now to Bike to the Future--but we need a place to park once we arrive there!
IFMA (International Facility Management Association) AIA (American Institute of Architects) CMAA (Construction Management Association of America).
"If you build it, they will come," goes the old cliche, and it couldn't be more true. You and I, and the folks listed above, can prove it, too, by creating a Bicycle Infrastructure--one good bike rack at time.
P.S. A little known fact: hand-addressed envelopes are opened more often then typed ones. They are also more often opened by your recipient as opposed to their assistant.