Rack City

Yesterday was a big day for biking in Provo. In addition to landing on the League of American Bicyclists list of bike-friendly communities for the first time, downtown also got a new experimental bike rack.

A new bike rack near the corner of Center Street and Freedom Blvd.

Mayor Curtis blogged about the bike rack yesterday and had this to say about it:

I know what some of you are thinking? Finally! Downtown has a customized bike rack option. This one is in front of the new Utah Valley Convention Center. The rack was designed by local industrial design firm Rocketship and inspired by the Provo Bike Committee.

A comment on yesterday’s post revealed that Rocketship designed the rack pro bono and that businesses may have the opportunity to sponsor more racks. Hopefully businesses will jump on that opportunity.

On my way home from work yesterday I rode past the new rack and tried it out. It was created by people — both cyclists and designers — with far more experience than I, but I thought I’d share my observations anyway. I like this rack, but I also think anything worth having is also worth discussing.

Probably the bike rack’s greatest strength, and innovation, is that it’s bolted to a pole rather than cemented into the ground. It feels a little less permanent as a result, but  also should be much faster and cheaper to install. There won’t be any cement mixing, sidewalk jackhammering, or other costly efforts. And if it isn’t getting much use, it can be moved.

Another strength is that the rack is a brightly colored bike image. Many cities have bike-shaped racks, of course, but the image is useful for symbolically emphasizing a commitment to biking. In this case, the rack’s placement serves as a kind of advertisement to conventioneers for biking in Provo.

On the other hand, the placement does come off as more symbolic than practical; after all, who bikes to the convention center? Symbolic acts matter, but I can’t help thinking that it might have been better on the 100 Block, near Gurus, or generally closer to the restaurants near University Ave.

I’m also not sure how much added bike parking it provides. If I arrived with three or four other cyclists we probably all could have fit our bikes on the rack. If one or two people arrive alone, however, they probably won’t think twice about doing this:

One bike seemingly takes up 50 percent of the space on this rack.

Aggressive cyclists might still cram their bikes onto this rack, but if I saw two bikes hogging all the available space I’d just go lock my bike to the nearest pole. And because any random pole can already handle two bikes, this rack may not be significantly increasing bike parking.

I have a larger bike, but the rack also didn’t protect the pole. The top of my frame hit the pole, as did my pedals.

These issues could be resolved by, among other things, duplicating the shape horizontally (or, north-south) so it’s a kind of three-layer metal sandwich. I don’t know if that would work, but I’m sure someone could think of something.

Among other things, I also liked that the rack was customized for Provo:

Having a customized bike rack may show a greater community commitment to biking.

My understanding is that this rack is a prototype, so maybe future iterations will be slightly different.

But either way I do ultimately like it. It may not be the platonic ideal of a bike rack but, hey, what is? This rack is still innovative and a positive addition to Provo’s growing bike infrastructure. And when these sorts of things go in it’s clear that the city is pursuing the right kinds of things.

This bike rack was installed Thursday.



Filed under biking

2 responses to “Rack City

  1. amy

    That is the tiniest bike rack I have ever seen. I do love the “Provo” on it though. And I do love that fact that they are trying.. and it looks cute.. but like you said it’s not going to help anymore than the pole that was already there. I do however ride my bike down there at least once a week to the guitar shop but there is a much bigger bike rack right there off the street so it fits a ton of bikes but since its right off the street and not closer to the sidewalk it is a little weird. You basically have to get on the street to be able to park it there. you have talked lots of Provos wides streets – center street is not part of the wide street club. Good ole Provo, always just a little off.

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