Rack’n’Roll: Bike parking in Toronto not keeping pace

New Video: City Cyclist on bike parking

Rack'n'roll: Bike parking in Toronto not keeping up with the times

As the number of cyclists increases, the number of bike parking spots stays the same

Story by Alex Chronopoulos

Having trouble finding a spot to park your bike in Toronto? 
It might be because the number of new, stand-alone, outdoor bike parking spots installed by the City has not increased in the last eight years.

Yet the number of cyclists in the city continues to rise. A recent estimate by the City of Toronto puts the cycling population at about 54% of the total, which would mean there are approximately 1.5 million people who ride a bike in this city.

The City’s street furniture department reports there are currently about 17,000 ring-and-posts, which is close to the same number that has been reported since as far back as 2006.

Carly Hinks, head of Toronto’s street furniture unit, says the City installed one new bike corral this year that holds 14 bikes on Queen Street West between Gladstone and Markham following a 2013 bike parking study, and added 30 per cent more parking spaces in the area overall. The hope is that the City will take its findings and implement them into other neighbourhoods to further improve the bike parking situation. Suggestions and results from the study will appear in the highly anticipated Toronto Bicycle Parking Strategy report in 2015.

There are also bike racks installed by different private companies, like Urban Racks, on public and private property such as condo developments, but we can’t say how many privately installed bike racks there are because no one seems to be keeping track. 

Hinks says the city budgets for and plans to install about 500 new outdoor bike parking spots each year. The City allocates about $200,000 per year on bike parking, says Hinks, adding they’re set to install an additional 500 ring-and-post locations across Toronto this year. No numbers were available as to how many new ring-and-posts have been installed so far this year though. But we do know that the Yonge-Dundas BIA has installed new black rectangular racks, and additional bike parking (including 32 new racks on Front Street) is part of the Union Station redesign.

Indeed, the Yonge Street BIA is taking a proactive approach by recognizing that Yonge is a major cyclist corridor and destination and is desperate need for more parking. This year they plan on installing 102 new bike racks in high traffic areas including Dundas Street West between Yonge and Bay, Yonge and Gerrard, and Bay and College. Some have already begun popping up and are well used and look lovely (below).

The process, which has taken two years from design to installation, has resulted in funky yet functional rectangular bike racks. The locations were determined by “public feedback and by simply observing where there was the most demand for bike parking in our area,” the BIA reports, adding thorough public and stakeholder consultation prior to installing the racks was key in making sure they would be welcome and well-used.

BIA’s – Business Improvement Areas – have a lot of sway in certain neighbourhoods (especially the ones with lots of money) when it comes to the design and amount of street furniture in their neighbourhoods.

As an individual citizen you can request that the City install ring-and-post bike stands near your home or work place by emailing streetfurniture@toronto.ca but be prepared to wait up to a year to find out whether or not your request is even doable. And in places like Bloor and Yonge where the Yorkville BIA group does not like cyclists, you can forget about having your request heeded. Even if there is ample space for more bike racks – if the Business Improvement Area doesn’t want them, it’s unlikely you’ll see new bike parking since it is rare to see councillors counter the wishes of local business.

So what’s a cyclist to do if you have a meeting downtown (especially in an area where the BIA is not friendly to cyclists) and need to lock your steed? As one woman recently found out you could have your bike “removed” without a trace if you lock to a TTC pole on a public sidewalk adjacent to sidewalk owned by Brookfield Properties. With no other available bike racks at the corner of Bloor and Yonge, Lisa Ferguson locked up to a street sign. Security then sawed her U-lock off and took her bike away, all within 90 minutes. (After a social media uproar, Brookfield replaced Ferguson’s lock and apparently apologized to her, but admitted they had stolen, er, removed dozens of bikes before hers.)

Bike parking at Yonge and Bloor and in Yorkville is pitiful. There are very few of these poorly designed bike racks (above) in Yorkville. This design is very difficult to get a mini U-lock around and the racks are placed too close to the street. Be careful not to get buzzed by passing traffic as you lock up.

But be prepared – if you say to yourself, “I’m going to ask the city to put some bike parking in here where it’s really needed!” and you make your request to the street furniture department – due to a massive backlog of requests for bike parking it can take up to a year-and-a-half for an outdoor bike rack request to be installed. After you fill out the request form, it could take a few weeks to receive a reply, then, as mentioned, up to a year for them to examine the request to determine it’s feasible for that location. If you have a minimum width of 2.6 metres on the sidewalk, and there are no other obstructions, then it will take another six months or so to have the racks actually installed. When we made a citizen (not media) request last year to the street furniture unit to request for bike racks in the bike-friendly Annex area, near student residences, we didn’t receive a reply to either of the emails we sent. After a few months, we then forwarded our request on to the cycling unit manager and the chair of the public works committee. This resulted in a reply from the street furniture unit noting the backlog and reassuring us that we would receive more information in the future (that was in May.) We also got some thoughts on the bike parking situation from the chair of public works, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

Minnan-Wong concedes, “It can take up to one year for the City to review requests for new bike rings. Normally an acknowledgement is provided with the work order information at the time of request, if we obtain contact information.”

Hinks says there are hundreds of requests on the backlog, and that's why it takes the City up to a year to process parking request forms.

"We endeavor to install 500 new post and ring locations and repair 500 locations per year," Minnan-Wong says, “We adjust these numbers accordingly; when there are fewer repairs we install additional new locations.” He also says that the City's zoning by-law requires new developments to provide bike parking for residents and tenants within the building, as well as visitor bike parking.

But who is keeping track of these by-law requirements?

If we read between the lines (posts?), it sounds like the reason the number of ring-and-posts hasn’t really increased in eight years is because of all the repairs and/or re-installations needed, and because there is an expectation that developers will provide (or replace) bike parking. Considering we were  unable to confirm via any city official or private bike rack manufacturers how many private developments have installed outdoor parking -- it seems more like an honor system, as opposed to an actual (by-)law that is enforced. So, one wonders: Is the majority of the budget for outdoor bike parking going towards maintenance and re-installations of posts that have been removed during construction (as opposed to installing new locations)?

One interesting example of developers ruling the roost was seen this summer on Christie just north of Bloor. Dozens of ring-and-posts were removed – many with bikes attached – along Christie, just east of the park, for sidewalk repair. The bikes were kept inside a cage – like two-wheeled prisoners of war – in the median. (Many dandyhorse readers contacted us to ask what was going on.) Hinks says bikes get tagged before they are removed and are usually taken to a depot where the city will eventually donate them (or sell them for scrap) if they are not reclaimed. On Christie, it was hoped people might recognize their bike in the pile and call the city to reclaim it. Hinks says, once a construction site is finished it can then take another year for the bike racks to be re-installed (if the developer hasn't done it) – it all depends on the project (and the developer) and the location (and the BIA.) One has to wonder if re-installments count as repairs in the bike parking budget? They must, considering the stagnate number of new installs. And considering the abundance of developments and the amount of public sidewalk space that is destroyed in the building of so many condos, it’s no wonder the repair budget seems to have displaced the budget for new racks.

All of this begs the question: Shouldn’t condo developers have to supply temporary bike parking when ring-and-posts are displaced?

Whether it’s mid-week or a Saturday afternoon, downtown or uptown, the scant number of bike racks stationed along main streets like St. Clair, Bloor, Queen, King and even College and Dundas makes it difficult for locals (and visitors) to ride their bikes to nearby shops to spend their money. Lack of bike parking is -- or should be -- a growing concern across Toronto.

So what do 17,000 ring-and-posts represent to a million cyclists? A problem. Lack of outdoor bike parking is also a problem for business owners and newly planted trees. A lack of lock-ups forces cyclists to hitch their steel horses to city signs, railings, fences, poles and (sadly) little trees: This in turn can sometimes impede pedestrian traffic and block the sidewalk.

So: How do we get more bike parking in Toronto?

“We become aware that additional bike parking is required. This could be through the public, a councillor, and BIA requests, and new developments,” Hinks says.

Michael Dunn of Urban Racks says, “We’d like the opportunity to install more bike racks in the city of Toronto.” His company recently installed 15 new racks at the Sherbourne Health Centre and is working with the TDSB and the City to install more racks at schools.

Bike racks in Calgary by Urban Racks.

Councillor Minnan-Wong says, “The City has always used a combination of City staff and contractors to supply, install, and repair bike parking.”

There are also some very cool "art racks" in Toronto, like the creative one-of-a-kind art racks by PARC which originated in Parkdale with designer and artist Phil Sazaren (below), and are now seen in Chinatown, at the ROM and along Queen West.

A restaurant on Harbord, The Roxton, recently added some bike parking for it's customers...made out of old bike parts (below).

But, the restaurant across the street, Terrazza has some really sweet works of art shaped like bicycles that you can lock many bicycles too. Bravo to the business owners who champion bikes!

This photo is by Chris Kaiser.

From my perspective, as a student who has never researched this topic before, it seems to me that the process for installing bike parking infrastructure in public spaces is enormously (and perhaps, unnecessarily) complicated. It can be a bit easier in private residences and businesses, with private money where the owner can make decisions and spend at will. Often, the owner of a condo or a business will make bike parking a priority and be adamant about timely installation.

Hinks says that the City’s long-term plan is to install more parking locations and work with private businesses to provide adequate and secure parking on their facilities. As well as working with the TDSB and the TTC to install secure, long-term parking in stations and on campuses. In addition to the Union and Victoria Park bike stations, there are plans to install bicycle stations (mass indoor parking) at Nathan Phillips Square near Osgoode Station, as well as at Finch West Station and along the Eglinton Crosstown LRT.

Current bike parking near Union Station.

Toronto is sitting at a grand total of 17,232 parking spaces with hundreds addition spots available at the aforementioned bicycle stations (particular Union station’s which will house around 300 bicycles once renos are complete) and 232 locker spaces.

This past July, Copenhagen installed nine bicycle beds, which are “organically shaped sunken islands with newly developed bicycle racks designed to save space.” These nine new bicycle beds provide an additional 18,900 parking spaces: that’s just in one train station. And, Amsterdam’s bike plan states they will soon add 38,000 parking spaces to their existing bike parking infrastructure.

Bike parking in all shapes and forms is not only helpful in keeping the public realm tidy and keeping your bike safe, but it is also very useful in encouraging more people to bike.

The bottom line is that the number of parking spaces has not increased in our city, while the number of cyclists has. Bike parking spaces need to increase proportionally with the growth of cycling as a modal share in Toronto.

But we’re not Amsterdam, nor are we Copenhagen. They are the Mozart’s of bike parking and we are more like mere Salieri’s—a city of mediocrity where even bike parking becomes a complicated process that requires a compromise.

For more information on bike parking in Toronto check out the  City of Toronto’s bike parking page.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

City Cyclist: Bike Parking Toronto (NEW!)

Ride to save the Arctic: Oct. 4

Lock ‘n’ Roll

Parking demand up, bike parking spots down

The high cost of free parking

The high cost of free parking: take two

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