Toronto needs a dramatic increase in the number of bike racks — and let’s make them attractive while we are at it. If you own a bike, and more than half of Torontonians do, you may have more routes to ride it on this summer, but no place to park it. Especially downtown where finding a spot to lock your bike is as fun as finding a place to park your car.
A 2013 survey revealed that 7 per cent of Torontonians cycle daily. In the three years since then, it feels like the number of bikes on our downtown streets has exploded. In fact, today there are as many bikes as cars on College St. during afternoon rush hour.
But while 1.5 million of us ride a bike, the number of ring-and-post, outdoor bike racks stands at 17,000. This is up by less than 1,000 since 2006.
The obvious answer is to install more bike racks. The better answer is to install better-looking ones. But both are proving a challenge.
First, how can we get more bike racks?
That’s the job of City Hall, of course, but only on city streets and on city-owned property. But apartment, condo and office developers can also install bike racks for their tenants and unit owners. The number and location of these racks is determined largely by a set of parking guidelines. The problem is, the guidelines are still only in draft form, even though they were published in 2008 and haven’t been touched since.
The city divides bike parking into short-term (a few minutes up to a couple of hours) and long-term (several hours or overnight). But whether it’s providing racks for 30 bikes at the Pape Subway station, or secure racks for 120 bikes at Union Station, with plans for 220 racks (plus lockers and showers by the end of this year), Toronto has far less bike rack infrastructure than smaller cities, such as Montreal, or Chicago.
Other agencies can help. Business Improvement Associations (BIAs), for example, can direct some of their members’ funds to install more bike racks. In fact, the Financial District BIA won a Bicycle Friendly Business Award last year for leading the call for more bike racks on Bay St.
The city also supports bicycle user groups. They either want to bike together or come together to lobby their employer, office, condo or local Business Improvement Association for more bike racks. But like many other self-organizing groups with no real power base, they can’t do much.
So maybe it’s time for Toronto’s growing bike lobby to persuade city council to install more bike racks as well as more bike lanes. We can’t fully integrate bicycling into our city if recreational bicycling is easy but commuting-by-bike remains difficult.
We also can’t use bikes as transport if we don’t know where the empty bike racks are. The newly enlarged Bike Share Toronto has an App that not only shows how many drop-off ports are available at every one of its now 200 stations, it points you to the nearest ones. Meanwhile, in New York, its Department of Transportation has created a Google Map that shows the location of virtually every outdoor bike parking rack in all five boroughs.
But I’m also convinced one reason we don’t have more bike racks is that they’re so ugly. If we stopped viewing bike racks as bland street furniture and saw them instead as opportunities for functional creativity, beautiful bike racks would sprout up everywhere.
Local designer Phil Sazaren, has turned bike racks into works of art in Chinatown, Kensington, along QueenSt. W. and outside the ROM. The Harbord St. restaurant, Terrazza, created bike racks that look like … bikes, and Mount Pleasant Cemetery sponsored a competition among Ryerson design students to come up with beautiful bike racks for its bucolic grounds.
Again, New York is ahead of us, but doesn’t have to be if we only start thinking of bike racks as opportunities to create works of art.
That same Department of Transportation commissioned musician-artist David Byrne to create a series of nine different bike racks, each reflecting an iconic part of the city (Chelsea, Times Square, Wall St.) or an activity (coffee cup) or subset of its population (The Ladies’ Mile, the hipster).
Is there any reason we can’t build more (and more beautiful) bike racks in Toronto? All it takes is a change in perspective.
We have the need. We have the money. We have the creative talent.
All we need now is the will.