Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rack Attack

You may have been seeing or reading about the converted parking meter bike racks lately. They have been taking a hard hit in the blogosphere thanks to this viral video taken on the 100 block of Chestnut Street, which implies that the circle bike racks being installed by the Parking Authority are poorly designed and vulnerable to easy thievery.

Philly Bike Racks - A disaster waiting to happen - YouTube
Philly's Bike Racks Suck - BikeBlogNYC
Sudden Abundance of Free Bicycles In Philadelphia - Phillyist

But are these racks really so flimsy?

Past and present performance says no. The racks have been used successfully since 2005 in Seattle, a city that experiences a lot bike theft (Seattle was rated by Kryptonite in 2007 as the 8th worst city for bike theft.) Seattle helped develop the standards with Creative Metalworks, the same manufacturer supplying the bike circle conversion"kits" to Philadelphia Parking Authority. And while the video is provocative, there is no evidence of widespread tampering of the racks and we have not heard of any theft that involved the destruction of a parking meter bike rack. The circle racks on the street are full of locked bikes. It's important to remember that any bike rack can be vandalized; in fact, the inverted U-racks are only secured with threaded bolts, which can be unscrewed by someone determined enough with the right equipment. The circle racks are definitely safer than locking your bike on a street sign, as this video attests.

So what happened on October 6th?

Well perhaps only the video's author knows the whole story. We went to try and replicate the video and sure enough the bike rack in front of Cebu (123 Chestnut) swivels and the cap is loose but we were unable to lift it off the pole with bare hands. The second rack in the video at the corner of Letitia St. is placed on a meter pole that is loose in the ground caused by crumbling concrete. A third rack did swivel, but it had a secure cap. Was it vandalism that preceded the video or was it poor installation?. Only the hipster videographer knows.

We were unable to try the same thing at a dozen other racks on adjacent blocks.

One possibility is that the installation of the racks on that block was not done properly. Creative Metalworks President Merrill Denney informed us that the brackets can be torqued to a point that makes it very difficult to swivel and perhaps the installers did not perform that step properly. He plans on coming to Philadelphia in the near future to inspect the racks and perform a workshop on proper installation.

Finally, one other change would add more protection, the insertion of set screws coated with liquid metal to further stabilize the rack element.

Let's not forget the big picture here. Philadelphia has a bike parking shortage in many parts of the City. When the Parking Authority went about converting meters to kiosks, they worked with the Mayor's Office of Transportation and the Bicycle Coalition to convert 1600 poles into bike racks using the conversion kits. It would cost the City (and you the taxpayer) twice as much to remove all of the meter poles and replace them with U-racks. A small installation problem shouldn't take away from the main point, which is Philadelphia is doing the right thing to supply more bike parking.

If you see a rack that is defective call 311 or use our SeeClickFix widget


Jon said...

I'd still like to see him do it with two bicycles attached.

Josh said...

Tried this with a circle rack on the 900 block of Walnut the other night and it was quite secure. Certainly not removable by hand.

eagleapex said...

The problem is that Philadelphia is doing _almost_ the right thing by installing some new bike racks, but they did it wrong. I'm sure the green circles are just as effective as any other hunk of steel once you properly bolt it down. I've seen a bunch of U racks bolted into sidewalk pavers. The product is fine. The installation is cheap. Pipe straps are not the best way to secure anything. All it takes is some beefy clamps, red threadlocker, and a better budget.

Andrew J. Besold said...

Those NYC folks shouldn't talk! Try even finding a bicycle rack in NYC, never mind near your final destination.

Still, I don't think these parking meter circle racks are a true replacement for a good inverted "U" rack but its better than nothing.

Silverback said...

Weld 'em. Use rebar and old Schwinn Varsity frames. When it comes to industrial design, I'm in favor of more industrial and less design

@ Jon, with two bikes attached I'm sure you're right, but with one there's be more leverage.

Unknown said...

It would have been better where possible to just have left the double-head brackets that originally held the meters in place instead of wasting money on these comparatively flimsy bike-a-doodles. The brackets were very solid and big enough to prevent slipping a ulock over. Not pretty, granted, but less waste and more function.