City bicycle parking: the good, the bad, the ugly

  • Bike racks outside the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago on East 60th Street.
Bike racks outside the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University… (Terrence Antonio James/…)
May 29, 2014|By Rachel Cromidas, @rachelcromidas | RedEye

Chicago has more than 14,000 public bicycle racks, but it can still be challenging to find places to lock up on the go.

The alternative options for locking a bike in public include parking signs, bus stop poles and the occasional tree. But not all cylindrical structures are created equal if you want your bicycle to stay where you locked it, according to Charlie Short, the bike safety and education manager for the city's Department of Transportation.

The city of Chicago won't cut a bicycle off any street signs, he said. Everything from parking signs to defunct parking meter poles are fair game. Some old parking meters even have stickers inviting cyclists to use them. But bicycle racks are still ideal, he said. Thanks to federal funding, the city installs about 500 new bike racks every year to keep up with demand.

What if there are no bicycle racks or street sign poles in sight? Riders park their bikes against a private fence or CTA sign at their own risk.

"We don't recommend locking to private property without the permission from the property owner," said Jason Jenkins, the education specialist for the advocacy organization Active Transportation Alliance. "They are within their right to cut the lock off with a lock cutter."

Property owners may be allowed to cut off bicycles locked to their property, Jenkins said, but they're not allowed to then claim the bikes as their own.

Some types of signs blur the lines between public and private property.

Jenkins cautions cyclists against locking to loading-dock signs outside apartment buildings. Though technically those signs belong to the city and are on public property, some apartment building managers don't realize this and will cut bicycles off of them as well, especially if they look like they could get in the way of a truck.

The same goes for CTA signs. "There are signs that speak to the effect of not locking to CTA property, so we wouldn't recommend bus stop signs," he said. "Also, it's right there in the loading area where people are getting on and off the bus. You don't want to create an obstacle for people."

Some cyclists who have lost bicycles that were locked to CTA signs have reported finding them again by contacting the CTA's customer service line and tracking their bicycles down to CTA storage facilities.

If nothing else is available, Jenkins and Short both advised cyclists could lock up against trees as a last resort. Any tree planted on public property will do, even if it wasn't intended for bike parking. The trouble is finding a tree skinny enough for a U-lock, which is always preferable to a flimsy cable lock, Jenkins said.

Someone still might try to steal your bike, and then "you could have a stolen bicycle and a dead tree on your hands, and everybody loses," he said.

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