Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

How to get a bike rack or corral on your street

Wish your favorite coffee shop had a bicycle rack right out front? Just request one from the city by filling out the handy online Sidewalk Bicycle Rack Request Form. Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s bicycle program installs about 400 bike racks a year by following up on these requests — though right now, new rack installations are on a temporary hold while the department waits for a new order of bike racks to arrive.

“If everything goes well, we could have them in a month, month and a half,” says Michelle Mowery, LA DOT’s Bike Program Senior Coordinator. You don’t need to wait to put your rack request in though. Mowery says her current wait list is only about a dozen requests long. Once the new racks arrive, the city will start going through that wait list, adding on to the 4000 or so bike racks already installed throughout the city.

Do all bike rack requests result in bike racks? Yes — if the street on which the rack’s requested meets a couple basic criteria. For one, the request generally needs to be in a business area (sorry, apartment dwellers who’d like a rack in front of their complex). For another, the street needs to be able to accommodate a rack.

“We have conflicts with metered parking,” says Mowery. “Generally, what the city does with metered parking is there’s two car spaces, and then there’s six feet of red curb, then two more car spaces. If there’s not a street tree, or a piece of furniture, or a newspaper rack in that six feet of red curb, that’s where we’d put a bicycle rack in. But loading zones, taxi zones, bus zones — We can’t do any of those just because of conflicts with the car doors.”

If your desired rack spot doesn’t meet those criteria, you’ll get an email back from the city letting you know why your request won’t be realized. Otherwise, expect a black, inverted-U rack there soon. LA DOT doesn’t do any additional studies to, say, gauge how frequently the bike racks may be used before awarding requests with racks. Why not? Requests seem to match up with demand. “It’s amazing,” says Mowery. “As soon as we put the racks in, I mean literally we put them in the ground at 6 am, and there’d be bikes on them within hours almost anywhere we put them in around the city.”

Considering the growing popularity of bicycling in Los Angeles, I was actually pretty surprised to hear that the wait list for bike rack request was so short — especially since a frequent complaint I hear from cyclists is the shortage of good bicycle parking in various neighborhoods. This made me wonder — What would happen if every cyclist suddenly started using the Bicycle Rack Request form every time they saw a spot that could use a bike rack? Would the city then fund and install, say, a thousand racks a year?

Unfortunately, more requests won’t necessarily lead to more racks due to budget constraints. Each bike rack costs the city about $350 to buy and install, and the City’s bicycle budget comes mainly from two local sources — Transportation Development Act, article 3 and Measure R funds, 5 percent of which is dedicated to bikes. “I have a certain amount of that money projected [for bike racks] next year,” Mowery says. “If something happened and we got a ton of requests … that we couldn’t fulfill because we’ve exhausted the funding, we’d have to go back to council and adjust how we’re using the money.” But then that would mean less money for other city bike projects.

Still, Los Angeles could see an extra boost to bicycle parking facilities in the next few years — in the form of bike corrals. L.A.’s first bike corral officially got its ribbon-cutting ceremony in Highland Park in February, and at that time, Amir Sedadi, General Manager of Los Angeles’ Department of Transportation, was quoted saying the department’s applied for funding for 30 more such corrals.

When those corrals will become reality, however, is still uncertain. Mowery says she’s submitted a grant application for 35 more corrals around the city to Metro’s Call for Projects. And since thanks to Mayor Villaraigosa’s recent successful motion, bikes will now get 15 percent of that pot of money instead of the previously allotted 8 percent, Mowery’s hopeful the funding will come. That said, that money wouldn’t be distributed until 2015. Luckily Angelenos may not have to wait that long to see their second bike corral — if city councilmembers can be convinced to spend the local funds they have the authority allocate for bike facilities in their districts.

“Councilmember Huizar actually used his money to fund part of the [first] bike corral,” says Mowry, who estimated that each bike corral costs roughly $2000 to install. One other councilmember is currently working with LA DOT to see about getting a corral in another L.A. district, Mowery said. “Every councilmember would have the option to do that, as long as we have the staff to be able to do it.”

In addition, each corral is a private-public partnership — which means for each corral, a local business needs to step up as a corral sponsor, “willing to maintain the corral for the life of the corral, the life of the business,” according to Mowery. That responsibility mainly entails keeping the corral swept up and graffiti-free.

So there you have it. If you want to see a bike corral in your district before 2015, start bugging your councilmember — and your local businesses. And if you’d like to see a bike rack on your favorite street, put in your bike rack request.

In the meantime, you can see all the city racks that have been installed in L.A. since July 2009 — as well as spot new ones as they get added — on LA DOT’s bike racks map.

View New LADOT Bike Racks in a larger map

Photo: Newly installed LA DOT bike racks in front of Eagle Rock Brewing Company (Umberto Brayj/Flickr)