The Dignity of Bike Parking: Cash-Out

A faithful reader tipped me off to this video making the rounds on You Tube.

That’s some impressive parking! But the question remains, where can she lock her bike? In fact all of the bikes in the video are unlocked. What city is this where no one locks their bikes? Amazing.

Meanwhile, there was a traffic jam at my office bike rack:

It was so packed, that someone lifted their bike over the rack and parked it on the other side. One might think that this was encouraging sign, however 4 of these bikes have been parked here all winter. 3 of the 4 belong to one employee in my building who leaves them there because he doesn’t want to take up room in his garage. This forced at least one of the visiting cyclists to park outside. The guy who stores his bikes at work as assured me that he will move two of them home once he is done cleaning out his garage. The RI Foundation was hosting a meeting involving about 40 people (mostly young adults) – it was nice to see that a few of them biked to the meeting. I still have mixed feeling about this rack. It’s great to have indoor bike parking – monitored by a security camera and in a well-traveled place. And it’s a good looking rack. My guess is that it is re-purposed wrought iron fence. The problem is that the bars are too narrow for you to fit your bike in far enough to lock your frame. I’ve given up trying, and I recently started just locking my wheel to the rack. I have locking hubs, and I’ve seen many bikes left on this rack completely unlocked, so I feel pretty safe.

Across the street from my office building, there’s an ice skating rink. During the 8 months of the year that you can’t ice skate, the local skate boarding enthusiasts take over the rink. This seems to be completely allowed by the city. In fact, during the summer, the city puts out ramps, blocks and rails in the rink turning it into a temporary skate park.

Photo credit: unionofyouth.org

This year, a new breed has emerged in Kennedy Plaza to practice their skillz. The freestyle fixie riders!

It’s hard to tell in this picture, but his retro-styled headphones totally don’t match his bike. The headphones are sort of a puke green while his bike is distinctly minty. And in case you are wondering, yes, I did catch him pulling off some bar spinzz.

Back to bike parking. In my perusals of various bike blogs, I learned about the recent law in California that requires employers who provide free parking to their car-driving employees to provide an equivalent cash benefit to their non-driving employees. This is often referred to parking cash-out. This led me to links related to Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking. I haven’t read this book yet, but it is referenced many times in Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt, which I have read. It was a real eye-opener and I hope to review at some point later. One of the basic points in High Cost (so I’ve heard) is that cities give away parking for free far too often when the market gives it a much higher value. For example, in front of my office building, you can park at a meter for $1.00 per hour. If you are lucky, you could even get a free spot that you can stay in for up to 2 hours. If you are unlucky, you can go around the corner and park in the garage for $8.00 an hour. The parking market has put the going rate of a parking space at a much higher price than the city does. The result is that drivers spend an extra 1/2 mile driving around looking for “free” (or cheap) parking instead of taking the first available spot. Evidently there’s much more to the book, I’ll get to it one of these days. Back to parking cash-out. When employers subsidize parking spaces, or make them “free” to employees, they help perpetuate the car culture and privilege it over all other modes of transportation.

This dude sums it up pretty well:

Hmmm, can I get my employer to pay me to not park? I already used the fact that I do not incur parking expenses as part of a justification for the company buying an iPhone for me.  I do like the “split the difference” approach to negotiating this sort of thing. For example, if your employer is spending $100 a month for you to park, ask them to pay you $50 a month not to park. That way the company saves $600 a year – and you get paid an extra $600. Has anyone had any success with this?

I’m responsible for many of the HR things at my workplace, do you think I could push something like this through? It’s clearly something that would benefit me, but I know of 3 other employees who could potentially bike (or take the bus) to work. I can think of arguments against it – many of our employees live too far away to bike, a few may have too many health concerns. I’d say that those people who chose to live close to where they work made a wise decision and should be rewarded for that. Any other arguments for or against?

Hat tip for pointing out parking cash-out goes to Carbon Trace, a bike blog in Springfield, MO – home of my alma mater, Missouri State University. I plan on writing a full post on biking in Springfield, let’s just say that this guy has a far bigger challenge than I do.

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