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Casualty of Parking Meter Modernization: Bike Parking

The dimensions of old-school bike U-locks aren't a coincidence--they're just wide enough to fit around parking meter posts but narrow enough that they can't be lifted over the meter itself, allowing cyclists to lock to them.

The problem is, as SFMTA and other DOTs modernize parking, conventional parking meters are getting scrapped. In many places, the poles remain, but with the meter heads going away, a whole bunch of bicycle parking is going away too.

"The last time that I noticed it was when I went to go get a sandwich with a couple of friends at Rhea's Deli on Valencia," said David Prigge, a student at San Francisco State University, who brought the issue to Streetsblog's attention. It was tricky lashing up their bikes, he explained, because the only bike rack was already taken and there were no longer meters available to lock to. "You can see the heads of the parking meters have been lopped off everywhere in the city."

Prigge emailed SFMTA about it last month:

The SFMTA is removing 27,000 parking meters and replacing the meters with parking kiosks. All of these parking meters are viable bicycle parking spaces and this is a huge deterrent to current, new, and potential cyclists. It's sad to see that the entire city now has drastically less bike parking for car parking convenience. Could you please inform me what the City is going to do to replace this bike parking?

SFMTA's Jessie Liang replied that the goal is to install 1,000 bike racks per year. "We’ve been below that recently because of staffing shortages, but are planning to fill positions that will allow us to hit that goal." She added that the city is focusing on areas with a high level of bike use and parking meter removal.

Of course, that's still going to result in a huge net loss of bike parking for years to come. It also, in Streetsblog's view, seems like a silly waste of resources--why couldn't the same crews that remove the meters weld on a wide cap or loop that would leave the poles useful for bikes? Other cities--Los Angeles is one example--already convert meter poles into bike parking.

Former parking meter in Hollywood. Image: Google Maps
Former parking meter in Hollywood. Image: Google Maps
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But, as Streetsblog has covered in the past, SFMTA has a habit of making bike parking more complicated than it has to be.

"Bike parking is an unending struggle with the SFMTA and we understand that the reduction of the meters has also cut back on the informal use of the meters as racks (Though that does point to a lack of an adequate amount of formal bike racks)," wrote the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's Justin Hu-Nguyen in an email forwarded to Streetsblog about the matter. "Unfortunately, there isn't a proactive plan. Bike parking overall is on a by-request basis."

Photo: David Prigge
Photo: David Prigge
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These issues are exacerbated, of course, by competition from scooters, as seen in the lead image.

Prigge, meanwhile, underscored the importance of secure places to lock a bike; he had a bike stolen in San Francisco when he turned his back on it for a moment to talk with a friend. He also interrupted a thief once who was trying to steal his bike by prying open the lock with a modified car jack. The startled thief fled, dropping the tool. "I kept it as a souvenir."

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