Make bike racks a priority
Or risk the return of the Elvis Direct Action Fan Club
By Randy Kay
In my younger days, I was part of a clandestine "direct-action" group. Our first action, carried out under cover of darkness, of course, was to relocate a bicycle rack placed in an isolated and neglected corner of campus; we dragged it to the front of the student centre.
The next morning the rack was filled with bikes. The university had assumed cyclists would run over pedestrian classmates — leading to lawyers — and had no plans for racks in this location. After a few weeks, they added several more racks, and they too filled up. No negotiations. No pleas. No problem.
Yes, the Elvis Direct Action Fan Club had struck our first blow against bureaucracy and poor planning.
We were never much of a club, and I only made up the name since I had a ceramic Elvis bust in the office that we had tried to give to then-mayor Larry Di Ianni — a prize for keeping a bad 1950s idea alive (i.e. the urban expressway known as Red Hill). Who knew it was so difficult to register a delegation to deliver a satirical prize to the mayor at city hall?
The spirit of the Elvis Direct Action Fan Club surges like a hunk of burning passion every time I see a poorly installed bike rack. In Dundas, it's mostly the way they hide the racks down little alleyways, away from the protective gaze of shoppers, not to mention the shops a cyclist would actually visit.
My daughter fought for racks to replace the 1930s wheel-bender racks at her high school. A good rack allows you to lock your wheel and frame to a supportive structure, a minimal standard which the current low-to-the-ground, rusty racks did not achieve. It took two years, but when they finally replaced them, it was with racks that didn't meet this low bar of expectation, resulting in only a marginal improvement on the older racks.
What get's my lip twitching is the racks that can hold several bicycles, but get installed with one side against a wall, reducing the capacity by half. To its credit, McMaster installs the racks properly, leaving space for cyclists to access from both sides. Elsewhere in the city, the results are less than inspiring.
After waiting for years, an upgrade to Coronation pool — in cycle-friendly Westdale — was completed, yet when they finally got around to putting in the bike rack, they did the wall thing. An improvement on no racks? Sure, but against the wall? I complained to my councillor and city cycling staff, and shortly thereafter they responsibly relocated the rack to a location that would allow full use of the functionally designed metal rings.
With this action I realized I had moved out of the shadowy, direct-action world, into the more mainstream, compromising and potentially more boring world of advocacy.
So let me advocate: bike racks in the city should be a short-term priority for capital expenditures. Fill in the abundant missing spaces, the way SOBI bike share — in a matter of months — has. Go all out. It wasn't that long ago that Westdale lacked bike parking, and the racks installed to make up for it are now hitting capacity. We could use more here, and everywhere.
The current practice of using a private advertising company to install advertising racks (often in a location that serves advertising rather than cyclists) should be scuttled, and stylish, advertising-free racks — paid through the city cycling budget — placed where they are most needed. Get artists involved. Be creative, make it something to talk about. Have fun with it with site specific designs. Functional public art rather than rusty advertising racks for the win.
Until standards for bicycle parking are outlined and enforced, we will have to put up with a houndog's breakfast of bike parking that defies common sense.
There's a rack at University Plaza, against the wall of the supermarket. Room for four or five bikes, when eight or 10 could be accommodated. I was there recently and beheld a rare sight: no bikes in the rack. Since the rack is not bolted to the pavement, I walked over, adjusted it 90 degrees, and then went on with my business. Simple. Easy. Doubled the capacity, so efficient, like a little pelvic twist. Elvis Direct Action lives.