Can Bike Racks Save the Planet?

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

It shouldn't come as a surprise to many of you who like to cycle but bicycle parking sucks. They are the afterthought of urban design, something you add after all the important things have been considered. They are the parsley garnish on your plate, the very last thing you toss in there in the hopes it will make you look fancy. But it doesn't have to be this way.

The Office of Campus Sustainability at uOttawa has just completed a full annual assessment of the bike parking spaces on campus and the results are... well they are pretty awesome.

This year, an audit was conducted to determine the state of the bike racks on campus. The assessment included the number of spaces available, the proximity to a major building entrance, if they were covered, and the ease of access. These criteria were selected as measures of how attractive and effective the bike racks are to users.

The report revealed that there are 58 distinct parking locations on campus, with approximately 1,700 potential spaces available to campus cyclists.
But before I jump into the details of the report, how about a little refresher on what the GHG landscape looks like in with respects to cycling.

Cars, light trucks, and motor cycles accounted for over 83 Mega Tonnes of GHG emissions in Canada in the year of 2014-15. That's about 11% of the total GHGs emitted and more than the waste and agricultural sectors combined! The Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. estimates that each car contributes about 4.6 tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If cycling habits increased, that could eliminate a huge portion of our emissions.

Nation-wide, cycling and walking only account for 6.9% of all commuter trips. In Ottawa, the cycling number looks more like 4.9%. And specifically at the University of Ottawa, 4.6% of the campus community identify cycling as their primary mode of transportation. If we want to get people out of cars and onto bikes, we have to start looking at the whole 'cycling package'.

There are 1001 things that might prevent someone from cycling. Before you head out you might take a look at the weather and think it isn't a good time to cycle. During your ride you might not feel safe cycling in and around traffic. And once you arrive at your destination; you might not have a place to park; you might feel like your bike will be stolen; you might not have a place to shower; or you might get a flat tire and not have a place to pump it up.

Appropriate bike parking can play an important part in your rational for cycling, and by extension, your impact on the planet. That's why our goal on campus has been to remove as many barriers as possible for cyclists. If we can tackle at least the issues related to parking your bike, maybe it will help take you one step closer to becoming a cyclist. With that in mind, here are the criteria we considered in our bike rack report.
  • Ease of access - Does a barrier exist that would impede someone from parking their bike, such as a wall or a post?
  • Covered rack - Is the rack covered or protected from the elements?
  • Spacing - Is there enough space between bike racks to properly fit a bike?
  • Proximity to buildings - Is it within 30 metres of the main entrance?
  • Secured - Is the rack in a high visibility space, bolted to the ground, or in a secure enclosure?
  • Maintenance stand - Is the rack located close to one of the uOttawa outdoor bike maintenance stands?

Most of the individual bike racks we were looking at scored under 20% for the factors we measured. This makes sense considering the high bar we created. And quite frankly, bike racks every where tend to be afterthoughts. Outside of the campus, many bike racks aren't covered, close to a main entrance, in secure a location, or located next to a bike repair stand. 

This is the first full year of the audit and the results are looking pretty solid. Overall, the campus is halfway to meeting its bike parking requirements. The academic buildings on campus are doing the best, as 93% of the required racks are in place. The story is slightly different when we are looking at residences, which are only meeting 12% of their required rack spaces.

The City of Ottawa recently updated their bylaws for minimum parking requirements for bicycles. in which they state that post secondary academic institutions must have one bicycle parking space for every 250 m2 of gross space on campus (and 0.75 spaces for every dwelling unit in residences). On a building by building basis, only 33% of the buildings on campus meet this criteria.

The University of Ottawa scored pretty well, but there is still some work to be done. The aforementioned bylaw was only recently amended so we need some time to catch up. And this is of course the first full year of collected data at uOttawa. Many of the problems with the racks we surveyed can be very quickly and easily be corrected. The true test will be to see what kind of progress we can make in the coming years.

This is an important endeavour; the University of Ottawa's cycling rate is only 4.6%, but this represents about 2,250 people. If we can make cycling a more attractive proposition for campus community members then we can curb the environmental impacts associated with vehicular travel. If we can make sure that there are enough bike racks, and other cycling infrastructure, maybe we can actually save our little blue planet.

~ jonathan rausseo - campus sustainability manager

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