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A Bicycle Planner’s Takeaways: Maryland Bicycle Friendly University Summit

By - October 20, 2014

From Kevin King, board member of Bike Maryland and Associate Principal, Ayers Saint Gross, Architects and Planners:

I had an opportunity this week to attend a Bike Friendly University Summit at College Park which was attended by sustainability directors, facilities planners, and bike advocates from colleges and universities across the state. As planners, we are noticing an uptick in master plan RFPs (Requests for Proposals) to include bicycle planning so it was great to sit and chat with the people responsible for creating and administrating bicycle plans on their campuses. It should be noted that College Park is the only Maryland University which has achieved the Bike Friendly University designation.

The Bicycle Friendly University process involves an application which is a great initial assessment tool for a university. Once the initial application is sent, the League responds with a list of recommendations. Many of our clients have submitted their applications and the recommendations are a great to do list as we help them plan or implement projects.

I thought it might be helpful to share some of the takeaways from the summit:

1. LEED is a minimum. LEED offers points for bicycle facilities, showers, and lockers but the ratios are way too low. We are hearing from campuses that fewer students are bringing cars and more are bringing bicycles. UMCP has a preferred ratio of one rack for every three beds in residence halls. They have a range of one rack for every six to ten seats in classroom buildings depending on the building location and use. As we are developing plans, we need to engage the bike planners / community to assess if we are using the right ratios to determine the capacity of bicycle racks.

2. Plan for bikes like we plan for cars. In our campus planning, we spend a lot of time talking about managing automobile parking and access, but give little consideration to bicycles. We need to think about appropriate and safe bicycle corridors, guidelines for the proper markings and surface designations, pathway widths, signage, and dismount zones. We also need to consider how we can locate bike racks and support facilities to deliver bicyclists to key points on campus, park their bikes, then walk to their destinations just as we do with those in automobiles.

3. Bike parking churn. To expand on the previous point, we often think of residential parking at the perimeter of campus and commuter parking closer in. We need to consider bike parking in the same way by encouraging long term bike parking at the residence halls and keep the academic core racks open for more transient parking. UMCP has found that when they build appropriate bike parking at the residence halls, there are fewer bikes permanently parked in the core which makes it more convenient for bike transportation.

4. Bicyclists have different needs. Some commuters are close enough that they won’t need showers, but others commute further and need more support. Locating showers and locker facilities (for personal belongings, not bikes) in key locations with signage at bike racks locating the nearest facilities is important.

5. Flats happen. Bicycles need maintenance usually while on the road. Providing stands, tools, and tire pumps are important. UMCP has them at major bike rack facilities as well at the perimeter of campus along pathways from off campus communities. These tools are designed for abuse and security so they are available for many people to use.

6. Permanent racks are a challenge. As designers, we may be more inclined to choose beauty over utility. From UMCP’s experience our choices have a profound impact on the ability to secure bikes and offer flexibility to accommodate the inevitable change which occurs on campuses. Basically, they have found that racks that require foundations, special construction, or are imbedded in walks are problematic. The bent pipe bike loops we often spec can become loose in the ground and are susceptible to being lifted out of the ground to release bikes. Thieves look for these loose racks and wait for expensive bikes to show up. If these racks need to be moved or the sidewalk needs to be repaired, these racks become very expensive to reinstall. The ribbon or wave racks, while more aesthetically pleasing, are not that well suited for bike storage, are inflexible to expand or move, and are costly. UMCP has suggested a rack which can be surface mounted to the sidewalk with tamper resistant bolts. If the rack needs to move, expand, or shrink it becomes much more cost effective to serve the needs of cyclists. Their preferred rack has stations set at a 45 degree which increases the density of bike storage by minimizing handlebar overlap. They also have a more shallow profile for areas where there isn’t a wide sidewalk. These racks have a lower purchase price and lower installation costs which help universities stretch their limited bike facilities budget.

7. Indoor and Outdoor storage. Providing indoor high density vertical bicycle storage in residence halls provides secure and protected bike storage as a major amenity. UMCP just built a new residence hall with indoor bike storage accessible from the exterior providing space for 80 bikes in 768 net square footage. While it adds a cost to the project, it is a major amenity which minimizes students dragging their bikes to their rooms and potentially damaging the building.  Outdoor storage is often open to the elements which is fine in some circumstances but protected outdoor storage is appropriate where protected indoor storage isn’t available / practical or in areas with extreme weather or high crime areas. Even placing racks under an overhang can make a difference.

8. Update Guidelines. As we write new guidelines or incorporate a minimum LEED standard we need to include language about bicycle planning especially if the university wants to become a bike friendly university. These may take on specific site furnishing recommendations regarding location of and specifications of racks (indoor and out), bike repair and pump stations, and signage. It may take on policy and process to determine proper bike storage ratios and incorporation into project programming and planning.