Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bank Street Bike Racks

I missed it, because I had a meeting (and because I had the date wrong) but yesterday was the official unveiling of the new Bank Street North bike racks.

I meant to go, even though I'm conflicted about them. While I applaud the idea...

This is one of the bike rack designs. Artists were asked to create a line graphic that could be used as the template for a bike rack, to be installed along Bank Street. Note, this whole project was called the Bank Street North Rehabilitation Project. So clearly, it's a city beautification project, meant to try and build a sense of community on Ottawa's major downtown street. Bike racks make a street feel like a community, right? And public art makes a street feel like a community, right? And David Byrne's New York bike racks were a terrific idea, right?

The problem is this: Byrne's racks were designed by a guy who has been cycling, in New York and around the world, for 25 years or something like that. And his racks are useable. Big, open, steel frames that you could probably get a few bikes onto if you didn't mind sharing. But look at this one, from the City of Ottawa project. Where, exactly, are you supposed to thread the lock? Especially if, like me, you have a U-lock?

The panels are, to be fair, set up in frames that are lockable. But still awkward, and the space between the panels and the frames is pretty narrow. Not a lot of space to negotiate a long U lock and actually get it through the frame and wheel. Especially with a metal panel blocking where you can settle your handlebars and pedals to get in close to the frame. They're awkward.

I've already caught myself getting frustrated trying to use the racks that previously stood on Bank, which consist of short poles with shallow metal semicircles on either side - again, they look fine, but with a U-lock I usually find myself giving up and locking my bike to one of the metal tree cages nearby instead. A couple of months ago I really wished I had a camera so I could post a picture to this blog, of the bike rack standing empty and my bike and two others chained up to the trees nearby. Ah, city - it's the thought that counts, huh?

I also heard an interview on CBC Radio a month or two ago, when the racks started going in, in which the interviewer, talking to one of the artists, actually asked him whether he objected to seeing bikes chained up to his art. Whether he was annoyed by the design actually being used. And he did say that it was a little disconcerting for him to see the bikes parked up against his design.

Wasn't that what it was for?

I have to admit, though, that I do like this one - partly because the design allows you to lock through the frame or through the panel. It's spacious. There's room for my bike in this one.

And maybe I should just get a chain and ditch the U lock. Even though the city recommends U locks as the safest ones. (You can pick them with a Bic pen cap, though, apparently, so maybe I should be getting a combination chain anyway...)


  1. From the video I remember, it wasn't the Bic pen cap -- it was the pen body itself.

  2. Really? Trying to picture that...

    ... wait, you're right.

    Wow. Can it truly be so simple? Kinda glad my U-lock (which is Kryptonite) is a regular toothed key, not the disk key. Well, and that since misplacing it last weekend I've gone out and bought a combination cable.