Traveling through Downtown Hartford, it seems that the parking lots are among the most visible features. That’s partly why it is so laughable when people complain about this alleged lack of parking. It’s everywhere and it’s damn hard to miss.
But for those who ride (or would like to ride) bikes, our version of a parking lot — bike racks and lockers — tend to be invisible while out in the open. Or, invisible while hidden away. Installing a bike rack inside of a parking garage is not useful unless cyclists are made aware of its existence. Would you want to awkwardly enter a space which is, let’s be honest, not designed for you? That can be solved with a sign at the entrance, or in the case of private garages, readily available information to employees about this parking option. Sheltered parking is great, if people know it is an option.
The same goes for venues that will allow patrons to park bikes indoors with assistance from building security. If your establishment has practically an entire page of the website devoted to car parking, you really need to be mentioning other options, extending to the location of the nearest bus stops. For science, we looked at the websites of several major, well-established theaters in Hartford. (We won’t name them, but go ahead and guess, check their websites, and see if you’re right. There are no prizes.) The super-popular-theater-that-everyone-knows-about has ample information about car parking. At the bottom of the page, they include info on taxi services and buses. The page of another well-respected venue makes no mention of bus routes, but about equal with its listed car parking options, has a screenshot of a map showing nearby bike racks. They do win an extra point for suggesting people park on-street and call it a day (our words, not theirs). A third theater lists only car parking. When we looked at the sites for two venues we fully expected to be more progressive, we found that one only listed car parking. The other did not appear to have any info about parking — just a link to a map of the location. Much respect to them. That’s like saying: “We’re going to be working our asses off on the stage, and our tickets aren’t that expensive. You can do a little bit of work on your end.” All of this leads us to several conclusions: (1) The patron that they are primarily catering to has the means and desire to own a car, (2) Car culture is so pervasive that other options are merely an afterthought, if one at all, (3) Those who ride a bike or use a bus to get around are scrappier and can generally figure shit out for ourselves without needing to be spoon-fed parking instructions. In any case, for parity, each one of those venues should have information about bus routes and bike parking because they are all within a thirty second walk from a bus stop and at least one has that secret indoor bike parking option.
To get back to the point, visibility matters. There is the matter of securing property, and a lot of that is still going to fall on how well a bike is locked up and how well the rack was installed, but this visibility does something else too. Look at Blue State Coffee at 777 Main Street. It opened in the latter half of 2015. As of early 2017, it continues to be visually blocked by scaffolding. They do have signs, and if you know to look for it, you can find it, but it’s fair to say that opening a coffee shop in a construction zone is a hurdle. The other day, someone who spends considerable time in the area noticed Blue State Coffee for the first time. Why? Because a bicycle was locked up to the scaffolding. As a cyclist, this grabbed his attention, bringing him to see what he had been passing all this time.
Locking up to scaffolding is an example, but still not the point.
We can finally say that — at least in the central business district — bike parking is common, even if the black loops blend in with the background. In some cases, it makes sense. More conservative/boring businesses are not going to want anything vibrant in the vicinity of their building. That would be going off-message. Having a bike rack by these places, at all, is a marvel. And we should be so grateful.
Yet one of Hartford’s strengths is our art community. This is what gets us nice things like a Mardi Gras parade, giant puppets, and the Art Sled Derby. This part of Hartford remains with us after those places-without-imagination close their doors at the end of each day. Why shouldn’t our parking say something more about Hartford’s character?
We already have the racks installed. Most of the hard work there is done. What I’m talking about is adding paint.
Or, if paint is determined unacceptable for some reason, just add yarn.
And not even everywhere. But why not add color to the bike racks in parks or in front of our schools? Why not jazz up the loops with school colors?
What about in front of businesses that dare to be a little bolder? I’m thinking that some of the coffee shops and restaurants would be on board. What about the sites where we have farmers’ markets? How about making those loops around Union Station stand out? The Cleve Grey mural on the building can act as inspiration for the color scheme. Up at the new stadium we have quite a bit of bike parking — why not have it match the team’s colors?
We have sat in on enough public meetings where consultants tried to sell flashy examples of placemaking. Here’s something that is essentially free for the cost of some paint or yarn.
What does it take to make this happen?