How We Iterated Oonee; A Landscape Analysis

Cycling is poised to become a dominant mode of urban transportation in the United States. Since 2000, most major American cities have seen triple digit percentage increases in cycling trips; here in New York, the nation’s largest metropolis, cycling daily trips are increasing 11.2% every year. Similar trends are unfolding in Boston, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Yet, as cities invest in better roadway infrastructure and bikeshare, secure parking option have largely been ignored, leaving a major pain-point in the urban cycling experience. Surveys have shown that about 50% of current cyclists have experienced bike theft, while large numbers of commuters suggest that the lack of secure parking infrastructure is a key deterrent to choosing bicycles over other modes of transportation.

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Bike thieves got to this parked bike on a Brooklyn street. Theft and vandalism are pervasive in cities across the globe.

With Oonee, we sought to create and operate public space orientated, bike parking infrastructure that could scale in urban areas. Our first step, however, was not to hit the drawing board– but to spend about a year talking to community stakeholders and examining the existing crop of infrastructure on the market, both as a source of inspiration and innovation.

Here were some of our key learnings:

Bike Hangar (London)

The Bike Hangar design, which is common on the streets of London, was the greatest source of inspiration for Oonee. These covered structures provide parking for up to six bicycles in the footprint of one parking space. For a modest annual fee, locals can apply to receive keys that unlock the bike hangar.

There are over 1000 Bike Hangars in London today, mostly in residential and mixed use neighborhoods.

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An example of a bike hangar in London. These structures are designed to fit into one compact parking space and hold up to six bicycles. Photo courtesy of Steven Craven

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Another view of a bike hangar in London. Photo courtesy of George Rex on Flickr

What we loved:

  • Public Space Oriented Design: The Bike Hangar was designed to fit into the footprint of one parking space. The ribbed metal construction is architecturally distinctive and is tolerated by many local residents. Some municipalities supplement the structure with plantings and other methods of beautificationFrom a practicality standpoint, this allows the Bike Hangar to easily scale if there is support from local governments.
  • Rugged, simple construction: The Bike Hangar’s simple design makes it easy to install and maintain. Four bolts are drilled into the ground to ground the Hangar and installation is pretty much complete. The entire design only has a single moving part– the cover, which is lifted and closed to allow the user entry.

Where we wanted to change

  • Capacity: Bike Hangars can accommodate six bicycles in roughly 170sf, the size of a single compact parking space. Taken on scale, this means that 500 Bike Hangars could only provide parking for 3,000 bicycles.

    In London, there are long waiting lists for many Bike Hangars, as the structures can only accommodate a relatively small portion of cycling commuters.

  • Architecture: Though the Bike Hangar is one of the more handsome parking solutions available, it’s plain design has not pleased everyone. Some of have called the structures bulky and ugly, while others are indifferent.

    There is a low amount of design variation  despite the vastly different environments that may host a Hangar. Public space amenities like lighting or greenery are non-existent. This simplicity maximizes the longevity of the structures, but it’s also a missed opportunity to use this green infrastructure to infuse streets with life and energy.

    From an aesthetic standpoint, we would have to create a design that wasn’t just tolerated, but was truly embraced. Something that was iconic. This would require a a some innovative design and manufacturing on our part.

  • Access Control: The most glaring omission from the Bike Hangar design is the lack of electronic access control systems–severely limiting the usefulness of the infrastructure from a network standpoint

    After deployment, residents can apply to use a Bike Hangar via an online portal. Subsequently, after paying a small fee, they receive a key in the mail, which provides them access to the unit. The entire experience is managed by the individual borough (London has 32 such municipalities).

    Unfortunately, this low-tech approach makes it difficult to rescind permissions after they’re granted; a restricting access to a person who hasn’t paid or moves away would mean changing the lock, thereby inconveniencing five other users, or retrieving the key.

    A powered access control system would allow for a much more dynamic workflow. Users could be granted access to different Bike Hangars, and access could be restricted if certain conditions (i.e. payment or residency) were not met.

    Additionally, a digital system would not rely on traditional keys, which could be misplaced or damaged. Instead users could rely on smartphones, keypad codes or proximity cards for access.

    In order for a truly systemic solution to take root, we would need a way to grant and revoke permission for users, and eventually a self locking mechanism to ensure that cyclists could pay on-demand, just not monthly or annual subscriptions.

  • Local Support: As a public space solution, Bike Hangar mostly relies on the willingness of local governments to repurpose automobile parking spaces for cycle parking. This works in London, where local governments are more aware of the demands of cyclists, but it’s a tougher sell here in the United States where cities have shown little appetite to re-allocate public space away from cars– or to operate an extensive network of secure infrastructure.

    To get a secure cycling parking system off the ground we would need a solution that did not depend on a massive re-allocation of curbside parking space.

Bike Cages

Many in the United States and Europe have built “bicycle cages” nearby major transportation hubs. These facilities, which are often composed of aluminum mesh or fencing, provide secure parking for a large number of bicycles and scooters.

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An MBTA bike cage in Boston
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Another example of a bike cage, these facilities are often installed in the parking lots of major transit hubs

What We Love

  • Functionality: Generally, bike cages can accommodate a large number of bicycles in a secure environment. These structures are typically accompanied by access control systems, which are often integrated within the fare-payment system of the local transportation agency, which makes them very easy for to use.On the inside, these structures are typically well lit and video monitored.

What we wanted to change

  • Design and Architecture: Bike cages leave much to be desired in the “looks” category. Often designed to be purely functional, bike cages lack the design profile to match the requirements of high traffic, curated urban streetscape environments. Quite simply, they’re ugly.

    Based on conversations with over two dozen major New York property owners, we knew that architectural fit was paramount to deployability in any high-traffic urban space. Bike cages are a non-starter for most. Think about your favorite public plaza or city-street, now imagine a bike cage in the middle of it. Not going to work.

Bike Lockers

Bike lockers are some of the most functional and secure means of parking a bike. Designed to maximize security, bike lockers are metallic enclosures that provide individual parking for 1-2 bikes in each unit. While traditional bike lockers are often powered through via lock and key, there are some versions on the market that are connected to smart or app-based access control systems— allowing users to register online or remotely.

Bike lockers are often found at major transportation hubs. Transit agencies in London, Washington DC, Los Angeles and other major cities have placed these products at many of their most popular stations.

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Bike lockers in a parking lot. Photo courtesy of Oregon State University on Flickr

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Bike lockers at a Seattle, WA rail station. Photo courtesy of Atomic Taco on Flickr

What we loved

Security: Bike lockers are probably the most secure form of bike parking on the market. The bicycles are  removed from the view of bypassers and are protected by high quality steel.

Versatility: Bike lockers are easy to install and can be removed just as easily. This makes them an ideal solution for transit agencies who will often engage in costly renovation or other construction work.

Where we wanted to change

Cost per bike: Though they’re the most secure solution on the market, bike lockers are, perhaps, the most costly on a per bike basis. Including installation, a bike locker can cost more than $2,000 per bike, making them a poor solution for high density location that require large numbers of bike parking options.

Any solution that achieves scale in urban areas would have to, at least, be cost efficient and, ideally, could generate enough revenue to pay for itself by attracting outside investment.

Looks: Like the other designs, bike lockers aren’t earning high marks in the looks department making them ill-suited for deployment in streetscapes and public spaces.

Bike Stations and Hubs

A number of cities have introduced premium bicycle centers, which provide the bike parking, repair, tune-ups and even shower facilities. These centers have popped up in a few cities, including Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Chicago.

These hubs are the holy grail for cyclists; if you live or work near one they’re clearly the best option for parking your bike. They’re often beautiful and staffed. This is an experience that we sought to replicate in Oonee.

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BikeStation in Washington DC, a large bike facility with parking, lockers and showers. Photo courtesy of thisisbossi on Flickr
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A “Bike Hub” in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Metro

 

The same attributes that make these centers compelling, however, also make them extremely difficult to scale as they’re expensive to construct and operate. Los Angeles has only a handful of such facilities spread across nearly 5,000 square miles of jurisdiction while Washington DC has only one such facility adjacent to Union Station.

In order to reach the largest number of cyclists, we need a system that matches the density of bikeshare systems– with station located every few blocks, not every few miles.

The average cyclist is only willing to walk a few blocks to park their bike, making the effective reach of each station quite narrow– even in the densest of cities. A few stations, even if they’re massive, will only reach a small segment of lucky cyclists.

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