Advantages of paid area bike parking at transit stations

John and I met on Monday at the Harold Washington Library winter garden to talk about the Grid website design after our live radio interview on Vocalo. You’ll see some design changes in the coming weeks and months.

We then got to discussing bike parking. John and I essentially performed the same work at the Chicago Department of Transportation, arranging for the installation of bike racks, but several years apart.

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Photo of bike racks at the Logan Square Blue Line subway station by Brian Vargas. 

I told him that I was never convinced that there existed a conclusive advantage over whether to install bike racks inside the paid area of Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) train stations, or in the unpaid area. He was adamant that the paid area was better, but I disagreed. 

The number of people who will pass by and notice a bike in the paid area is lower than the number of people who may pass by and notice a bike in the unpaid area. We concurred on this point. I then added that the opportunity for a thief to steal and exit the scene was just as easy in the paid area as in the unpaid area. A thief, while traveling through the CTA system, could remove the bike and take it onto the next train. I couldn’t convince John, though.

He then drew a Venn diagram on scratch paper and wrote, “Putting a bike rack in the paid area eliminates all potential bike thieves who would not pay to enter the CTA system.”

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“Doesn’t that alone make it a good choice to install the bike rack in the paid area?” he asked.

I bought it.

15 thoughts on “Advantages of paid area bike parking at transit stations”

  1. I definitely prefer paid-area parking. However, the one drawback is that you sometimes don’t know a station has paid-area parking until after you’re in it (if you aren’t familiar with the station). On a number of occasions I’ve locked a bike up outside a station, only to pass a bike rack once I paid my fare and turned a corner inside the station. Some kind of signage standard to show “Bike Parking Inside” would be pretty nifty.

    1. I think the CTA’s bike parking signage could be a bit friendlier. Instead of “lock bikes only to bike racks” (which is inaccurate because it doesn’t allow for legal bike parking on sign poles), how about “Please lock to bike racks and sign poles, just over here –>. If you lock on rails or fences, we may remove it.”

  2. I’ve never used the inside CTA parking. It’s just not worth it to me to lug my fifty pounds of Dutch steel down the stairs just to find out it’s already filled up. But I also have an O-lock on my back wheel in addition to the U-lock through the front.

      1. Meh, you can usually find a space on a rack in the paid area
        (for example at the O’Hare Line’s California stop the outdoor/unpaid racks are
        often full when there are spaces on the paid racks. If not, it’s not such a hassle
        to bring your bike outside to lock it, assuming it’s a normal-weight bike.

        Subject: [gridchicago] Re: Advantages of paid area bike parking at transit stations

        1. It’s not a hassle to move the bike in or out (except at the California station and others like it with narrow doors), but I often feel pressed for time. I feel that while I lock the bike (no matter where), the train will arrive while I’m just looping the lock through the rack and I miss the train.

  3. Well, John’s argument assumes there *are* any bike thieves who would not pay to ride the CTA. If the bikes are good enough, then the cost/benefit is high enough that as soon as most/all the bikes are in the paid area(s), that will be the only place to steal a bike. Thus, that’s where the thieves will go. Steve, your argument is sound that since there’s no real dissuasion to stealing a bike in a paid area (say, like someone watching the bikes), then what’s the point?

    In addition, this seems like therefore the only reason a bike thief wouldn’t steal a bike inside is if there are bikes outside. Then I guess, we’ve pitted cyclists against each other. I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you….

  4. The station attendants and cameras inside must act as some deterrent right?

    Jason makes a good point that you need to go inside a station to see if they have any parking available. Seems like a bit of a bother if it turns out to be full and you need to go back out and then get back in again.

    1. “The station attendants and cameras inside must act as some deterrent right?”

      Who knows. A person who knows how to defeat a lock may appear like the person who owns the lock and is using a key to open it. I don’t know of the many ways a bike can be stolen.

    2. “The station attendants and cameras inside must act as some deterrent right?”

      Who knows. A person who knows how to defeat a lock may appear like the person who owns the lock and is using a key to open it. I don’t know of the many ways a bike can be stolen.

  5. There’s another “issue” with paid area parking: Getting your bike back when you don’t return to that station. This isn’t a problem and it’s entirely up to the user to cause and solve.

    I locked my bike inside the paid area of a station, got on the train to somewhere, but ended up returning via taxi. I asked the security person to let me in to grab my bike – he did.

  6. Ideally, high-capacity bike parking facilities not in plain view should include method of letting users know when they are full–just like parking garages. I almost never take my bike down into the Logan Square station because I know its racks are regularly full, and hauling my bike back upstairs is a pain–particularly since the ONLY time I ride my bike to that station is when I’m IN A HURRY. So I almost always will choose an outside rack, preferably under the entrance canopy. I highly doubt that my behavior here is deviant. Also, what about the case of the Damen Blue Line high-capacity parking, inside the station and within the paid area. No one uses it. I have my ideas why, but what do others think?

    1. I can’t think of a solution for letting people know there’s interior paid-area parking at Logan Square Blue that doesn’t cost a lot of money (because all of my ideas use technology that would have to be wired in).

      As for Damen Blue Line high-cap parking, I published my thoughts on Steven Can Plan.

      I also compared that station to Sox-35th Red Line, which I see as successful.

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