It was interesting standing in the street talking about the cycle storage with a council officer and seeing the number of people coming up and asking how they could get a key. Apparently there is already a waiting list of places, even though many of the people living in the street don’t even know what the cycle storage are as they have not seen them opened before. I get the distinct feeling there will soon be demand for more!
Just over five years ago (in September 2009) I wrote a blog post “Cycle parking, please can we have more…” in which I talked about the problems with lack of secure bicycle parking in Edinburgh. I flagged up issues the particular problems for tenement dwellers in Edinburgh, where storage is often a very real problem (as it is across most Scottish cities), added to which people living in tenement areas are less likely to own a car.
Three years ago things were looking positive as there where the first glimmerings of hope that something might actually be happening. There had been an announcement that City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) has proposed a Pilot of on-street residential cycle parking. I was one of the first to put in an application and waited with bated breath, well almost. As the closing date for application was December 2011, it seemed reasonable to expect that here might be something on the ground by the summer of 2012. In early May a letter arrived inviting all those who had applied to be a part of the trial parking project to a site meeting to consult on how it might work in practice. So it was that my self and one of my neighbours met with a number of officials, including the CEC’s cycling officer (Chris Brace), a CEC Project Engineer (Scott Mannion), one of the environmental manager (David Doig) and LBP Crime Prevention Officer (Carol Menzies). We had a wide ranging discussion, as we stood in the spring sun shine, covering all aspects of how that cycle parking (and its location) could affect the street, from accessibility to security, from refuse collection to turning space, and more. The meeting ended with a general consensus that the best location for the cycle storage was at the southern end of the street on the west side, on an area of concrete pavement which is currently just dead ground. It felt like something was really about to happen after two years of campaigning and lobbying, finally we were getting what was needed.
For a couple of months nothing happened, no information, nothing. In late July 2012 a letter arrived saying that the council was going to hold a written consultation for all residents in the street. A number of my neighbours came to ask me about this as they wanted to know more about the proposal, everyone I knew who lived in the street was in favour of the idea of having a secure cycle parking facility (even those who owned cars and those who didn’t own a bicycle). The written consultation was than followed with a series door to door interviews, and it was beginning to feel like someone at the Council was doing all they could to find an objector, so that they could stop the scheme (maybe I am being too cynical here).
Following all this consultation things went quite again until late June 2013 when another written consultation arrived, this time with plans showing the proposed location of the cycle storage on the opposite side of the street from that which residents said they wanted in the earlier consultation. I am told that there eleven responses to this consultation, all in favour of having the cycle storage on street and three saying explicitly that it should be on the far side of the street (the other made no comment on the location). One wonders why it is felt necessary to have quite to much “consultation” when they don’t bother to take notice of what the people who are going to live with the infrastructure actually have to say. It strikes me that a large amount of public money is wasted in this way.
Move forward to June 2014 and the City Council break their radio silence again with a letter to say that three different types of secure on street cycle storage across five locations across the city. The three types of storage chosen were the Cyclehoop Fietshangar, Cycle-Works Velo-Box lockers and Cycle-Works Streetstores (the latter a somewhat experimental design to judge by their website where there are several different prototype designs shown). The letter went on to say that the installation would be completed by the end of July 2014.
By this time I was starting to feel I would only believe when I saw it, so you can imagine my surprise and delight when I was told of shiny new Cyclehoop Fietshangars had been sighted in the city!
Then came the news that Cycle-Works Velo-Safe lockers had also been sighted.
This was real progress at last! But wait where were the Cycle-Works Streetstores? There was no sign of them anywhere and again silence from the City Council, after some prompting there was a few vague comments that they were coming soon. July turned to August, the Festival came and went, September, still nothing, then finally in October Streetstores were sighted for the first time!
How does the scheme actually work? Now there’s a question I keep getting asked, well, places in the cycle storage is offered to first to residents living within 100m of the stores. Only two places per flat are allowed per flat (which is rather unfair on students living in Houses in Multiple Occupation or HMOs) and place are allocated on a first come first serve basis. Each person gets a gets an individual contract and must give the details of the bicycle they are intending to store. The contract also states that the storage can only be used to store “a security-tagged bicycle belonging to or in the care of the member”, later in the contract it talks of bicycles with a permit and displaying a permit sticker.
As to costs and pricing, the contract states that “during the period of the Scheme the Council will not make a charge for participation in the Scheme. The Council may bring the pilot Scheme to an end on giving 14 days’ notice to the Members, and thereafter charge the Member for continued participation in a new scheme and take a deposit for the access key”. Nowhere, in the contract does it give any indication of how long the pilot Scheme will run for, nor is there any mention of how much the charge might be in the future. Elsewhere, it has been stated that the “cycle parking would be … trialled for around 2 years“. Also “It is expected that there would be a charge of around £5 per month per user for the use of the covered storage options to help cover running costs”. This would mean that it would cost £60 a year to park a bicycle compared with £31.50 to park low emission car in the same permit zone. When you bear in mind that ten bicycles can be accommodated in the space required for one car, this seems rather excessive, no doubt the Council will say that this reflects cost of maintaining the cycle storage, whilst blithe ignoring the costs involved in controlling car parking in the city. If the council are to introduce such a high charge for cycle parking, then it would only be reasonable that all subsidies for car parking be dropped and that the cost of car parking be brought up to a matching level.
Cycling is a good thing. It is increasingly recognised that cycling should be encouraged, as it helps to achieve so many policy objectives: it is clean, it is green, it reduces congestion in towns and cities, it is healthy (regular cyclists live longer), and people who cycle to work are more productive. Of course, those who cycle regularly know that one of the best reasons for cycling is simply because it is so much more fun than other means of transport.
So what is stopping the likes of me from using the bike more? Well, one reason is problems with lack of secure bicycle parking and it is not just me, around 30% of car users say they would cycle more if there was better cycle parking. This is ironic, as one of the reasons why cycling is more convenient than driving, for short journeys in town, is that parking a bike is generally easier than parking a car. However finding secure cycle parking is not always as easy as it should be. For instance, the City of Edinburgh only has 1,697 public cycle parking spaces. Compare this to the 27,608 on-street car parking spaces, plus 4,562 spaces in council owned car parks, plus 207 Limited Waiting Bays. Added to this, there are numerous commercially owned free car parks attached to shopping centres and supermarkets.
So you can see that cyclists are very badly served, compared with drivers. Most non cyclists would probably take the attitude that cyclists don’t need the provision of secure parking, as bikes can be left anywhere. Is this really true? Well no, while there is often street furniture around to lock your bike to, this is not always available, added to which it is not always secure. Also, It is a little known fact that “where there are existing waiting and loading restrictions in force, cycles, like other vehicles, may not be parked on the carriageway or the footway of a road.” Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.
Most people who drive to work or to the shops do so because there is a free, secure, parking space when they arrive. How many would be quite so keen to drive if they knew their expensive car was likely to be stolen, vandalised, or taken away by police? The same can not be said for cycle commuters and shoppers, for whom the risk of having their expensive bike stolen or vandalised is widely ignored by employers, supermarket chains and urban planners.
Contrary to the widespread belief among not-cyclists, bicycles are not cheap. Just take a look through any bike shop window, a mid range cycle costs anything from £500 to £1000 (I am talking about real bikes here not Bike Shaped Objects), and top end bikes cost considerably more, so they need to be secured. For cyclists, theft and vandalism can be serious problems. In the last year for which figures are available for Scotland (2006), there were 10,382 motor vehicle thefts, compared with 22,211 bicycle thefts. While there is no figure for bicycle vandalism, the extent of cycle thefts suggests that it would be proportionately higher than the 167,608 motor vehicles vandalised. I am just thankful that I don’t live in England, where a bike is stolen every 71 seconds!!, with the hotspots for cycle thefts being: central London, Kingston-upon-Thames in south west London, Cambridge and Bristol.
Having established that there is a need for secure bicycle parking, what should we do about it? First off, let’s look at the space available in the cityscape. Currently, most cyclists are forced to use any street furniture that is available, in a city like Edinburgh this often involves lamp posts, street signs, railings and down pipes. The use of railings and down pipes is often not popular with the owners, as they are worried about damage to their property. In England there is draft legislation to allow the council contractors to be given the authority to remove bikes not parked in proper bike stands. It is a typically retrograde step which tries to deal with the symptoms but ignores the source of the problem.
Scots law is, of course, different: While there isn’t yet any direct case law to draw on, there maybe help form an unexpected source, the motoring lobby. The case of Black v. Carmichael (1992) concerned the clamping of cars by private companies on private land. The court used an interpretation of the existing laws on theft. The case centred on the fact that the clamping company was depriving the owner of the vehicle of the use of their own property, even though that may have only been intended to be temporary, and decided that this constituted theft. Now it doesn’t take too much imagination to see how this can be used as a precedent in a case involving the removal of a bike from railings. If said bike was to be taken inside the property, or moved to another location and re-locked, this would not be possible with the original lock, as presumably, this would have been cut to remove the bike in the first place (and this in itself could constitute criminal damage).
The real solution would be to provide secure cycle parking, at its most simple this would be Sheffield Stands or something similar. As observed above there is a lot of space provided for the parking of cars. Now given that cars spend 95 percent of their time parked, this adds up to a lot of space already in use. It takes an average area of 12m2 to park one car and 1.1 m2 to park a bike, so you can get 10 bikes into the parking space required for 1 car. Therefore, a relatively small number of car parking spaces can easily be converted into a substantial number of cycle parking spaces, with minimal impact.
Although this solution, just using Sheffield Stands, would still leave the bikes vulnerable to vandalism. In areas where long term parking is required, this needs to be enclosed. There are a few useful ideas from other countries, such as the underground “Bicycle Parking Tower” from Tokyo, the Biceberg from Spain, or Toronto style cycle cages and lockers. For those of us who live in tenement flats, secure cycle parking at street level would be very welcome, as carrying a bike up to the third floor is a real pain. Why couldn’t one or two of the residents only car parking spaces be converted to secure cycle parking? OK, so a Residents Parking Permit inwith Edinburgh’s Controlled Parking Zones (CPZs) costs £80 a year, and the Council made £1,716,203 in 2007/2008 from Residents Parking Permits, so I wouldn’t expect it to be free. However, I would be prepared to pay, say £20 a year, for such cycle parking in my street. Remember, 10 bikes can be parked in the space need for one car, this could yield a far higher income for the Council, from the same space.