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Those Bike Racks Might Look Nice, But They Aren't as Secure, Some Say

By Benjamin Woodard | October 3, 2014 5:50am
 Some bicycle advocates say decorative racks can make it harder for people to lock up their bikes.
Some bicycle advocates say decorative racks can make it harder for people to lock up their bikes.
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49th Ward

ROGERS PARK — They might look nice, but some decorative bike racks can be a real pain in the back tire, some bike advocates say.

Rogers Park residents will cast their their votes this weekend for the design of the neighborhood's new racks, but some bicyclists urge voters to consider function over form.

"It’s nice that they're trying to make attractive-looking racks, but the problem is if you have extra stuff in the middle of the racks, it limits options for locking to the rack," said John Greenfield, who for five years worked for the Chicago Department of Transportation, directing the installation of 3,500 racks across the city.

Ben Woodard says some cyclists are worried that not all the design options are functional:

Since 2010, some neighborhoods, through ward offices and chambers of commerce, have spent money on decorative racks to beautify and brand. Wicker Park was one of the first to have them installed.

Steven Vance, who held the same position as Greenfield from 2007 to 2010, said some racks found in Uptown and Lakeview East can hinder certain types of locks, depending on the height of the bike, putting cyclists' bikes at risk.

"I think they’re more form than function, and that kind of sucks sometimes when you’re kind of in a hurry and you don’t have time to lock your bike to these racks," he said.

He said extra care needs to be taken in the design process to ensure that they're as functional as possible.

Vance said he had been working with the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce to install 40 new racks in the neighborhood, of which 10 would include the decorative design and the rest would be colored orange to match the decorative racks already in place.

In Rogers Park, four final designs will be put on a ballot for a vote Sunday. Ald. Joe Moore (49th), who's sponsoring the vote, said the advocates' concerns were "valid" and that some racks installed in the city "have limited usefulness."

To avoid that in Rogers Park, he said, he and his office worked with the city and rack manufacturer to require each design to have a minimum clearance of 20 inches from the ground to the bottom of the design.

He said a member of his staff toured the neighborhood and measured "several dozen" locked bikes and nearly every bike was locked below 20 inches. He said he would also work with the chosen artist and manufacturer to adjust the proposed designs to give an even bigger clearance.

In 2010, residents voted to spend $105,000 of Moore's 49th Ward discretionary budget on 15 artistic, multifunctional bike racks. But the city shot down the idea, citing safety and cost concerns.

Instead, the money would be used to install nearly 100 bike racks, a few of them featuring the new logo, Moore said.

Kristin Abhalter was among the panelists with the Rogers Park Arts Alliance who chose the finalists.

She said functionality was a top criteria.

"That's definitely something we discussed at the beginning of the meeting before we even looked at the designs," she said, adding that a few of the 40 proposals didn't come close to making the cut.

Vance, who helps run Streetsblog Chicago with Greenfield, said two of the final four designs appeared functional enough.

"If I was going to vote, I would vote for ... the one with the sky and waves," he said, but with a stipulation that the gaps between each element be set as wide as possible. "My second [choice] would be floral design — with a gap on top."

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