Safer, easier and prettier

Chico looks to upgrade its bike-parking racks

Examples of the whimsical, artistic bike racks now being used in Long Beach and elsewhere. Both the city of Chico and the Chico Velo Cycling Club have expressed interest in seeing such racks in Chico.

Examples of the whimsical, artistic bike racks now being used in Long Beach and elsewhere. Both the city of Chico and the Chico Velo Cycling Club have expressed interest in seeing such racks in Chico.

Ask Janine Rood, director of the bicycling advocacy group Chico Velo, about bike parking in Chico, and her first response is, “It isn’t great.” Then she adds, quickly, “It’s getting better.”

Parking is one of the least-discussed aspects of urban cycling, but it’s an essential part of the experience, and therefore of any city’s effort to increase bicycling in the community. And, as Rood suggests, in Chico it definitely is getting better.

For one thing, there’s a new generation of bike racks on the market that are much easier to use and safer for your bike than those old-style grid and hoop racks that you see in front of so many supermarkets.

Chico State, for example, has recently invested in several hundred new Park-a-Bike racks that, as anyone who has used them can attest, are very user-friendly. They’re in the bollard, or hitching post, style, and each is designed for easy access by two bikes.

Right now the racks are in two locations, on the east side of the Bell Memorial Union and at the south end of Laxson Auditorium, but an additional 244 racks are planned to accompany the new parking structure at Second and Chestnut. (Park-a-Bike, by the way, manufactures its racks in Oroville.)

I have yet to see a fallen bicycle at one of the Park-a-Bike racks, but that’s far from the case at other, older university racks. For example, the rack at the Student Health Center is an old-style hoop rack. It’s a well-used rack, often full, and I’ve rarely parked there without seeing one or two bikes that have fallen over.

Bikes left in old-style grid racks like this one at the Chico Walmart are vulnerable to falling over and are also hard to lock up, especially for someone using a U-lock.

photo by robert Speer

These days, old-style racks are found most commonly in front of stores and shops outside the downtown area. The Chico Walmart, for example, has a single grid rack that’s likely been there as long as the store has. Walmart managers probably don’t expect many customers to arrive on bikes.

The city of Chico long has been focused its bike-parking efforts on the downtown area, but lately it’s put up a few racks elsewhere, said Brian Mickelson, the city’s traffic engineer. There’s a set of hitching posts—dark-green bollards with rings—on Pillsbury at a popular bus stop site near the Kmart store, and another at a bus stop on East First Avenue near Palm. The city is also planning on adding bike lockers at the park-n-ride lot at Highways 99 and 32.

Still, most new racks have gone in the downtown area. There’s a new set of hitching posts on Wall Street next to Municipal Lot 1, where the Saturday farmers’ market is held, and other sets at Third and Main and in front of Campus Cutters on Third Street just west of Salem.

“When we get requests for racks, we put them in,” Mickelson said. The new bollard racks are more attractive than the extended U-racks widely used downtown at on-street bike-parking sites.

This bike is locked to one of the many new, user-friendly Park-a-Bike racks at Chico State.

photo by robert Speer

In fact, the city’s long-range plans call for eliminating all on-street bike parking and moving it to the sidewalks, said Bob Greenlaw, a senior civil engineer with the city. The city is looking at trading in its parking meters for parking kiosks, one per block, and that will free up sidewalk space for bike parking, he said.

As part of its new downtown couplet on First and Second streets, the city will add 55 new hitching posts. Greenlaw said he’s also looking at increasing the esthetics of the racks, noting that they can be purchased in a variety of colorful and whimsical shapes—as a cupcake, a dog bone, a carrot or a dragonfly, among others.

Shubert’s for example, might want to put in a rack shaped like an ice cream cone; the Upper Crust might go for a rack that resembles a coffee mug; a bike shop might opt for one in the shape of a bicycle. These would add a friendly, attractive artistic element to the downtown, in keeping with Chico’s identity as an arts-loving city.

Chico Velo has applied for a $7,500 grant to add to and upgrade the new couplet racks, and Rood said she too is interested in adding some artistic racks to the area. She cited Long Beach as a city that has led the way in adding esthetically pleasing bike racks to core areas. (Go to to see some examples of these racks.)

The reality, she said, is that “esthetics haven’t been considered that much” in selecting bike racks. “If we get the grant, I’m going to push for prettier racks,” she said.