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 cannot 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 from 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 Resident’s 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 needed for one car, this could yield a far higher income for the Council, from the same space.