Walking on West 21st Street, between Broadway and 7th Avenue, there are numerous bicycles tied to bicycle racks, street poles, and even trash cans on the sidewalk. These inappropriately parked bicycles clutter the walkway, creating an unpleasant, and stressful pedestrian navigation experience.
This disarray of bicycle parking opportunities is caused by careless design and a limited amount of bicycle racks available. The main function of a bicycle rack is to provide a secure, easy to access, and easy to retrieve parking system. The form of the bicycle rack should be designed to fulfill this intended function while being considerate of pedestrians co-sharing the space. Needless to say, the design of public bicycle racks in New York City clearly contest the notion of form follows function.
The hollow steel circular bike rack scattered throughout New York City attests to the above mentioned unthoughtful design practice. This bicycle rack, designed to accommodate two bicycles at a time, is often overcrowded with up to six bicycles, consequently making the retrieval of a bike a challenge. The racks are dispersed randomly throughout the city, forcing bikers to find alternative hacking solutions to serve as bicycle racks, resulting in the disorganized sidewalk spaces.
Even though the city has made a conscious effort to include bike lanes on the roads, this initiative hasn’t been supported by sufficient bicycle parking bays. Well, except for the Citi Bike parking stations. The Citi Bike rack system runs at 90 degrees to the road, making it extremely efficient, accessible, and convenient to unlock, ride, and return a bike. The parking racks are stationed on the side of the road, not on the sidewalk, providing enough space to park a considerable amount of bicycles and clear the sidewalks for pedestrians.
Why does the Citi Bike rack design differ from the public bike rack design? Why does the Citi Bike system seem to adhere more to form follows function principles? It comes down to simple math. Citi Bike is a New York City rental service initiative, therefore the profitability of the service is dependent on every rider that successfully unlocks, rides, and returns a bike. The more efficient the system, the more lucrative the offering, justifying more time and resources invested in the development of Citi Bike racks than the public alternatives. Which begs the question, who is the city serving?