Bike racks are one of the easiest to implement and most effective tools of opening the city. A simple sturdy piece of metal at ground level can be enough to open up a building or entire area to a much greater socioeconomic range of people. Sometimes natural parts of the city can become public bike racks unintentionally, such as a guardrail, a sign, a parking meter, or a small tree. The cops do not always appreciate this re-appropriation of space however, so the real deal is much better!
There are 2 main reasons that bike racks are such an effective way of opening up the city. First, bikes are significantly less expensive than cars, both to purchase and maintain. For people such as myself who can’t afford to have a car, bikes offer the perfect alternative for getting around the city on short to medium length trips. Unfortunately it is not safe to simply leave a bike outside, so you need a bike rack to help protect your ride! Unlike parking garages or metered parking places on the street, public bike racks are completely non-exclusionary, in that they are FREE and require no permission to use. By placing a public bike rack, this welcomes people to visit that area, other than those fortunate enough to own a car or those who live in close walking proximity to that location. By not placing a bike rack however, this can give quite the opposite message, by essentially cutting off biking as a method of transportation and as a result (either intentionally or unintentionally) denying access to a great number of outside visitors.
The second main reason why bike racks open up the city is due to the difficulty of parking. For those who DO have cars, this does not mean that the entire city is necessarily at their fingertips. Most urban areas, including much of Baltimore, are extremely difficult to find public parking in. Parking lots are often ridiculously expensive, often charging over $50 per day in parts of New York! Even if you are lucky enough to find a spot on the street, there are often very short time restrictions that force you to move your car or leave the area in a timely manner. If you happen to get to you car a minute too late, the cops are hungry for money and will often be prowling with a ticket book ready to ruin your day. I personally blew nearly $500 on my last two attempts of borrowing a car in New York, when the car was towed both times for being parked on the wrong side of the street during street sweeping hours… Never a pleasant experience. Bike racks wash all these worries away however! You do not need to be a master of parallel parking, or have a roll of money to spend on parking, or put a roll of quarters in them every hour. Even better, they are almost always placed right outside of major destinations, where it is impossible to find a parking place for your vehicle unless you have some sort of powers.
With an international growing interest in bikes, I please ask of you urban planners, build more bike racks! I would love to visit your neighborhood, but I can’t right now.