Pittsburgh’s Bike Parking Regulations Impact Private Development

Many cities are still without bike parking regulations, and when they do have them, they are often onerous. This case study examines Pittsburgh’s Bike Parking ordinance passed unanimously by the City Council in March 2010. The ordinance was an amendment to the zoning code requiring that all new and change-in-use buildings include bicycle parking.

The impetus for the ordinance was an initiative taken by BikePGH with the involvement of Mayor Ravenstahl; it then became a priority project to Stephen Patchan – Pittsburgh’s Bike/Ped Coordinator, who joined forces with Corey Layman, a bicyclist himself working for the city’s zoning division. Corey became the lead on drafting the ordinance with the help of Stephen and Kate Rakus from City Planning.

Although the existing legislation was not as progressive as some cities, it borrowed from San Francisco’s highly regarded model and captured notable gains that satis ed local advocates. According to Mr. Layman, the goal was to create legislation that was consistent and predictable, not onerous at the expense of creativity and design, as simple to administer as possible, and easy for people to understand. Particular attention was paid to bike parking location to assure it was conveniently placed and that it met certain safety standards. He did not want to craft legislation that was overly aggressive for Pittsburgh’s political climate.

Crafting the ordinance took about three months and another two months to work closely with architects to do scenario testing. The team used recent plans of various scales to assess how the ordinance would unfold. Once the ordinance was ready for the public process, it took another three to four months between Planning Commission meetings, addressing public perception that it would take away car parking, and helping public of officials interpret zoning language.

Pittsburgh’s ordinance has two key strategies. The first is a schedule related to the commercial floor area. The building’s size, not car parking – a strategy known as decoupling – dictates how much bike parking would be required. Secondly, the strategy provided an opportunity to reduce car parking requirements if the bike parking minimums were exceeded, a flexible stipulation that works in favor of developers.

BikePGH researched best practices, encouraged supporters to attend public meetings, and coordinated well with the team crafting the legislation, making sure everyone’s message was consistent. It may seem like an obvious strategy however, there are plenty of examples of ordinances pertaining to the urban landscape where advocates seem to complicate matters to the detriment of their objectives. For example, at one meeting a citizen protested that the bike parking specifications in the ordinance would not accommodate all bicycles conveniently, such as the recumbent tandem he rode with his partner. This objection nearly stalled the process for months, if not years.

Using benchmarking tactics, consulting with a wide variety of architects who would be impacted by the legislation, and running the prospective legislation through a range of scenarios helped visualize and demonstrate how things could develop in a real-world setting.

At the hearing for the new ordinance, City Council expressed concern that developers might try to take advantage of the option to trade up to 30% car parking for bike parking. Mr. Layman explained that the clause would be mostly used by smaller developers who were looking for flexibility when working on lots or buildings with a small footprint and small requirement; larger developments, he told them, would base their decision on market forces. The response unfolded as predicted.

Crucial contributions for ordinances in Pittsburgh included clear and high standards for location, quality, safety considerations, and prioritization. The most valuable lessons learned during the process was to test ordinances in existing developments before implementing the new ones so that various stakeholders could be educated on the implications in real-life scenarios. The team agreed that if a model for standards and definitions in crafting the legislation had already been available, it would have helped the process greatly.

The legislation has been very successful in helping to increase bike parking dramatically in Pittsburgh’s private developments and it has helped transform the city’s culture to more widely accept bicycles. The legislation has helped make architects, developers, contractors, and building owners and managers more sensitive to the needs of customers and employees who ride bikes as their means of transportation.

Public employees, advocates, and businesses play an important role in making things happen. The advocate’s key role is often to organize the community, but they must play that hand judiciously with allies in other sectors, working in unison; learning from stumbling blocks, having patience, and being determined every step of the way.