New downtown bike corrals ask for voluntary meter payments

Thursday, April 24, 2008 | 6:03 p.m. CDT; updated 10:23 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
From left, Chris Jaegers, Melissa Kelp, and Matthew McCracken, Public Works Department employees, install a bike rack on intersection of 9th street and Cherry.

COLUMBIA — Parking your bicycle at Columbia’s new bike corral downtown will be similar to parking your bike anywhere else in Columbia, except for one question from the city.

Any spare change?

On Monday the city plans to finish installing the $1,000 bike corral, which holds 12 bikes, replacing a car parking spot in the process. The project will be financed with the $21.5 million federal grant the city received for nonmotorized travel.

The corral is part of the city’s plan to install approximately 1,000 bicycle spaces downtown. It marks the first time the city has replaced car parking with bike parking.

“The symbolism I think is great,” said Ted Curtis, senior planner for Columbia’s Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program. “I think it really sets a standard that the city cares about people riding their bikes, and we want them to ride downtown.”

But a fixture of car culture — the parking meter — will remain in place at the bike corral, and cyclists are being asked to plug the meter.

No fines will be handed out if the meter expires, Curtis said, but contributions to the meter will influence future decisions on providing bicycle parking downtown.

“We wouldn’t take that bike rack out, but it may make it difficult to put in future bike racks downtown,” he said. “From the city’s standpoint, are people really supporting bike parking downtown? Can we justify losing the revenue from the parking meter? Are we getting enough use to justify taking out car parking?”

The corral was supposed to be installed on Thursday afternoon, but workers had difficulty securing the corral in the ground and plan to finish Monday.

Ian Thomas, executive director of the PedNet Project, said he thinks the corral may encourage more people to ride their bikes downtown. “I know if I happen have a quarter in my pocket,” he said, “I’ll be happy to put it in the meter.”

Residents interviewed as they strolled downtown on Wednesday were mostly against the idea of filling the meters.

Willy Maxwell, 50, was unlocking his bike near the intersection of Ninth and Cherry streets. He said he appreciates the city not requiring bicyclists to pay for parking right away but thinks the city should almost pay bicyclists for not using their car.

Lindsay Parsons, an avid bicyclist who works at Walt’s Bicycle Fitness and Wilderness Co. and attends MU, said she’d donate if it helped future biking causes.

Nick Vroman was biking to work when a red light on the corner of Broadway and Ninth Street stopped him. The 32-year-old said he thinks it’s a great idea to put a bike rack downtown. “But I think it’s kind of silly to try and make money off it,” he said.

Curtis acknowledged asking bicyclists to pay when the city was awarded $21.5 million for nonmotorized transportation might sound weird.

“Yeah, seems kind of strange because you have $22 million,” Curtis said. “Why ask for a nickel, right?”

But by 2010, he said, the city will have spent the $22 million granted to it from the federal government. So the city is searching for additional programs that could help support bike parking past 2010.

“It’s more of a vote of support. It’s a vote for bike parking is what I would call it,” Curtis said. “We don’t know if people will donate. We’re just asking.”

Fred Schmidt, 49, was on hand while city workers attempted to secure the corral into the ground on Thursday afternoon. Although his bike wasn’t locked to the corral yet, Schmidt still obeyed the sign hanging on the meter that reads, “Donate your change for more bicycle parking in the future!”

“I was very proud to put in the first quarter. It was a historic occasion,” Schmidt said. “My quarter is a small payment for what the city is doing for me.”

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Kevin Gamble April 25, 2008 | 9:52 a.m.

I'm glad to see this, especially in such a high-visibility spot (as opposed to somewhere on the edge of downtown). I hope there's more to come--12 bike spaces won't go very far.

As for the idea that the parking space needs to be "justified"--coins in the meter won't tell much of the story. The story will be gradually increased bike traffic, which means increased business and better quality of life downtown. If all the city cares about is a dollar-for-dollar return on investment for every project, we might as well abandon GetAbout right now. But I hope that's not all they care about, and that this is an investment in a nicer, more livable city, as opposed to all the chain-retail and rental junk the city's being choked with.

That said, with up to 12 people using this one "spot" at a time, it would be impressive if this turned out to be the most financially profitable meter in all of downtown. Take that, cars!

(Report Comment)
Tony Thorpe April 25, 2008 | 10:47 a.m.

If dollar for dollar return of investment is that important, let's include the money NOT spent maintaining roads, etc. Biking has much less impact on our tax revenue than driving does.

(Report Comment)
James Herring April 25, 2008 | 2:01 p.m.

As someone who bikes to work from home and all over downtown, I am glad to have a place to secure my bike. Most of the parking meters are taken around the popular places, so a central place in the popular part is a good idea. As for donating money in the meter: at 3.39 a gallon, a little spare change is better than paying for a gallon of gas. Better to the city than to a gas company.

(Report Comment)

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