Bike Parking in Chicago – Which Grocery Stores Make it Easy for You

When the Dutch transportation folks were in town a few weeks ago, one of their recommendations for Chicago was to increase the amount and quality of bike parking in Chicago – more U-racks and more covered or protected parking spaces. Our own Active Transportation Alliance has made this a priority as well. This topic came up again last week when I had a brief exchange about grocery store bike parking in Chicago with Steve Vance via Twitter.

It all began after I read his post about the lack of bike parking at the Dominick’s grocery store on Ashland Avenue — even after the store went through two major renovations. If you’re not familiar with Steve by the way, check out his twitter feed or his planning blog where he writes about urban planning and transportation, especially as it pertains to Chicago and biking.  Steve’s blog post included a letter he sent to Blair Kamin (architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune), Tribune transportation write Steve Hilkevitch, and Steve Burd the CEO of Safeway. In his letter Steve pointed out that while the Dominick’s store in Lincoln Square added bike parking as part of it’s certification as an LEED building, the store on Ashland wasn’t trying to be LEED-certified, so they didn’t bother with any bike racks.

LEED certification shouldn’t be the only impetus for installing bike parking. Currently it only gains the development 1 point and more than 40 are needed (more for Bronze, Gold, Silver, or Platinum). Installing bike parking should be an economic decision.

A single bike rack (holding two bikes) will cost less than $300 and require no maintenance for at least 5 years (some bike racks installed by the City are over 10 years old and look/work fine). A car parking space costs $1,000 per year to maintain.

His post got me thinking about other grocery stores in Chicago with bike parking, and we both agreed that the Whole Foods store on Roosevelt probably wins the award for best grocery store bike parking with 50 covered (!) spots. And while unfortunately there are plenty of stores with no bike parking, there are probably just as many that make only half-hearted attempts like the newer Jewel store on Desplaines.  That Jewel store is the one which Blair Kamin referred to as ‘eco-conscious’ in his Tribune article last week. There is only one bike ‘grill’ at that store, a poor excuse for bike parking as most bike cannot be locked securely to it, and the store has been known to plow snow and ice against it during the wintertime, making it useless for cyclists.

I made a suggestion to Steve to post a survey of Chicago-area grocery stores and the number of bike parking spots.  He did just that, and you can find the list on his wiki here –  add comments with your own observations and see if we can’t expand the survey. Steve’s sort of an expert on bike parking in Chicago – he did his master’s project for the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs on Bike Parking Equity. He can tell you what types of bike racks work best, in what locations, and what the Municipal Code of Chicago says about bike racks.  Yep! Did you know there are rules in this city that pertain specifically to bike parking?  First, the City strongly recommends the ubiquitous U-racks that you see all over the city and does not recommend those god-awful grill racks like you see below. If I have to use one of those racks for example, I can only park Oma on an end (if it’s available) and most other bikes – like my mountain bike or the hybrid bike in this picture – have to be lifted over the top in order to secure the bike in any sort of reasonable way.

Bike Rack at Trader Joe's

Bike Rack at Trader Joe’s at 1840 N Clybourn Ave.

The city also requires retail establishments to have a specific number of bike parking slots. Its the law. Most larger chain grocery stores in the city are supposed to provide bike parking equal to one bike for every five cars that they provide spaces for. That’s a fair number of bike parking spots! The aforementioned Jewel store on Desplaines, as an example, falls short of the municipal code not only by having a grill rack, but also by only providing space for 4 bikes.  I think there are more than 20 parking spaces in that lot. I’m guessing a lot of stores except for Whole Foods, fall short. It’s interesting that a chain that sells some of the most expensive grocery items in the city is the store that has the most bike parking. A lot of people ride bikes as their main form of transportation to save money – meaning these are not people who are doing their daily shopping at Whole Foods. I rode by the Aldi store on Milwaukee Avenue Friday morning, a “budget-conscious” grocery store, and they had a huge parking lot (almost empty), and no bike parking. A customer who rode to the store pulling a Burley trailer had to lock up near the cart corral.

Bike Parking at the Aldi Store on Milwaukee Avenue

Bike Parking at the Aldi Store on Milwaukee Avenue

I wonder how many more bike customers Aldi could have at that store, a store on Milwaukee Avenue which is one of the most popular bike routes in the city by the way, if they had 3 or 4 U-racks? The Jewel grocery store on Ashland/Division/Milwaukee has no bike parking either. None. One has to lock up to cart corals like at the Aldi store.

So what kind of bike parking does your grocery store have? Count up the spots if there are any, and go post a comment over on Steve’ s wiki so he can add your store to the survey. Perhaps  if we can pull together a somewhat comprehensive survey of the major grocery store chains in Chicago we can call them out, get a little attention, an article by Kamin or Hilkevitch perhaps? I know that I prefer to shop at establishments that have adequate bike parking.Now that I know they are also required to provide bike parking, I’d like to find a way to get them to abide by the law.

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