What if Detroit had a parking garage for 5,000 bicycles?



Bicycles don't get enough respect in this Detroit. It's strange: In what should be the densest part of town, where traffic congestion can leave motorists stuck for an hour on a busy night, few concessions are made to the cyclist, while seemingly every amenity is offered the motorist. Are there sometimes backups on I-375's Lafayette exit? Dan Gilbert will drop $1.25 million to widen it to three lanes, so that automobiles can stack up three lanes wide while they wait, instead of in single file. Blue Cross expanded downtown employment a decade ago? That also meant building a mammoth parking structure with almost 2,000 parking spots. Downtown already has an estimated 55 parking garages and 163 surface lots, but that didn't stop Penobscot Building owner Andreas Apostolopoulos from proposing the demolition of the Detroit State Saving Bank building for — more parking.

According to Data Driven Detroit's Rob Linn, "Detroit's downtown has far more parking per worker than nearly every major downtown in the country, from San Francisco to Atlanta, New York to San Diego." It's a product of so much of the region being car-centric, which produces what Linn calls a "parking-expectant culture" — even precisely where it makes the least sense.

Plus, if the development downtown is supposed to spill over into the surrounding area, benefiting the surrounding neighborhoods, does it make sense to tailor downtown almost exclusively to a mode of transportation that can travel into the area from miles and miles away? What if we offered the same kind of gold-plated amenities for, say, bicyclists, who come in from short- to medium-range distances? As a development strategy, wouldn't that make the immediate area around downtown more desirable?

What puts us in that frame of mind this morning? It's a video that comes to us from the Netherlands, showing the brand-new 5,000-space bicycle garage that's attached to the main train station in a town of 100,000. The bike garage has its own separate entrance, offers special space for cargo bikes and other pedal-powered vehicles, and has a digital display system to show which of the many two-tiered rows have vacancies. Imagine if such amenities were offered in downtown Detroit. Imagine if we spent a fraction of the loot we do accommodating motorized vehicles on a project like this, especially with the vigorous biking culture downtown has to build upon.

As an article accompanying the video says, "This is what it looks like when bikes are treated the way cars are in the United States: every convenience is accounted for. It caters to the cyclist's habits and needs the way that a state-of-the-art car parking facility would cater to drivers (car parking, of course, comes at a far greater cost, both financial and spatial). … This is how you create a viable and well-loved transportation system. … People don’t use this system out of idealism. They use it because it’s supremely functional and it’s designed to anticipate and accommodate their needs. Imagine that."

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