Ballard’s first custom bike rack wins approval

Sustainable Ballard has been given the green light to move forward with Ballard’s first custom-designed bike rack for the corner of 22nd and Ballard Ave., replacing the existing rack in front of Vain.

Last summer, the group held a bike rack design contest and the above rack was chosen the winner. After some back-and-forth with SDOT and some design changes, Sustainable Ballard presented the design to the Ballard Avenue Landmark District Board.

This morning, the board approved the modified version of the bike rack (shown above.) The four rings will be made of sandblasted stainless steel. There was some discussion over the type of metal to use because of graffiti concerns, but in the end the board voted 6-0 to approve the rack. One member of the board opted not to vote.

32 comments on “Ballard’s first custom bike rack wins approval”

  1. Don't ride a bike so I don't know how practical this design is, but it's surprisingly inoffensive. Attractive, even.

  2. Anybody know what was wrong with the first design? It looks perfectly fine to me. Maybe the holes on the tops were too small for all types of locking devices, but otherwise…

  3. We'd like to thank the Ballard community for your patience as we jumped through all the necessary hoops to get this rack permitted and we hope to get it built and installed soon. Thank you for all of your support,
    Craig and the entire Ballard Bike Rack Design Contest Team at Sustainable Ballard

  4. I like the design (except for the possible U-lock issue) but I do wonder about the cost.

    It's hard to tell the scale from the sketch, but they look to be about 1-2 inches thick. A 4'x8' sheet of 1″ 304 stainless is about $3000, and they probably need two depending on the diameter.

    Maybe aluminum with a hardcoat anodize would be a better choice?

  5. Thanks to Craig and Mark for your hard work of getting this through the approval process! You guys are awesome!!!

  6. I'd be much more impressed if functionality were given priority over style, or at least equal weight. This design gives only one place where a u-lock can be passed through the rack, making it impossible to lock both the tire and the frame. It's an inefficient use of space, as only one bike can be locked to each rack. And as mentioned, this must be enormously more expensive than a simpler but more functional bike rack. 4 inverted U's would take up the same space, double the number of bikes that could be parked, allow the bikes to be locked more securely, be much more cost effective, and would look just fine.

    I'm in favor of public art, but if it tries to be functional, and fails, then it's worse than not having it.

    What is wrong with functionality in design Ballard?! The metal benches outside the library are awful for sitting. The curved sidewalk beside the new park at 17th and 63rd is cute, but the curvy concrete juts unnecessarily into the play space, and is annoying to deal with as a pedestrian. A design isn't necessarily a good one just because it's different.

  7. I'm so glad the new bike racks are finally going in! I'm surprised that it is *replacing* a rack, though, since we need more bike racks, not just cooler ones.

  8. What's the cost? I thought the city didn't have any money to provide a cop or two to bust known drug dealers. I hope it's tag-proof as well. The little twerps are spraying every surface. What's up with that? When do they do it? Some of their art must take time to spray. Would be nice if someone was stopping these taggers. They have a way in Singapore. We had a way for horse thieves. Get caught tagging, mandatory 1,000 hours of scrubbing tag.

  9. Ernie, I bet aluminum would just be too soft and insecure.

    I'm also a bit concerned about the practicality of the design, but will wait to see how it works out in real life. Is the installation ETA known yet?

  10. I agree with Mike. The people who designed and approved this must lock their bikes with a long cable.

    Guys, anyone with a small U-lock is not going to be able to lock to this. Even my large U-lock would have trouble if the very top hole was taken (by, say a bike on the other side).

    Functionality fail.

  11. Lots of comments about the functionality failings of this rack (please know that we've worked closely with SDOT on the design and will test it out before it's built and installed); so what are your suggestions for improvement? Thanks for any constructive recommendations that you can provide as we in no way want to build something that won't work.

  12. Craig,

    One of the most secure and widely used bike locks are u-locks. It seems the only place where the rack is narrow enough for a u-lock to fit around its the slot cut up top. However, most people (at least those who don't want anything stolen off their bike) choose the pass the u-lock through both the frame and either the front or rear wheel, then through the rack. If a wheel is left unlocked, it is very easy for them to be stolen, especially with the prevalence of quick-release skewers.

    This rack appears to only be easily compatible with cable locks, which can be cut in seconds.

    That's my main concern. I imagine someone else will address the multiple bike on each rack issue.

  13. Any bike rack should maximize the number of bikes that can be locked to it easily without obstructing pedestrian traffic. A bike rack should offer numerous ways a cyclist can lock their bike to it, and allow for a wide variety of locking devices (u locks of various sizes, cable locks, chain locks) and also bike styles (recumbent, street, mountain, extracycle, kids bikes)

    Every time I ride to the Ballard Farmers Market on a sunny Sunday I have to cruise around looking for a suitable pole in the area to lock my bike to. Poles and racks are all full.

    Maybe Ballard could also have portable temporary racks on market day?

  14. Wow. You took a useful, necessary structure- a bike rack- and turned it into an expensive, contrived, useless blob of liberal-arts-education-gone-wrong/ public art “statement.” I seriously hope the economic crisis drags out a while longer and puts these “designers” behind a dishwashing hose at Taco Bell where they belong.

    But you made BSNYC! Congrats!!!

  15. Craig,

    I clicked on your name and found the really nice designer's illustration on the Sustainable Ballard website for this rack design.

    Although the illustration was very well done, and had a nice detail of the very simple installation procedure, it also clearly illustrated the problem with U-Locks that several posters have mentioned. The drawing shows a bike locked up to the rack with a U-Lock through the front wheel, around the fork, and through the hole in the top of the rack (now enlarged to a slot). Anyone who has ever locked up a bike would know that this won't work because all a thief has to do is flip the quick release and pull the fork up and out, and off they go leaving the front wheel still locked to the rack.

    In order for this to work the “O's” would have to be spaced far enough apart so that you could get the whole bike between them, pedals and all, so that someone could lock their bike in the classic manner where you remove the front wheel and put the lock through the front wheel, and rear wheel, around the seat stays, and through the rack. To make this possible I would recommend putting a “lock slot” on the front *and* back of the “O” near the midpoint so that riders could lock a bike to both sides of it facing opposite directions. I am afraid that if you spaced the “O's” far enough apart to fit two bikes though, it would ruin the designer's proportions shown in the sketch.

    Also, as I mentioned before, the cost of Stainless Steel will make this design outrageously expensive, I would consider pricing the materials before going too far.

    That's my $.02, BTW I wish I heard about this contest before it was over as I'm totally geeky about this kind of thing.

  16. believe it or not, these bike racks will change somebody's life.

    sure, when you dismount your cannondale you'll have to think long and hard, “how will I secure my precious titanium to this giant bagel?”

    that is the purpose of art. to be more than just pure 'functional' to make you reconsider your existence and how you participate in the world.
    do you really want engineers to design the world?.

    enjoy these donuts, ballard.

  17. NYC had David Byrne design a bunch of new bike racks. They're horrible. Bicyclists don't need to lock their bike to art, they need something that'll keep their bike from getting jacked. Sustainable Ballard's design only lets one bike (even that's iffy) lock to each rack. Most of the SDOT racks around the city let you lock three or more bikes to them without a hassle.

  18. I don't see why you think you couldn't lock both the tire and frame with a u-lock. It looks perfectly functional to me. I also think it can park the same amount of bikes as 4 inverted 'U's would. It make take a little more finagling but it looks like it would work.

  19. Thank you everyone for your comments both positive and constructive. I will try to address some of them.

    It looks like there is a lot of concern about how you will lock your bike to the rack. The design is to pass a U-Lock through the curved slot and then through both the frame and the front tire of a typical bicycle. As you can see the round forms can be adjusted before welding is complete to allow that slot to be in the correct position for locking. In the picture it may look a little high. We will test this out before we build the rack.

    Another concern is the replacement of a city rack with this one. The city rack is the standard upside down U rack which normally holds 2 bikes – one on each side. This rack will hold 4 bikes – one per ring and so we should be increasing the bike parking in this space. Just for the record, I think the sunday marked could use some additional temporary racks as well.

    As much as I would like to make these out of solid stainless, our budget does not allow for that so these will be welded sheet stainless with a filled core. This is much more cost effective. Tagging is allways a problem but we will test cleaning methods for this design. This project is under a matching grant which means we get to buy materials but all the labor is donated.

    Please consider that local craftsmen and women, the same people that build the fishing fleet, make parts for airliners, work metal and glass into sculpture, your neighbors, are donating their valuable time to produce these pieces, and we might be thankful that they can see the value in producing something of whimsy in a time of stress.

    Like all design contests, we cannot please all the people but these are the designs that were chosen and we will attempt to bring them to their full potential both artistically and functionally.

  20. This rack will take up much more space than a single inverted U rack. A more accurate space comparison would be with 2 U racks side by side (parallel) and spaced so that each can accommodate at least 2 bikes. I still think the 2 inverted U's would be a little more space efficient, but this would be a fairly equitable comparison for square footage consumed to park 4 bikes. The U's would be easier to lock to though, offering more spots where a lock can be attached for bikes of various sizes and shapes. Regardless of where the slot is positioned on the O racks, the locking options are limited.

    Where in Ballard will this rack be installed (or is there going to be more than one?), where is there enough sidewalk space to park 4 bikes side by side without obstructing pedestrian traffic? Nowhere on Ballard Ave that I can think of has this much space – the sidewalks are very narrow. The best solution on Ballard Ave for bike parking would be 2 or 3 or 4 inverted U racks per block, one at a time, parallel to the curb, like the ones in front of Second Ascent. Or better yet, street parking. There are certainly enough bikes around Ballard to justify this.

    Another question I have is how will the racks be secured to the sidewalk? Racks that are bolted down are not secure. I know at least one person in Seattle whose bike was stolen while locked to a rack that was bolted to the sidewalk – the rack was pried out of the ground and the whole thing, bikes still attached, thrown into the back of a pickup. It took less than a minute. The inverted U's can be embedded in concrete (though they aren't always). This adds installation expense, but otherwise the city is inviting people to lock their bikes to a rack that is not secure.

    Another design flaw is that this rack does not support the bike nearly as well as the inverted U racks. Many bikes have no kickstands. Bikes can be leaned against the U racks and the bikes will remain upright. With these donuts it looks very likely that the bikes will be falling over since there is little of the rack in contact with the bike frame.

    I appreciate your point about local crafts people having a fun project and donating their time and skills. I just see bike rack design as a practical matter since I'm always looking for a place to lock my bike. Other considerations such as good looks and providing workers the opportunity to make a community contribution should be secondary to making sure the main purpose is addressed. It's true, can't please everyone. But this is a bike rack, and if it's taking up valuable space set aside for locking bikes, it needs to be at least as functional as the usual solutions. This design doesn't come close.

  21. Just found the installation drawing, the donuts are embedded in concrete. And the location mentioned at the top of this page. Next time I'll read first.

  22. I don't understand the point of bike rack design contests. Are they just art projects? There are already a number of very functional bike racks on the market. Has anyone involved with this project ever locked up a bike? Properly?

    Here's a design that works well: <>. It supports bikes well without marring the paint, allows a U-lock to pass through wheel and frame, and holds multiple bikes from each side. And the company is even local to the Northwest.

    The inverted-U racks frequently mentioned have several drawbacks and aren't ideal.

  23. Ballard needs to design a way for bikes to get around town easily and safely. To this day, a person has no safe way to bike from Cupcake Royale to Golden Gardens. (I'm fine as an experienced cyclist, but for a non-biker there are some very sketchy spots). We need bike arterials, street parking spaces converted to bike parking, and folding pocket maps showing how to get around. Ballard is one of the flattest parts of Seattle and the hills we have are graded. There is no reason on the planet we can't have Portland-esque biking infrastructure.

    A bike rack design contest is a great thing to do, but I just feel there are such larger goals that need immediate attention that this is almost a red herring. The technology to build effective, attractive bike locks is here already. We don't need to reinvent the wheel — we do need to apply well-known effective techniques to make this place better to bike around.

    And lastly, sustainability folks need to get their head around FINANCE. If you need a grant to do something, it's not sustainable. Converting street parking for cars into bike parking would be cheap. Choosing non-busy streets to turn into bike arterials with yield signs is cheap. Things need to be cost-effective and sensible.

    Oh yeah, and making a bike rack as an art installation also casts bicycle transportation as something “other” and non-practical which is the opposite direction we need to go. Nobody is making car parking spaces artsy. No, car parking needs to just plain work and be cheap because that's how people get around. Bikes are naturally cheap and practical. Let's keep it that way.

  24. uh, here's a suggestion. try locking up an actual bike to an actual bike rack with an actual u-lock, and then look at the design again. it's horrible.

  25. it occurred to me that most bike racks don't have a lot of graffiti problems. i started to wonder why that is, and then i realized that most bike racks don't have giant, unpractical flat surfaces that have nothing to do with locking up a bike and actually make it a lot more difficult.

    design bike racks around bikes, not bagels.

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