October 30, 2012 - From the November, 2012 issue

Craig Lawson on Importance of Los Angeles Bicycle Ordinance

Los Angeles may not be known for its urban bicycle infrastructure, but as Craig Lawson, President of Craig Lawson & Co. explains, a Bicycle Parking Ordinance being considered by the City of LA could significantly change how developers accommodate and measure bike and car parking and infrastructure. The draft ordinance allows a portion of required off-street automobile parking spaces be substituted for bicycle parking, and any area dedicated to bicycle parking will not be calculated as part of the project’s total floor area. TPR presents the following Craig Lawson interview. 

Craig Lawson

"The draft ordinance provides several incentives for new projects. Not only can a portion of required off-street automobile parking spaces be substituted for bicycle parking, but any area dedicated to bicycle parking is not calculated as part of the project’s total floor area." -Craig Lawson

What about the new Bicycle Parking Ordinance in Los Angeles compels you to comment on it?

Craig Lawson: I’ve been doing land use consulting work in Los Angeles for the last 25 years (hard to believe), and the new Bicycle Parking Ordinance is one of the most significant, and least publicized, policy changes I have seen in the City of LA. Unlike other recent land use policy changes, such as the new Hollywood Community Plan or the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance, which were heavily covered by the local media, the Bicycle Parking Ordinance has been very quietly making its way through the process. Its impacts are significant to anyone who is planning to develop a multi-family, commercial, retail, or industrial project in the City of LA.

Does your interest in the City’s Bicycle Parking Ordinance also stem from your own personal interest in cycling?

While I am not an active rider right now, as an undergraduate student at UC Santa Barbara in the mid-1970s, my 10-speed Peugeot bike was my primary source of transportation around the UCSB campus and into the adjacent student community of Isla Vista. The UCSB campus had an excellent network of bike paths that were well separated from the roadways, including tunnels and overpasses, so there was little conflict with automobiles. And there was plenty of bike parking near the student center, the library and classrooms. When I returned to Los Angeles, I did a lot of riding in West LA and along the beach paths. I still have that bike; I think it’s now a collector’s item.

In 1977, I was hired by Mayor Tom Bradley to work in City Hall on his legislative agenda relating to environmental, urban policy, and transportation issues. While bicycling wasn’t at the top of his agenda, in 1973 the Mayor had set up the first Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee (chaired by Alex Baum), and one of my first assignments was to work with Alex on improving the Encino Velodrome (which had opened in the early 1960’s) in the Sepulveda Basin as a potential site for cycling competition during the 1984 Olympic Games. While strong neighborhood opposition nixed the idea of using the Encino Velodrome for Olympic competition, there was clearly local support for improving bicycle facilities and for programs to encourage more bike riding in Los Angeles. Alex Baum, who was also active in effort to bring the 1984 Olympic Games to Los Angeles, was appointed to the Board of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee (LAOOC), and he was instrumental in the development of the Olympic Velodrome at Cal State Dominguez Hills. I was honored to work with LAOOC Board as Mayor Bradley’s Liaison to the LAOOC during the 1984 Olympic Games.

One of my fondest memories of Mayor Tom Bradley was the unique opportunity I had to join him on a bike ride the early 1980’s through the vineyards of Napa Valley.  The Mayor was not an avid cyclist, so Alex Baum arranged to loan him a bike so he could practice on the streets in Hancock Park (near the Mayor’s mansion). It must have been quite a site for the neighbors to see the Mayor go cycling by. The Napa Valley bike ride, with Mayor Bradley leading several dozen young supporters (an event relating to his campaign for Governor) was the only time I ever saw Mayor Bradley ride a bike.

Other Los Angeles Mayors, such as Mayor Riordan and more recently Mayor Villaraigosa, have been active bike riders (with Mayor Villaraigosa gaining headlines in 2010 when he injured his elbow after falling off his bike while riding on Venice Boulevard.)

How do you explain the sudden surge of interest in bicycle riding in Los Angeles? 

I think there are several reasons. 

First, there’s a national emphasis on increasing physical activity to improve our health, and outside of walking or running, bicycle riding is one of the most accessible activities. While there is some expense involved in bicycle riding (purchasing a bike, helmet, shoes, etc.), it is certainly not as expensive as some other physical activities such as snow skiing or mountain climbing.

Secondly, bicycle riding can be enjoyed by people of all ages. While the growth in bike riding is mostly in younger riders, a lot of “baby boomers” are avid riders who enjoy a ride along the beach and may participate in public riding events such as CicLAvia or more strenuous competitive rides.

Thirdly, as commuter traffic continues to be a major challenge in Los Angeles, a number of commuters are looking for alternative ways to get to school and work, including riding bikes, or taking bikes with them on public transit lines. 

Finally, Mayor Villaraigosa has placed an emphasis on making Los Angeles more bicycle friendly, including his commitment to update the Bicycle Master Plan (adopted in 2011), his promise to bring “bike corrals” into Los Angeles (where riders safely store bikes), and his efforts to promote “bike sharing” and “bike stations”. 

What are the current rules relating to installing bike racks in private buildings? 

The Zoning Code requires that some bicycle parking spaces be provided in new commercial and industrial buildings over 10,000 s.f. in size, and, in some cases, requires that showers and lockers be provided. There is no requirement that bicycle parking be provided in multi-family housing projects.

Help our readers understand what is being proposed in the new Bicycle Parking Ordinance in the City of Los Angeles.


The Los Angeles City Council is in the final stages of considering a draft ordinance to increase and expand bicycle parking requirements in new development projects, including multi-family residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial uses.  (Council File 12-1297)

The draft ordinance provides several incentives for new projects.  Not only can a portion of required off-street automobile parking spaces be substituted for bicycle parking, but any area dedicated to bicycle parking is not calculated as part of the project’s total floor area.

The requirements are divided into short-term and long-term parking spaces.  Bicycle racks or bicycle corrals are permissible forms of “short-term” parking. Bicycle lockers, rooms with bicycle racks installed, bicycle cages, or a commercially operated bicycle facility with an attendant are all considered acceptable forms of “long-term” bicycle parking. Bicycle racks must secure a bicycle at two points—ideally, the frame and at least one wheel.

The new bicycle parking requirements will be based on use and floor area.  For example, for every 10,000 SF of office use, 1 short-term bicycle parking space would be required, and for every 5,000 s.f. of office use, 1 long-term bicycle parking space would be required. The amount of required bicycle parking increases for higher-traffic commercial uses such as restaurants, bars, health clubs, and retail stores (1 per 2,000 SF). In mixed-use projects, the number of bicycle parking spaces would be the total sum of the number of required spaces for each use.

Residential multi-family buildings may replace up to 10 percent of the number of required automobile parking spaces with bicycle parking. This amount increases to 15 percent for residential projects within 1,500 feet of transit, “a fixed rail transit station, bus station, or other similar transit facility.” The parking incentive is most beneficial to projects that have received a density bonus for affordable housing, which can replace up to 30 percent of their required automobile parking spaces with bicycle parking.

Commercial or other non-residential projects may replace bicycle parking at a ratio of 1 automobile parking space for every 4 bicycle parking spaces provided for up to 20 percent of the number of required automobile parking spaces. Again, when projects are located within 1,500 feet of transit, this allowance is increased to permit 30 percent of the required parking to be replaced with bicycle parking spaces.

For the first time, the City will set standards for bicycle parking spaces and accessibility to such spaces. A typical space, where a bike is secured on a rack, is required to be 6 feet in length, and at most 2 feet wide. (Long-term spaces need only be 18 inches wide.) Bicycle racks are also permitted to be mounted vertically, so as to reduce the amount of space even further—a minimum length of 4 feet and height of 6 feet. In addition, bicycle parking can be single or double-tiered, as long as headroom of either 7 feet or 4 feet, respectively, is provided. At most, a project that is required to provide over 20 long-term spaces must also provide 100 s.f. of area of “workspace” adjacent to the parking area to allow users to maintain their bicycles. Showers and personal lockers in conjunction with long-term bicycle parking space are required for non-residential uses.

Business operators can join together to file applications through the Department of Transportations’ Bicycle Program to construct and maintain a bicycle corral immediately in front of their property. In such cases, one business must enter a Covenant Maintenance Agreement and assume responsibility for maintaining the corral.  As an incentive, the entity who enters the agreement may count all of the spaces in the corral towards its short-term bicycle parking requirement. Other entities that contributed financially to the joint application for a corral will be entitled to count up to half of the spaces in the corral towards their short-term bicycle parking requirement.

If a site is located within 500 feet of a City-owned “bicycle corral”, the project may count 4 of the City’s spaces towards their own short-term parking requirement. 

See this LA City website for more information: http://www.bicyclela.org/Parking.htm

Lastly, why is this LA City Ordinance so significant? And will it actually work?

The new Bicycle Parking Ordinance is significant because it uses the “carrot and stick” approach. The carrot, or incentive, is the ability to reduce the amount of required parking spaces in new projects in exchange for additional bicycle parking spaces.  Automobile parking spaces, especially those that are located in subterranean garages, are very expensive, and I can predict that developers will jump at the chance to reduce the number of required parking spaces. The stick, or regulation, is the requirement to provide bicycle parking and to follow specific design guidelines for bicycle parking areas, in terms of size and accessibility. I have spoken with several cyclists recently who have described situations where bicycle parking racks existed at a building, but these bike racks were hard to find and access was either blocked or limited. This new Ordinance should help solve that problem.

The Ordinance, however, only applies to new construction, which means that there will be thousands of existing buildings that will not have to comply with these rules.

And, while the rate of bicycle use may be rising, according to recent Census data, the number of Los Angeles commuters who ride their bikes to work is only 1 percent, hardly enough to make a dent in our traffic patterns. But studies have shown that implementing a package of improvements, including dedicated bike lanes, more bike parking, integration with public transit, better public information about bike paths, and bike sharing opportunities, can have a positive impact. The City of Portland has implemented many of these measures, and an estimated 6 percent of commuters now use bikes to get to work. 


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