January 22, 2018 - From the January, 2018 issue

L.A.’s Bicycle Parking Ordinance: Revised Version Provides Greater Flexibility

The 2013 Bicycle Parking Ordinance in the City of Los Angeles was optimistic in its efforts to make bicycling more feasible by mandating that bicycle parking be much more widespread throughout the City.  The proposal ran into some practical difficulties in implementation, however, in areas where it was insufficiently flexible.  A new Bicycle Parking Ordinance, set to be passed by City Council over the next few weeks, aims to correct some of the prior shortcomings while upholding the purpose and intent of the original Ordinance.  In this TPR interview, land use consultant Craig Lawson of Craig Lawson & Co., LLC provides context on how bicycling is evolving in Los Angeles, how developers responded to the previous ordinance, and how the revised ordinance seeks to address various concerns.


Craig Lawson

"Over the coming years, more people will adopt bicycling as a means of transit if we can successfully bring about a “package” of improvements that makes bicycling a better way to get around." - Craig Lawson

You spoke with The Planning Report back in 2012 about the pending passage of the original Bicycle Parking Ordinance in the City of Los Angeles.  What factors brought about that event?

Craig Lawson: When the Bicycle Parking Ordinance was first passed by the Los Angeles City Council in 2013, I described it as one of the most important City policy changes I’d seen in my long career in land use consulting.  It contained regulations that impacted a wide array of development types, and on a deeper level it represented a changing mode of thinking from City leaders with respect to transportation. 

Los Angeles has long been known as the “city of the automobile”, but over the past few decades it’s also become known for its debilitating traffic congestion and long commute times.  As driving has become a less effective way to get around the city, people have increasingly explored alternative forms of transportation.  Bicycling can compete in terms of timing with driving – when you have to endure traffic and struggle to find parking – to get between certain destinations.  Moreover, in recent years many people have increasingly strived to lead healthy, active lifestyles and to minimize their impacts on the environment.  Bicycling is beneficial on both fronts, in that it provides exercise for riders and requires no fossil fuels.

Are more people riding bikes to work and for pleasure these days?

We’ve seen bike ridership rise over the past few years, both for commuting and for recreation.  Based upon U.S. Census Data, in 2000 only 0.6% of the LA County population commuted to work by bicycle, however by 2013 that number rose by 50% to 0.9%.  It will be interesting to see how that number changes when the Census next releases data on this field. 

Nevertheless, the newfound enthusiasm for cycling is expressed by the increasingly popular CicLAvia event (drawing thousands of bike riders) and the growth of a weekend bicycling culture around the region’s hilly roads.

How has the bicycling infrastructure and culture changed across the City over the past few years?

In recent years the City has taken major steps toward making bicycle riding a more viable means of transportation, both in terms of its physical infrastructure and cultural preferences.  The City has embarked on and completed the development of major new bike routes, most notably along the L.A. River, along the Metro Orange Line Busway and Expo Line Light Rail routes, and, to be completed later this year, along Figueroa Street from Downtown to Exposition Park.  Metro has also made provisions for bike riders to bring their bikes with them on local busses and rail transit cars.

Metro has also rolled out its bike sharing program, following a model implemented successfully in many other large cities around the world.  This program is complemented by private bike sharing operators, such as Spin, ofo, or LimeBike, as well as small cities’ programs such as Santa Monica’s Breeze.  Bike sharing may be able to convince greater numbers of people to ride bikes, because its riders don’t need to worry about bike storage, maintenance, or a large initial expense.

The means through which citizens can access and store bikes have also improved over the past few years.  Of course, the passage of the 2013 Bicycle Parking Ordinance meant that new buildings were required to provide much more bicycle parking for residents and guests.  The required bicycle parking spaces are more secure than prior spaces, thus (in theory) reducing the number of bike thefts.

The City has also, more controversially, added bike lanes along several major automobile thoroughfares through “road diets” as a part of Mayor Garcetti’s Great Streets Initiative.

More generally, the increasing urbanization of the city and densification of the population around transit stations makes Los Angeles more amenable to cycling, as more destinations are within biking range.

What were some of the key effects of the 2013 ordinance?  How did developers respond to it?

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The 2013 Bicycle Parking Ordinance established a range of new requirements and incentives with the intention of making bike parking more accessible throughout the City over time.  It aimed to provide both short-term and long-term bike parking across the full spectrum of building uses.  The ordinance mandated the provision of a certain number of bike parking spaces based on floor area, incentivized the provision of additional bike parking by allowing developers to replace some automobile parking with extra bike parking, and set standards and definitions related to bike parking that had not previously been established.  The Ordinance set very tight parameters on where in buildings bike parking could be placed, for example, specifying that long term bike parking areas had to be located very close to the entrance to a building.

On the positive side of things, this ordinance helped to expand the number of bike parking spaces available around the city – especially in areas where many new buildings have been built since 2013.  But this growth has not been without its frictions.  Many developers, naturally, are reticent to set aside so much space for bike parking within parking areas where space can be tight.  More pointedly, certain requirements may not accurately reflect existing or even potential demand for bike parking, and some elements of the previous ordinance have created unanticipated conflicts with other building requirements.

Since the passage of the 2013 ordinance, there have been a few of its provisions from which project proposals have frequently sought relief.  Developers have, for example, requested reduced bicycle parking requirements for senior housing and hotel uses, for example, citing lower demand for those uses. 

Within structures, the siting requirements for bicycle parking have also been a challenge.  Specifically, the requirement that long-term bicycle parking within parking garages must be located along the shortest walking distance to the nearest pedestrian entrance to the building has at times conflicted with similar siting requirements for disabled access automobile parking spaces.

How is the new Bicycle Parking Ordinance seeking to improve upon the previous one?

The revised ordinance is making modifications to the quantity, location, and design requirements of the original 2013 ordinance, as well as clarifying certain definitions.  Most notably, this revision discontinues the separate ratio arrangement for residential versus commercial hotels, motels, and apartment hotels, establishing one constant ratio for all such structures of one short- and one long-term bicycle parking space per ten guest rooms.  Additionally, and in response to previously overestimated demand, the new ordinance is reducing the required number of bicycle parking spaces required for senior housing.

The revised ordinance also introduces greater flexibility in siting requirements.  Whereas occasionally the previous rules would unduly tie the hands of architects and limit their site planning options, the revised rules seek to accomplish the spirit of the original provisions while preserving flexibility.  They offer a few options for where these spaces can be provided, so that different types of buildings can select accordingly.

Finally, the new ordinance takes into account some technological changes we’ve seen since the previous one passed.  Manufacturers are now producing more space-efficient bicycle rack systems, so the new ordinance is revising certain design requirements to accommodate these improved systems.

What kinds of future opportunities exist for the expansion of biking for recreation and transit in the city?

Over the coming years, more people will adopt bicycling as a means of transit if we can successfully bring about a “package” of improvements that makes bicycling a better way to get around.  One of the most consequential improvements would be more bike lanes – especially grade-separated lanes divided from auto travel lanes.  This would help people feel safer about biking around the city. 

But many improvements are needed, including more space for bikes on public transit, more ubiquitous bike sharing programs, and of course more widespread bike storage options.  No one of these improvements alone will make many more people ride bikes – they need to be pursued in conjunction with one another.  Over the long run, though, the denser clustering of L.A.’s urban population and the greater reach of the public transit system will be the structural drivers toward increased usage of bicycles in the city.

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© 2018 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.