Renderings courtesy of Patrick Vogel. Above: a rack that is also a bench. Brilliance courtesy of local architect Jon Glasgow.
Bike racks serve a very simple purpose—and ultimately there’s no need to complicate them or, in the name of “art,” making them not as useful.
Even more, bike racks can significantly alter the city’s aesthetic: take New York back in 2008, where New Yorkers felt the Sheffield-style bike racks were outright ugly, prompting the NYDOT to host a contest for artists to design new racks. Talking Heads singer and avid cyclist David Byrne was then commissioned to do a series of site-specific bike racks: Wall Street got a dollar sign, Bergdorf Goodman got a high heel, MOMA got a Picasso shape…
The pieces, however, were just that: individual pieces, commissioned by an artist who loves his city and loves biking. There weren’t dollar sign bike racks running up and down Wall Street.
“The city opted to go cheap and mass-produced. All they cared about was getting the money and getting the system going with no patience and no heed to design. And when you go down that route, you get a city that looks cheap. You get thoughtless crap.”
So when former City of Long Beach grant rainmaker and the all-around pure-class woman that is Sumi Gant scored millions of dollars to fill the city with bike racks, many were excited. The Bike Rack Program, funded largely through the Obama Administration’s American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, permits businesses to have a free bike rack installed in front of their business.
At first appearances, it was an obvious need: the Master Bike Plan for Long Beach, at the time, noted the inadequate bike parking throughout the city, launching formal efforts to include racks at parks, public buildings, transit centers and stops, and along the San Gabriel River bike path.
What many were not prepared for is the onslaught of random, hodgepodge racks that mimic bad clip art from Microsoft word, from cupcakes to cups of coffee. Don’t get me wrong: there are bike racks which resemble things and look great—but there was also a reason that Byrne didn’t place thousands of his own representative racks throughout New York: it would be tacky in terms of design.
The grimace one gets after seeing the 30th bike rack that is an abstract slice of pizza is not uncommon. Oftentimes, the racks just seem downright out of place or compulsively installed. This makes sense since the program itself is free: one business owner, looking to attract bicyclists, see a neighbor business and wants one. Then, they peruse through a catalog of alligators and dog bones and carrots, having the option to choose any which iteration of a bike rack they want.
Local architect John Glasgow of Interstices once proposed underground bike racks that pop up when needed so as to keep the city’s “sidewalk architecture and lighting” uninterrupted. Some avid bicyclists are annoyed at the fact that some of the designs prevent them from locking their bikes the way they want to, wanting good ol’ U-racks or serpentines.
And yes, his thoughts about it are brilliant. Just check out this design.
Of course, these are extremes: underground bike parking is not new but we don’t have to go that extreme.
Look at Glasglow’s example of a bench/bike rack we brought up above.
There is a happy medium though where massive infrastructure costs be avoided and the city could have a more a cohesive, consistent, and contemporary aesthetic with its bike racks (and ultimately avoi
d the cheesy and altogether tactless racks currently abound: we haven’t forgotten the fact that they’re so abundant that they were even used as “street sculptures” along Willow in a traffic calming experiment back when Gerrie Schipske was running the 5th District: yup, she used a plethora of dinosaur bike racks and plopped ’em into the middle of a street).
Just check out the work of Patrick Vogel.
I’ve discussed Vogel’s work before since he is the man who gave City Hall their own bike. But his work as sculptor and artist lends a powerful hand in the possibility of bringing beautiful design to bike racks—and he is not one to mince his words in regard to the current bike rack program.
“I have offered the city these designs but they opted to go cheap and mass-produced,” Vogel said. “All they cared about was getting the money and getting the system going with no patience and no heed to design. And when you go down that route, you get a city that looks cheap. You get thoughtless crap.”
His designs are pure Vogel: clean, contemporary, and consistent—and though they’re not perfect (he needs to work on how to create designs where you can actually lock your bike properly), they’re better than what we have and provide opportunity to look toward the future. The lines are gorgeously curved, their silhouettes captivating, and their aesthetic non-intrusive: they would look in downtown or Bixby Knolls, Belmont Shore or Cambodia Town. And even more, as he is quite clear to point out, Vogel is local, whose work is throughout Long Beach.
“It’s time to stop this nonsense and get back to making our city look good,” Vogel said. “The designs speak for themselves: they fit bikes, they’re made for both the bicyclist and the urban guy who appreciates a little love and beauty. Are they gonna be as dirt cheap as the racks from the out-of-state manufacturer? No. But they’ll be made locally and they’ll last forever. I want all those racks out there right now to have that guarantee.”