Monday, November 02, 2009

Who Needs Stinkin' Bike Racks?


I surely make too much of this, but it is my nature to expect much from those who promise much. Where are the bike racks for the snazzy convention center at Ft. Point Channel?

In its very subtle way (click thumbnail for large squint), there is one, one short one for the entire center plus the gigantic Westin adjoining it. They're a package deal, don't ya know, but they better not have more than 10 cyclists at a time anywhere around.

It's amusing and disappointing because:

  • Boston has a nifty program under bicycle czarina Nicole Freeman to plant racks wherever they will be useful and encourage cycling. This includes an interactive map of where the city has planted racks.
  • The conference I went to at the hotel and center was about transit, specifically about non-motor-vehicular transit.

Yet, in a typical room, when the speakers asked who was from the Boston area, about half the hands went up. While Rail-Volution is annual with a thousand or more attendants, it invariably pulls in more local wherever it happens to occur.

One might expect with hundreds of folk likely within a dozen miles of the complex that a bunch of us would, well, show off transit cred. I was the only jerk who did. I rode the 10 miles from the bottom Hyde Park through some of the town's densest traffic to and from the conference three consecutive days.

I checked the convention center and hotel websites. Neither said anything about racks or any biking accommodation. Check the Westin amenities in the above link — cribs, check; pets (under 75 pounds), check; valet parking (cars), check; Starbucks, check; and wait, there's more. The hotel folk knew nothing about bike racks. I tried the afternoon before at the center, but the switchboard shut down at 5 p.m. and I was out of luck. Then I located one on the city bike-rack map at the shared address of the Westin and center.

The next morning though, I didn't see one at either the center or the hotel. I asked uniformed minions, first at the hotel, but they didn't know. Then one of the center's red jacketed lads said he thought there was a rack behind the trees over there.

I had pedaled by and didn't see them. I did again and didn't again. Then I removed my sunglasses and in the figurative mist, there it was.

Sure enough, it was a Ribbon Rack. Yet unlike the standard, which is black, this is gray against a gray sidewalk and gray wall. The kind word is subtle. Cloaked is more like it.

Likewise, the rack is fully exposed, which became important in the rain on one day. I did remember to tuck in a cloth to wipe down the seat, frame and rims where the brake pads hit. This is even more peculiar than hiding it by color. The convention center (see the image in the link above) has a huge roofed overhang with vast unused space underneath, ideal and standard in bike-friendly areas.

In short, folks, likely from both the city and convention center had decided to hide this rack. Like the envelope in Poe's The Purloined Letter, the rack was hidden in plain sight, this time camouflaged by color and placement. They had also placed it where the bikes parked there would not be weather-protected in the slightest.

The twist is that for three days mine was the only bike in the rack, as in the image above. so the question comes whether if you provide it they will come or if there is so little demand that only a single cyclist used the rack, isn't one anywhere around a major convention center adequate?

I bet it's the former. If Nicole's elves put two or more racks in colors that contrast to their background under the overhang, cyclists will feel encouraged and when they attend event at either the hotel or center, some will leave their cars or SUVs in the driveway.

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