This piece by Dan Casey in the Sunday Roanoke Times could be probably use some fleshing out, though when all is said and done I agree completely with Casey’s argument (indeed, he and I had a lengthy discussion on the subject last week, boiled down to the two sentence quote he eventually uses).
First, in the City’s defense, the existing standards for bike racks as “street furniture” are there for a reason – the common, and admittedly boring, inverted u-shape (or hoop) is accepted as being the safest way to secure your bike by allowing two contact points with the bike’s frame. Wave style and grid racks, while more compact, generally require attaching the bike by its wheel or spokes, which can result in the wheel being bent easily if the bike is bumped. The hoop also has a very small footprint and, under the City’s standards, is installed in such a way as to maximize pedestrian use of the sidewalk. Given all this, I think that the City was correct in rejecting the initial offer of the rack by John Wilson.
However, where the City dropped the ball was in not immediately seeing the value in what Wilson was trying to do and make all the connections that Casey makes in his article. They should have sat down with Wilson and worked with him, as an artist, to revise the standards in such a way as to maintain the small footprint, ease of pedestrian movement, and safety features of the hoop rack while encouraging some creativity. It’s a bit difficult to tell from the photo accompanying Casey’s column, but Wilson’s rack basically meets all of the City’s standards in principle: It has a small footprint, two contact points against which the bike frame can be locked (there are two trapezoidal outcroppings on either side of the central pole), and poses no obvious harm or obstacle to pedestrians. In fact, with the giant bicycle sculpture on the top, it does a better job than the hoop rack of advertising its purpose.
One of my coworkers pointed out that the City does need to be careful when allowing exceptions to the existing standards – we don’t need bike racks with giant spinning blades on them (unlike the outdoor sculpture at my alma mater), but the City could open them up enough for individual pieces to be considered on a case-by-case basis. With the booming of both bikes and art in our humble burg, this would be an excellent way to combine them.