If you think you can design a better bike rack, the Raleigh chapter of Architecture for Humanity and the City of Raleigh wish you would — fast. Anyone can enter the Raleigh bike rack competition, but registration closes July 8 and designs are due July 15.
The competition opened in early May and some entries have already been received, said Michael Green, co-founder and chapter coordinator for Architecture for Humanity-Raleigh.
The non-profit group held its first meeting downtown last May and the idea came up then, mainly because a chapter member noted how many bikes were tied to trees downtown.
“Raleigh already has a good bicycling community, people that use bikes for commuting or general recreations and a social outlet, but getting around to the galleries on First Friday or biking with pals to a bar or restaurant seemed to be a sign we needed to talk with the biking community,” Green said. “For example, the new racks on Hillsborough Street have not been well received. The form makes it hard for bikers keep their bikes upright and others do not like the way the rack and bike meet.”
The group contacted the City of Raleigh’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, a volunteer advisory body appointed by city council to provide guidance and leadership on bicycle and pedestrian activities and accommodation in Raleigh.
After meeting with Architecture for Humanity-Raleigh, BPAC created a committee to focus on the competition and the idea soon gained other partners, including the Downtown Raleigh Alliance and members of the Raleigh Urban Design Center.
The goal, according to the Raleigh BPAC Web site, “is to generate custom, artistic bike racks that will represent the five distinct downtown districts, promote public art, and support Raleigh’s goal of becoming a bicycle-friendly city.”
The contest’s design guidelines provides more specifics to address size, anchor points, the number of bikes the rack must hold and other considerations.
The contest is just one of many things Raleigh is doing to increase its bicycle and pedestrian friendliness, according to Steve Waters, chair of Raleigh’s BPAC.
“The bicycle plan passed by the Council in 2009 was its first update in 20 years and included a lot of very ambitious goals with a 20-year timeframe. So far, the city has doubled the bike lane mileage — from four miles to eight miles last year,” Waters said.
The plan also calls for “sharrows,” short for shared arrows. The city has already put sharrows on Northclift Drive and on St. Mary’s Street, but many more are planned. The goal, Waters said, is to tell cyclists they can use the whole lane if they need to for safety and remind drivers to share the road.
Eric Lamb, transportation planning manager for the city, said the bike plan is not just about transportation, such as marked lanes or greenways, but also addresses the user experience.
“Bicycle parking is one example,” he said. “We’re in the process of installing about 60 new bike racks downtown using grant money from the N.C. DOT.”
Regarding design specifics, Lamb added, “We’re aware that this is an artistic competition, but also need designs that can be feasibly fabricated and that people will use.”
Once designs are selected, the group will need donations or in-kind service for materials, the fabrication process and other work.
The lack of available funds is not surprising, though. A recent survey of the state’s 121 municipalities, “Barriers to Municipal Planning for Pedestrians and Bicyclists,” found funding the top barrier cited by small and large municipalities alike. In large municipalities, other top-ranked barriers included: other infrastructure priorities (e.g. sewer and water), auto infrastructure needs taking precedence, staffing challenges (e.g. not enough staff or staff do not have the time) and the issue not being a high-priority topic in the jurisdiction.
Simply having a bike plan puts Raleigh in the minority. Raleigh recently attained Bronze Level status from the League of American Bicyclists in their latest round of Bicycle Friendly Community awards. Raleigh became the eighth North Carolina city to receive the award; other cities include Durham, Cary and Charlotte.
Budding designers take note: this is a juried competition. On Aug. 11 and 12, Architecture for Humanity-Raleigh will assemble a panel of local representatives representing fabricators, urban designers, the Raleigh Arts Commission, architect/designers and bicycle advocates.
Winners will be notified Aug. 15. The rest of us will have to wait until Sept. 2 to get a glimpse of the designs. Raleigh’s Urban Design Center will host the competitive display as part of First Friday.
The designs will then be finalized and fabricated; the plan is to install the new bike racks by April 2012.