The Other Parking Problem


A parking meter converted into bike parking in Center City | Photo: Peter Woodall

A parking meter converted into bike parking in Center City | Photo: Peter Woodall

The gradual expansion of Philadelphia’s bike infrastructure, with marked bike lanes and signage, has dramatically helped to improved cycling’s utility and appeal, an achievement confirmed recently by the real estate website Walk Score, which added Philadelphia to the list of 25 US cities for which it now provides Bike Score ratings. The city’s overall Bike Score of 68 ties it with Boston as fourth most bike friendly large city in the United States, according to their survey.

In dense Center City and around, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities has been sensibly turning some on-street parking spaces into bike parking lots and making bike hitching posts out of onetime parking meter mounts. This effort is quietly transforming the way we think about and use public space downtown.

The story is different, however, in less crowded neighborhoods, particularly in the Northeast, where I live. Out there, wide streets make biking easy even without marked bike lanes. But once you get to your destination, good luck finding a place to park your bike.

Here, private property owners can make a difference. Because many businesses in the area already provide car parking on their property, accommodating bikes should be as easy as installing a rack or two in the parking lot.

The author, on a supermarket run in his Oxford Circle neighborhood this past summer. The store's easy to bike to, but where does one put the bike once there?

The author, on a supermarket run in his Oxford Circle neighborhood this past summer. The store’s easy to bike to, but where does one put the bike once there?

My own unscientific survey of businesses shows that very few do this, though. Only one of the four supermarkets within a 20-minute bike ride of my residence, for instance, has a bike rack on its premises.

The situation in the more pedestrian-oriented business districts is not much better. There’s car parking in the rear of several Castor Avenue stores, but no accommodation for bikes. The sidewalks are also wide enough that sidewalk bike racks could be installed without impeding pedestrian flow, but again, no such creatures exist.

The experience with even limited bike infrastructure demonstrates that bike infrastructure brings more bicyclists out of the woodwork and makes both driving and bicycling safer as motorists get used to seeing bicyclists on the street. Other districts like the Lower Northeast have similar potential–my home’s Bike Score matches the citywide average, for instance. If local business owners put out the welcome mat for bicyclists as they do for drivers, they might find more customers arriving by bike.

About the author

Sandy Smith has been engaging in journalism and its hired-gun cousin, public relations, in Philadelphia for nearly 30 years. He started award-winning newspapers at the University of Pennsylvania as part of a team and at Widener University all by himself. He has a passionate interest in cities and urban development, which he gets to indulge as editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia Real Estate Blog, and in trains and mass transit, which he indulges wherever and whenever he gets the chance. (You may know him as "MarketStEl" if you lurk on Philadelphia Speaks.)


  1. Have you tried contacting the store manager and asking to have a bike rack installed? My sister did that with her local Giant…it was as easy as making a single phone call.

  2. Hey Sandy, here’s a tip for you: Many parking lots have handicapped spots with signposts. You can tie up to those, which are often behind those wheel-stopping doodads so you’re fairly safe from getting your bike rammed.


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