06 October 2009

Practical Symbolism in DC

DC Bike Parking Outside Union Station
It's the new bicycle parking terminal outside Union Station in Washington, DC. Opening very soon, if not already. There'll be, if I recall correctly, parking for 150 bicycles, a shop/workshop, changing rooms for the cyclists who go too fast [:-)] and lockers. Outside of opening hours subscribers can gain access with a card.

It's a useful and practical addition to the city but it's much, much more than that. Firstly, it's an eye-catching design. A little architectural monument. It sends many more signals than "see, I'm a pretty, modern building!" It sends signals to the city at large that the bicycle isn't really going anywhere. That the people riding bicycles you're seeing around town are here to stay. There may even be more on the way. Get used to it.

It's an important visual landmark that with it's permanence is telling the citizens that bicycles are, and deserve to be, an accepted, respected and increasingly established transport form.
DC Bike Parking Interior2
It wasn't open yet when I visited but here's one of the employees parking his bike.

This symbolism is all a part of marketing bicycle culture. It's quite simple, really. It's like sitting someone down in a chair and showing them an endless stream of flash cards. Bicycle symbols, parking, pictograms, bike lanes, cycle tracks, bicycles in all styles and colours, people using them in the urban theatre.

After a time, a sense of recognition and of permanence will filter through into the person's consciousness. Show enough positive flash cards and they will gradually accept the motives on them and perhaps they will even be encouraged enough to try a bike for themselves.

On the other hand, if you keep flashing images of danger and destruction, the person's prejudices will merely be enforced and confirmed. No bike in their future.
DC Bike Parking Interior
Here's the bike racks once again. It's a bold move, a brash symbol. Nice.
Dual Symbolism
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the city, dual symbolism in play. :-)

Addendum:
This just in from Catharine:
We're open! Bike and Roll Washington DC (bikethesites.com) is managing the building and offering rentals, retail and service (tours will begin spring 2010) Memberships for secure parking is handled by Bikestation (bikestation.com). Memberships can be arranged online or in our shop m(though either way, Bikestation will need to mail you a fob/access key. We're psyched to be there - glad you stopped by and were able to check it out.

21 comments:

kfg said...

Well, if they have to put up ugly public art, at least make it a place you can park your bike.

That last picture is just too much. I'm dyin'.

Duncan said...
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Duncan said...

Nice bike rack, looks similar to the GO Transit bike shelter toppers in Ontario, CAN:

http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1004/3173740973_ef8bcbb373.jpg

Adrienne Johnson said...

One day, in a brighter future, San Francisco will have things like this. When selfish, self important nabobs are no longer holding my City hostage in court. One day.

Kim said...

wow, I wish we had bike sheds like that in Edinburgh...

Catharine said...

We're open! Bike and Roll Washington DC (bikethesites.com) is managing the building and offering rentals, retail and service (tours will begin spring 2010) Memberships for secure parking is handled by Bikestation (bikestation.com). Memberships can be arranged online or in our shop m(though either way, Bikestation will need to mail you a fob/access key. We're psyched to be there - glad you stopped by and were able to check it out.

Peter said...

i don't like hating on bike stuff, but that 'building' is the ugliest thing i've seen in a long time. i wish we could have the community sign off on these projects.

KDT said...
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KDT said...

Aesthetics of the structure aside, I like the point that it makes about bikes being a permanent part of the city. It's the same impact I got the first time I saw the bike parking at the Nørreport station in CPH. Like here.

(Sorry, earlier post's tag didn't take.)

Daniel said...

I happen to like the design. It's bold and fresh. Besides, we've met our quota for Greek Revival facades. I just signed up and I look forward to trying it out!

kfg said...

"I happen to like the design."

Takes all kinds I guess.

"It's bold and fresh."

So is a tooooooomer.

". . .we've met our quota for Greek Revival facades."

Way the hell over, I'd say, but I don't think plopping postmodern warts pseudorandomly about the place is the cure. Still, I can hardly disapprove of the function; may there be much more of that.

Sue the convict said...

so jealous!

the opoponax said...

I so agree with your "flash card" idea.

You know what finally got me onto a bike, even though I was a little worried it was "dangerous"? There were certainly many reasons, but the thing that caused me to resolve "I am buying a bike this weekend," was the supervised bike parking at my local park's free summer concert series. It just seemed like such a sign that this is not something that is going away. It all just suddenly seemed so real, and so simple. And I decided I couldn't not be a part of this.

Kiwehtin said...

Now THIS is an improvement! How I wish it was there when I lived there in 2003-2005! Union Station bike parking at the time was a bunch of some four long racks that saw low to medium use, further along toward the back of the building (in the parking area, just next to the large arch you see in the background on the right in several of the photos. It was accompanied by a legal notice that Union Station was not responsible for any theft of bicycles, and constantly had seedy types hanging around who broadcast a vibe that they were itchin' to get hold of one of the bikes there...

I taught at Gallaudet University, about 10 minute's ride up 8th Street NE, and often biked down to Union Station for lunch because the choice of food was the best in the area.

I chanced the racks several times, other times locking my bike up against a post on the opposite sidewalk on 1st Street just below (across the street, just to the left of where the new parking shelter is, actually). This on the theory that the constant pedestrian traffic along that sidewalk and the nearby intersection would make for watchful eyes that would keep it safe. The last time I did that was the day when I returned from lunch to find my bike was no longer there...

Having a facility like this - and especially such a well-sheltered one - would probably have helped a lot, especially being in a much more high-traffic area near the front entrance colonnade. I'm glad to see the people responsible had the good idea of installing it, and installing it where they did!

kfg said...

"This on the theory that . . . watchful eyes . . . would keep it safe."

My watching eyes have revealed to me that watching eyes watch people steal your bike. We live in the "don't get involved" society now.

The thieves have figured this out as well. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

I agree - it's a big bike-shed. It's great!

You can see if anyone's lurking at night before you go in. I think I'd have to be there to decide whether it's ugly or cute - but if it's ugly, it's easier to changes as concrete and girders - and its big, and it's a bike shed, and it's great.
WeeE

Jonathan Dickerson said...

With all this talk about Washington DC I wanted to bring this to your attention:

http://www.atatrail.org/

It's a non-motorized system of trails that goes from Pittsburgh (my stomping grounds) all the way to Washington DC. Over 300 gorgeous miles!

kfg said...

Here in NY we have a 300 mile trail from Albany to Buffalo-o. LOW bridge, everybody down. LOW Bridge . . .

Oh, sorry.

Well, it's SUPPOSED to be 300 miles, but it has discontinuities. Many of them slated to be closed this very year, but with the economy as it and more people turning to cycling the money is not being made available so that they might build up the motorways.

Yay!

Transportgooru said...

I was there at Union Station last night and the bike station looks even more beautiful in the night with all that gorgeous lighting. Very space-age like.

Andy

craig said...

important work you guys are doing getting cycling ingrained in popular consciencness! Thankyou

Kate S said...

What a coincidence! Here in Toronto we opened up a Bicycle Station at Union Station in May! http://www.toronto.ca/cycling/bicycle-station/ Power to secure bicycle parking! yay!