A bike parking bill goes to city hall hill

Sign our petition to tell Seattle City Council you support better bike parking.

The City of Seattle has a goal of becoming a true cycling city where one in eight trips are made by bicycle by 2030, whether it’s commuting to work, errands for grocery shopping, or going out to the movies.

But we can have only as many people biking as there are safe, convenient places to park our bikes. With apartment bike rooms across the city are already packed , we need more and better bike parking to become a true cycling city.

Fortunately, right now, we have an opportunity to improve bike parking. Before the Seattle City Council is legislation to reform the city code that regulates parking requirements in new development, including bicycle parking.

For the past two years (and more), Bicycle Security Advisors has worked with city planners and councilmembers to ensure this code update would meet our city’s bicycling goals and would compare favorably with national best practices. We are especially thankful to Gordon Clowers at the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections, and Councilmembers Rob Johnson, Mike O’Brien, Sally Bagshaw, and Teresa Mosqueda and their staff for being engaged and supportive throughout the process.

We are excited by the proposed parking code update and believe the proposed legislation is already a tremendous start.  However, there’s still more to do to make sure this code update hits the mark. 

What’s great

  1. One set of standards.  The current code has three sets of bike parking standards: (1) citywide, (2) urban centers and station-area overlay districts, and (3) downtown.  Not only has this been needlessly confusing, but the ratios were also counterintuitive with downtown having the lowest bicycle parking requirements despite being the neighborhood with the most commuters.  By establishing one set of standards, Seattle will treat all new development fairly across the city and reduce regulatory complication.
  2. Improved ratios.  In general, the new ratios for required bicycle parking requirements are significantly improved.  
    1. The best improvement by far is eliminating the provision that reduces bicycle parking requirements in downtown by half after 50 spaces, which leaves many large office and residential buildings without sufficient bicycle parking.  
    2. The new provision of rounding up the requirements provides clarity on how to provide otherwise fractional long-term and short-term bicycle parking.
    3. The new baseline minimum of 1 bicycle parking space per 10,000 square-feet will prevent any land use from slipping through the requirements table.
    4. Using the current Urban Center / SAO ratios as the baseline for the updated table ensures that Seattle will generally not move backwards on its ratios.  In many cases, such as long-term parking at religious facilities and short-term parking at restaurants and cafes, the ratios are much improved.
  3. Showers. Modeled after Portland’s bicycle parking requirement to provide showers, the code update requires showers in office buildings over 100,000 square-feet. Seattle’s wet winters and increasingly hot summers, leave people who bike wet from either precipitation or perspiration at the end of their commute.  Buildings with thousands of employees should make sure these commuters have the facilities necessary to be ready for work and to not be dissuaded from bike commuting.

What needs improvement

  1. Establish clearer authority for SDOT to set rules, guidelines, and criteria for bike parking.
    The current code provides some authority for SDOT to establish rules and criteria for bike parking.  However, the way it’s written doesn’t necessarily authorize SDOT to establish rules and criteria for all the provisions within the bike parking code. In addition, with the forthcoming Bike Parking Guidelines, it’s important that the code specifically authorize SDOT and SDCI to establish and use those guidelines.
  2. Improve enforcement
    To improve enforcement and ensure new land uses are compliant, we recommend requiring approval not just during the construction of the building, but also for the certificate of occupancy of a new business, especially when the land use changes.
  3. Exempt bike parking and showers from Floor Area Ratio (FAR) maximums across the city.
    Currently, bicycle parking and showers are exempt from the city’s FAR maximums in downtown and city-wide for microhousing development. These exemptions help encourage bike parking facilities to be on the ground floor instead of in difficult find locations within dark parking garages. We strongly believe that this exemption should apply to the rest of the city for all land uses so developers aren’t penalized for providing high-quality bike parking at ground level, near the main pedestrian entrances.
  4. Align required bike parking ratios for development with the 12.5% bike commute share target.
    Unless each building has the capacity to accommodate the city’s bike commute share target, we will not be able to achieve the target. While SDCI’s proposal has improved the bike parking ratios for several land uses, additional increases need to be made, especially restaurants, entertainment venues, child care centers, religious facilities, K-12 schools, multi-family structures, and rail transit centers.
  5. Require convenient locations for bike parking, and encourage ground floor bike rooms.
    Making bicycling convenient is essential for encouraging more people to bike. We recommend encouraging bike parking be located on the ground floor rather than in parking garages through: the FAR exemption and specific design direction; requiring short-term bike parking to be within 50 feet of the entrance (for each land use); and eliminating the allowance for long-term bike parking to be 100 or 600 feet away from a development project.
  6. Accommodate a fuller range of people’s abilities and bicycles types
    Quadrupling bicycle ridership by 2030 will mean that people of a greater range of abilities and strength will be riding bikes.  This necessitates ensuring more bike parking where people do not have to lift their bikes onto vertical racks.  In addition, electric and cargo bikes are the fastest growing segments of the bike sales markets and have different spatial requirements than typical commuter bikes. We recommend providing specific legislative language authorizing SDOT to set guidelines and criteria for new development to provide long-term bike parking for a fuller range of people’s abilities and bicycle types.
  7. Set a minimum square-footage per bicycle requirement
    Frequently developers inadequately size bike rooms and cages to provide the required amount of long-term bike parking.  Permit reviewers have difficulty in knowing whether a bike room will be of sufficient size.  While SDOT’s forthcoming Bike Parking Guidelines will provide more direction on spacing of bike racks and layout, having a minimum square-footage per bicycle requirement would provide an easy quick check for SDCI permit reviewers to determine whether a bike room will be big enough.  We recommend establishing a minimum requirement of 9 square-feet per bike.
  8. Allow bike valet
    Large special events and entertainment activities are ideal activities for people to bike to.  These activities also can cause significant traffic congestion concerns for which bicycling can help alleviate.  San Francisco’s and Oakland’s bike parking codes both mandate large public events to provide bike valet, and Portland strongly encourages it through its special event permitting process.  Likewise, we believe entertainment venues should be allowed to meet their short-term bike parking requirements through valet services and large special events should be required to provide bike valet as well.
  9. Plan for bikeshare
    We strongly recommend enabling SDOT to establish and adapt new rules and guidelines for developers to design and provide space for free-floating, private bikeshare. There could be up to 20,000 bikeshare bikes on our streets in the next year. We do not yet have all the solutions for how these bikes should be accommodated, but we do know that we need to proactively design our sidewalk furnishing zones and building frontages in ways that provide convenient access to the bikes and keep our pedestrian and access ways clear. As these thousands of new bikes show up on our streets and sidewalks, the city will need to quickly adjust rules and regulations to adapt to the changing environment.


Our recommendations are detailed in our two-page fact sheet and in-line edits of recommended changes to the legislation.

Legislative Timeline

Seattle City Council’s Planning, Land Use & Zoning Committee will have a formal public hearing on the legislation on Wednesday, February 7, 9:30 a.m.  We expect city council to final action on the legislation by the end of March.

How you can help take action

Please sign our petition to tell Seattle City Council you support better bike parking.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *