Minneapolis lags behind in bike corrals

The city currently has one corral but hopes to increase the amount.

Brian Arola

Minneapolis and Portland, Ore., are constantly compared on their bicycle-friendliness, but the northwest cycling haven laps Minneapolis in at least one metric: bike corrals.

With just one bike corral, or on-street bike rack, in the city, Minneapolis lags not only behind Portland’s 97, but also other cities like San Francisco, Seattle and New York City.

That could change, however, as the wheels are in motion to smooth over the process businesses go through to obtain the corrals.

Sam Newberg, a founding member of Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub, said he’s been working with city officials to obtain a corral for the Powderhorn business. He said Northbound is one of several businesses in the city that could use on-street bicycle parking.

“I do believe that there are a lot of commercial corners that could easily accommodate a bike corral,” he said.

By Portland’s standards, a business would regularly need to attract 10 or more bicycles to make a bike corral feasible. Northbound meets that threshold, Newberg said.

Minneapolis City Councilwoman Sandy Colvin Roy heard about Northbound’s desire for a bike corral and said she hopes to make the process easier.

The current problem, she said, is that the process isn’t clearly defined.

“We’re sort of in a territory where it hasn’t been done very much,” she said.

Newberg said businesses currently have to acquire an encroachment permit to get bike corrals, which isn’t ideal because the corrals, which are on-street, are put into the same category as patios, furniture and tables.

Colvin Roy said that should be changed in light of the city’s friendly view toward cycling.

“We’re treating biking as transportation, so I don’t think making space for bicycles to park should be considered an encroachment anymore,” she said.

Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood has the only bike corral in the city.

The restaurant obtained a bike corral permit about four years ago, and it has been used steadily during the warm-weather months, general manager Rick Oknick said. 

The Birchwood Cafe is known as a bike-friendly business — the corral, which holds about 10 to 15 spots for bikes, pushes its bike capacity up to about 70 spots.

Other business owners have inquired about the process of obtaining a corral, Oknick said, adding that he’d back them in their application process.

“We absolutely support anybody in our neighborhood that is trying to achieve this goal,” he said. “It’s been a wonderful asset for the Birchwood.”

Bike corrals would actually free up space for pedestrians on the sidewalk, Colvin Roy said — and that’s one of many benefits bike corrals have provided for Portland, city bicycle coordinator Roger Geller said.

With 97 bike corrals on the streets, Portland has by far the most in the country. Geller said since the businesses request them, there haven’t been any complaints regarding the bike corrals since the city started installing them in 2004.

“A more typical complaint is, ‘Why aren’t you removing my on-street car parking fast enough to get my bicycle corral in?’” he said, adding that Portland has about a two-year waiting list for businesses to get bike corrals.

In other cities, however, some neighborhoods have opposed bike corrals.

New York City, which currently has about 12 corrals, had a dispute between a business that received a corral and a neighborhood that opposed it.

Colvin Roy said corrals would only be approved in areas known to have high bicycle traffic. She said she looks forward to working with public works and zoning officials on making corrals work efficiently.

Installing more bicycle corrals is the next logical  step for Minneapolis to take in adding to its pro-bicycling reputation, she said.

“Altogether, this has got to add to our city being bike-friendly if you give bikers a secure place out of the pedestrians’ way and out of moving traffic to park their bikes,” she said.

And although Portland currently outpaces Minneapolis in bike corrals, Newberg said formalizing a process to install corrals will quickly bridge the gap between the two bicycle-friendly cities.

“If Minneapolis had approved a process to formalize this, we’d probably be even with Portland,” he said. “I don’t think it’ll take long to catch up to that 97.”