We could use another major bike parking facility downtown. There are a few racks here and there, but I am thinking about taking this to a new level: Repurpose that vacant storefront in the Union Trust Building at Fifth and Grant.
Until not long ago, it was an upscale men's clothing store. I do not quite know why it closed. Perhaps it was the lack of other nearby retail, or maybe because of it, as Macy's is almost across the street. In any case, the space is just the size for storing a couple hundred bikes. It is also right in the middle of a very dense employment district, with several large buildings nearby that have no or nearly no bike parking facilities. BNY Mellon 2 a block away does, but that cannot be used by anyone else.
I work directly across Fifth Avenue in the Frick Building, 20 floors full of office workers with no bike facilities at all, nor any obvious place to put them nearby. For a while, I was tying up my low-end bike in an old "toaster" rack on the portico of the City-County Building, diagonally across Forbes and Grant, but even that is undersized, insecure, and subject to pre-emption by events. If even 10 more people tried to tie up there, from Frick or City-County or the Courthouse, that would be overcapacity. More recently, I have begun locking up a more expensive bike to a sturdy railing in a parking garage on Cherry Way, but the strong smell of stale urine in that corner hardly makes for a warm welcome each day or a reassuring feeling upon departure. For all that, it too can only hold about 20 bikes.
The Union Trust corner storefront is an odd shape, with an even odder split level section, and window fronts that take up a lot of square footage. With a little thought and inspired architecture, that spot could handle a couple hundred bikes. Maybe on hooks? I don't care specifically how; that's a design issue best left to the experts. I would rather address establishing that the need exists, or inducing it, and initiating discussion of initial financing and ongoing operations. Yes, I do think there is a market for storing 500 bikes.
One thing such a space would do is provide legitimacy. Sure, here and there we can ask for and get a smattering of bike racks, and Bike-Pgh has done a wonderful job of getting hundreds of these installed throughout the city. These are excellent for the quick shopper -- the ice cream cone, the cup of coffee, a quick lunch. Less obvious is the need to tie up a nice bike for 10 hours straight, for all-day workers. Or 100 bikes. Or 500 bikes. Putting a formal bike parking facility in a high visibility location like this promotes the concept itself. In short, just having it there establishes the need.
There would be startup costs: Design, legalities, renovation, equipment purchase, installation. There would be operating costs: Leasing, electricity, communications, security. I am not trying for an exhaustive list so much as to acknowledge that they exist, and somehow must be paid for. Nor is it untrod territory, as we already have something like it on 7th Street. I suspect it will not pay for itself, at least at first, and perhaps not ever. It's a problem, but solvable. What's it to the city to be able to accommodate 500 cyclists? What's it to PAT to either accommodate cyclists who bus their bike downtown, or who bike all the way downtown so as to free up a seat for someone who cannot bike in from a bikeable area? Would the owners, property managers, and tenants of the Frick and Union Trust Buildings, the William Penn Hotel, the Courthouse, BNY Mellon 1, and Macy's, kick in a few bucks apiece to make it easier to tie up there? Can those called for jury duty be assigned temporary access for the few days they will need to be in town? All of these could be asked. Should be asked.
Amenities? We at least need a spot to tie up a $1,500 bike with the reasonable assurance that it will be there to ride home, with all the pieces still attached and intact, nine hours later. Video record everything from several angles 24/7/365 so any attempts at wrongdoing will be captured to pass along to law enforcement. Maybe this will not guarantee no thefts will occur, but it can make it a lot harder to get away with.
Let's also have, at minimum, some tools available so minor repairs can be made. I would like to see a fully operational bike repair shop there, too, but I at least need to be able to pump up a low tire at 8 p.m. after the shop staff has gone home. I would like to be able to wipe the chain grease off my hands before I walk into work. No toilet necessary, just a unisex sink with soap.
Pittsburgh is not the first place to do this, nor would this be the first place in Pittsburgh. But it may be the first at this level of seriousness, a public accessible central storage facility. Could it be expanded to handle a 1,000-bike jukebox? Shower facilities? Cleaning and detailing service? Maybe. Let's learn how to walk before we try running, though. We more need to accommodate the growing bike population than someplace to purchase an Ermenegildo Zegna shirt.