City may add bike racks as street art - Sculptures would offer pedal parking

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Chicago Tribune (IL) - Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Author: John Byrne, Tribune Reporter

Chicago bicyclists soon will be getting a little culture with their theft deterrence if the City Council approves a plan to allow artists to design special racks for riders to lock up their bikes.

Neighborhood groups and chambers of commerce would pay for the racks and get a lot of say in picking the designs under a measure the council's Transportation Committee adopted Monday.

Ald. Vi Daley, 43rd, hopes the first sculpted bike racks will pop up on Clark Street in Lincoln Park. "I think it's an opportunity for artists to get exposure, and I also think it's a good thing for the city," she said. The idea heads to the full council Wednesday.

Artist-designed bike racks have become a draw in Louisville, Ky., since a downtown association started commissioning them nine years ago.

"We absolutely have people who come down here to see them," said Ken Herndon, the group's director of operations, of the city's 32 artistic racks.

Daley, no relation to the mayor, said it's doubtful the rack art will be as popular as Chicago's 1999 "Cows on Parade," but hopes it becomes a destination for people who then stay to shop at neighborhood stores.

The city caught lightning in a bottle with the 320 decorated fiberglass cows, which grazed on sidewalks around town. They were a hit with Chicagoans and tourists.

City officials have tried futilely since then to recapture the public imagination. Chicago Ping Pong Festival 2000 failed to foster as much love with its 300 pingpong tables scattered around the city. And "Suite Home Chicago" drew mixed reviews in 2001 for its decorated fiberglass furniture.

Even if they don't receive bovine acclaim, the art racks still will fill a real need, according to Adolfo Hernandez, director of advocacy for the Active Transportation Alliance.

The 10,000 racks now in place around Chicago aren't meeting bikers' demands, Hernandez said.

The parking meters that long augmented the racks as places for cyclists to lock up have largely been removed in favor of pay boxes as part of the city's parking meter lease.

"We're actually talking about a reduction in bike parking by the removal of those parking meters," he said.