As an avid biker on Vassar’s campus, I’m generally quite pleased with the quality of biking amenities here. However, Gordon Commons, commonly known as the Deece, remains a contentious spot for bike parking. Though a new set of racks has been installed, it is not sufficient space, nor close enough to the Deece to discourage parking on the handrails.
Don’t get me wrong, Vassar is a very bike-friendly campus. In fact, as of 2020, The League of American Bicyclists gave Vassar a silver rank among bike-friendly colleges. Only 221 schools nationwide receive any ranking at all, whether platinum, gold, silver or bronze. Bike parking is widely available in most spots across campus, allowing me to bike to and from classes frequently. Vassar even has its own bike shop, where students repair other students’ bikes and your bike can be serviced, often at no cost. The shop fixed a flat tire of mine just last week and was very helpful.
Most of the bike parking on campus comes in the form of what are called “wave” style racks, though more recent installations have been “staple” style (also called U-racks). There are some sets of racks that connect only to wheels, such as those found at the residential houses, but almost all public, frequently used locations have wave or staple. Wave parking can be found directly on either side of the Deece, near the College Center, near the Thompson Library, etc., and staple style can be found by the Bridge, between Swift and Metcalf, and, as of September, by a large installation between the Deece and Noyes, among other locations.
Staple racks are considered safer than the wave racks, since you can attach both wheels to the rack in addition to the frame, according to Reliance Foundry. However, the racks are also much less space-efficient, because you can only fit one bike on each staple. The rack near Metcalf and Swift halls has six staples, so only six bikes can fit there at a time. If there were a wave rack of the same footprint, it would be able to fit twice as many bikes.
The wave racks near the Deece were largely overwhelmed towards the beginning of the year; I found it to be more consistently busy than most racks on campus. One of the most popular destinations on campus, it only had capacity for 26 bikes, while the library racks, for example, have a capacity of 38. In September, there were 20 staple racks added between the Deece and Noyes, adding the same number of bike spots. More parking is great, but this addition is frustrating to me for two reasons.
One, as mentioned, staple racks are inferior to wave racks in density, and while the security of locking a bike to a staple rack can be greater, most cyclists on campus don’t take the cautions to lock in this especially safe way, where the frame and both wheels are locked to the rack. However, by observation this past Tuesday night, of the 15 bikes parked at 20 available spots by the Deece, not one of them had all three elements locked. And only three of the 15 had the frame and one of the wheels locked. The greater space efficiency of the wave racks would be more helpful and utilized than the safety offered by the staple racks.
Two, the bike racks are still at a distance from the Deece. We use bikes so that we don’t have to walk as much, and cyclists, as well as students in general, are often in a hurry. If there isn’t available bike parking in the immediate vicinity of the destination, many people will lock their bikes onto railings or other implements.
Locking bikes to the handrails is terrible, as it gets in the way of all pedestrians and cyclists, especially disabled community members. Since the bikes will often jut out into the pathway, it hinders accessibility for people who need the handrails to get up to the Deece (as the AEO Office has made known recently with flyers at the handrails). I recently saw someone lock a scooter to the wheelchair accessible ramp railing, which is just as egregious.
While the additional parking was added to prevent cyclists from parking on the handrails, it is not working as well as it could be if the racks had greater capacity and were closer to the Deece. To this end, I think a new wave rack installation on the concrete corner to the right, directly in front of the Deece would be much more effective in solving the problem. I always check if there is space in the wave racks before parking on the staples, so this addition would certainly be used.
Parking on the handrails is unacceptable, and I support any measures the College takes to prevent it. Yet, to stop cyclists from doing so, we need adequate and convenient parking amenities.