Motorcycle parking: do you need it?

| May 30, 2013 | 0 Comments

Maybe. You might need motorcycle parking, depending on where your lot is, and how big it is. But it’s controversial; information on how best to account for the two-wheeled is thin on the proverbial ground.

Those of us who want smaller, greener parking lots might be inclined to see a finely articulated system in which every type of vehicle has its own designated spots as an elegant, efficient way to make the best possible use of space. Motorcycle parking plays into that nicely – if motorcycles are currently taking up expansive parking spots, wasting space, why not just shrink your lot by shrinking the proportion of full-sized spots likely to be taken up by bikes at any given time, trading them for spots designated for motorcycles?

Scooters parked in special parking spots

How many spots does your lot need to have to make this worthwhile? Surprisingly, no one really knows. From ganesha.isis.

The National Parking Association’s fifth edition of Dimensions of Parking explains why parking geared toward small vehicles, while laudable, can be self-defeating. Long story short, compact car parking makes perfect sense if you have a 100% enforcement rate – but that’s tough to manage. As the NPA points out,

If small-vehicle spaces are in a convenient location, drivers of intermediate or even larger vehicles may park in the small-vehicle spaces, thus impeding traffic flow and compromising both the safety and comfort of turning for other users. Moreover, when large vehicles are parked in small-vehicle parking spaces, they often encroach into the adjacent parking spaces, creating a ripple effect along the row that eventually renders a parking space unusable – and negates the improved efficiency offered by small-vehicle parking spaces. On the other hand, if small-vehicle spaces are placed at inconvenient locations, small-vehicle drivers may park their vehicles in standard-sized spaces, forcing later-arriving large vehicles into small-vehicle parking spaces. In sum, specially located small-vehicle spaces are not effective unless a facility is policed to prevent the drivers of large vehicles from using small-vehicle spaces, and vice versa. (p. 60)

So compact car parking is dead because of the tricky choices visitors are confronted with, and the savings in space won’t generally justify the extra enforcement needed to make sure everyone goes where they’re supposed to. (Compact car parking presents other difficulties, but this one is the most germane to motorcycle parking.)

Car parked in bikes only spot

Why motorcycle only parking may not work as well as we want it to, unless you make enforcement a priority. Via c.j.b.

All that said, while making up a little over 2.5% of America’s traffic, there are plenty of places where motorbikes are common enough to be worthwhile to plan for, but motorcycle traffic is strangely absent from broader discussion of parking requirements – sources often assume that the only distinction to be drawn is between accessible parking spots and those used by the general population.

A 2007 study by Wayne Cottrell of California State Polytechnic University is one of very few resources available. By looking at the ratio of motorcycle registrations against all other vehicles on a state-by-state basis, as well as the average size of motorcycle chassis and a comprehensive evaluation of all available parking ratio recommendations, Cottrell recommends the following:

Motorcycle parking stall dimensions: 4.5 ft by 8 ft
Motorcycle equivalency factor: 4 motorcycle stalls = 1 auto stall
Motorcycle parking stalls: 1 per 24 automobile parking stalls in Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
1 per 36 automobile parking stalls in Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington.
1 per 48 automobile parking stalls in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, and Utah.
1 per 60 automobile parking stalls in Arizona, District of Columbia, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia.

Note that these recommendations don’t tell us what the lower limit for motorcycle parking should be, or how well-documented shifts in transport modalities should change the kinds of parking we require. They do, however, take into account the proportion of drivers who are likely to be on motorbikes.

Reserved for motorcycle parking sign

From’s motorcycle parking sign department.

A few questions left open:

  • Is it worthwhile to have any motorcycle parking whatsoever below a certain threshold? For example, if you have 24 spots in Colorado, should you have a minimum of one motorcycle parking spot, when it will likely be difficult for anyone on a hog to locate or recognize the spot? How about if you meet the recommended minimum of 36?
  • Given the NPA’s critique of compact car spots, should motorcycle parking be located in convenient or inconvenient locations, or somewhere in between? Where’s the best place for motorcycle parking?
  • What do vehicle use trends tell us about how many motorcycles we can expect on the road in twenty or thirty years, when parking lots built today will still be in use? Although it can be difficult to predict driving patterns that far in the future – as planners in the 1970s found out – there may still be some signal amid the noise.

Unfortunately, definitive answers are still in short supply.

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Category: Regulations