Dude, where can I park my bike?

City Council passed an ordinance on Monday that changes where (and for how long) you can lock your bike to City property. Here’s what you need to know.

City Council passed an ordinance on Monday that changes how–and for how long– bicyclists can lock their bikes to City property. The ordinance has caused some confusion, so I spoke with Jakob Helmboldt, the City’s Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Trail Coordinator, to make some sense of it.

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So, what does this ordinance do?

Well, according to Helmboldt the ordinance “doesn’t change anything so much as it provides clarity and reduces ambiguity.”

For one, it states that people can’t lock bikes to City-owned trees. The Code of Ordinances already stipulated that other objects couldn’t be attached to trees, “but it [didn’t] specifically enumerate bikes,” Helmboldt said. It does now.

What about locking your bike up to stop signs, meters, and bike racks?

It’s still perfectly legal to lock your bike to City-owned signs, meters, and bike racks.1 The new ordinance only addresses how inoperable bikes and ignored bikes are dealt with.

What’s an inoperable bike?

Inoperable bikes are those that are missing a critical component to work, like a wheel or handlebars (inoperable bikes are often called dead bikes). Often, these bikes are picked for parts over time so that only the frame remains. They’re eyesores and take up parking spaces that perfectly good bikes could use.

Under the ordinance, police can remove these inoperable bikes that are locked to City property after 72 hours. But Helmboldt said police won’t likely patrol these bikes because, honestly, they have more important things to worry about. Instead, police will rely on public complaints and periodic sweeps to remove inoperable bikes.

Can police remove operable bikes too?

Yes, but police are only concerned with operable bikes that are locked to City property that don’t move for at least 10 consecutive days. Helmboldt said it’s very unlikely that police will remove an operable bike on the tenth consecutive day it’s been locked to City property–it’ll be the bikes that haven’t moved for several weeks, if not months, that police will focus on.

And once police decide an ignored bike is eligible for removal, officers will still apply a bright orange tag to it, indicating to the owner that the bike will be removed 10 days from when it was tagged. If after the next 10 days the bike is still there, police will impound it.

What if my working bike is impounded because I was sick or away?

If your bike is impounded, it can be retrieved at no cost up to 30 days after impoundment. You just have to prove that you own it (that’s when having the serial number of your bike comes in handy).

Why is this ordinance good for biking in RVA?

Several reasons. For one, it makes streets look better to have ugly, inoperable bikes removed. Taking away ignored bikes also frees up needed space for a growing bike community.

Seeing bikes stripped of important parts like wheels and handlebars also makes people think there’s a lot of bicycle theft and vandalism. If that’s what people believe, they may not use City-property to lock up their bikes. Removing dead bikes from view should make people feel more confident that their bike won’t be stolen or picked for parts.

Anything else in the ordinance that I should know?

Yes. It removed an existing provision that enabled the City to remove bikes locked to City property simply because they weren’t properly registered. “That’s definitely a non-bike friendly provision in our city code,” Helmboldt said–and now it’s no longer there.

I wasn’t paying attention…what did you say again?

Don’t lock your bike to a City-owned tree. Ever.

It’s OK to lock your bike to City signs, meters, and bike racks. If your bike gets vandalized and you can’t use it, make sure you remove the frame and remaining parts. Otherwise it’ll be impounded by police as soon as 72 hours (but likely much later) after someone notices that it’s inoperable.

Avoid leaving your bike locked to City property for more than 10 days. If you do, there’s a chance it’ll be impounded.

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  1. According to Helmboldt, the City installed 120 post-and-ring racks across the city last year. This summer, over 100 more will be installed, particularly in Church Hill, the Fan, and Carytown. 

photo by Risager

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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