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The Economics of the Bike Valet

012009_0413

Bikes parked at the 2009 Presidential Inauguration

We announced on Facebook earlier today that we will not be able to provide a bike valet for the Stewart/Colbert Rally this weekend, and have since been inundated with calls and emails asking why. The short answer is: parking isn’t free. Not even for bikes.

We can run valets of all sizes, and our determination of whether we can do the valet comes down to a combination of the following factors:
(1) Is the valet needed & will it encourage folks to bike?
(2) Can we find a way to ensure we will cover our costs?
(3) Will we be able to make a little money to put toward our advocacy and outreach efforts?

Bike valets are a balancing act. Sometimes we’ll accept the loss of a little money if it means we can encourage a ton of people to bike. Sometimes we’ll do a valet where we don’t think it will be heavily used if it allows us fund further bike advocacy efforts or WABA programming.

But as the scale gets larger, the risks go up for us.

We have enough racks stored at strategic locations around the city that we can handle the valet for neighborhood events on the scale of the H Street Festival or Adams Morgan Day. But when the numbers start reaching into the thousands, we have to find auxiliary bike racks. And while we can use our few hundred feet of snow fencing to ensure the security of a small rack, we have to use real event barriers for the larger valets.

And with all that equipment comes rental fees. And rental fees for the vehicles to carry them, as we can no longer carry them by bike. And extra time to pickup, set up, take down, and return the equipment.

Then there’s the staff time to do all this prep work. And printing of valet tickets and supplies. (Not to mention permits to operate at the event in the first place, outreach to let folks know where the valets are located, and the million phone calls to coordinate all the logistics.)

Phew.

But all that said, we LOVE to do it. We think valets are a huge inducement to event attendees to choose to go by bike, and that’s what we’re all about. WABA is extremely proud of its valets. We do them the most professionally and reliably. And we’re especially proud to have done the largest single-day bike valet in the nation for the President’s 2009 Inauguration.

But it takes time. It takes coordination. And it takes money.

Just like event organizers have to pay for the toilets or go without, they have to pay for the bike valet or go without. The only difference is that I don’t think the toilet guys really care if Jon Stewart’s rally has a toilet. We tried REALLY hard (as our Facebook fans know) to do this valet because we REALLY want people to be able to arrive by bike. But it didn’t work out this time.

If you want bike valets in the future, let event organizers know that you expect it. And let NPS know that you’d like to see bike parking considered when they’re granting permits for giant rallies and events in our backyard.

(And while on the topic, we would be remiss not to thank the DC Department of Transportation for its longstanding support of bike valets. They are the reason that DC has historically been so well-served by bike valets at events on the National Mall, and have helped us get to the point that the bike valet is expected at major area events. They have frequently stepped in to cover WABA’s costs for these services when the organizations hosting the events and the federal agencies overseeing the events have balked at providing a much-demanded service.)

But it’s time for event organizers to realize that for these large-scale events, bike parking soon won’t be just another optional amenity, but will be a logistical necessity. Like toilets.

7 comments
dumela7
dumela7

Hmm, any chance there will be a WABA bike valet for the 2013 inauguration? It was so amazing in 2009! I see dc is planning a "few hundred" spots at 16th and I on a first come first serve basis. That will fall far short. I sure hope there is funding to help make this possible!

Nicolle
Nicolle

I was wondering about this. Thanks for the recap. There was nothing listed on the "how to get there" section of the rally website about bikes. I complained on the facebook page for the event about it. Someone responded in a confused manner so I clarified, hopefully educating one person about the option to bike around DC as transportation. It is hard to figure out how to get our voices heard about bikes. There seemed to be enough bike parking at normal racks & signposts around downtown.. A friend and I chained up near Archives metro stop, where the crowd became too thick to bike anymore. :)

iamthebadassador
iamthebadassador

I say tell the nsa? the nra? the park service people who approve rally permits that bike valets are now mandatory and collect the fee for them up front or no rally permit. And tell Stewert/Colbert they dropped the ball on their first ever, gonna be massive how could they miss this issue, ON THE MALL WITH MILLIONS rally. I, for one, am grateful we're gonna have toilets. B

Jeremy
Jeremy

As a temporary solution for the rally, people could lock up their bikes in groups, such that they prop each other up and are too heavy for someone to casually carry away. In general, though, there really should be large, permanent bike parking facilities on the Mall. It's hard even on a normal day to find a spot near the museums.

Dave
Dave

Yeah, I have to say that I agree with Kate. Being able to park in Arlington, bike into the city for the event and not have to worry about my bike getting stolen is a big deal. I couldn't believe that the official rally page had not one word about bicycles. Amazing.

Kate
Kate

I wish there was a way to show we are NOT going. (its actually more than the bike valet thing, but.....ok, a lot to do with the bike valet thing) If the effing president can afford to have the bike valet service, than this pointless idiotic event can! Seriously, it angers me that there are directions on the official site for driving, metro-ing, but NONE for biking. That sucks. Absolutely. You suck, Colbert and Stewart. Way to fail. No really gives a flying f*ck about either of you. You were sorta relevant/funny 5 years ago. Good luck.

john
john

Bummer, I was looking forward to using the valet. I'm still commited to biking in and hope that others will too.

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