Wilmington gets first on-street bike corral

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Wilmington's first on-street bike corral, located at 4th Street and Davis Street in northern downtown. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
Wilmington’s first on-street bike corral, located at 4th Street and Davis Street in northern downtown. Photo by Hannah Leyva.

The City of Wilmington has installed its first on-street bike corral just in time for National Bike Month, which is celebrated in May.

The new corral, which is located on the street just outside Palate Bottle Shop and Reserve on North 4th Street downtown, was installed last Friday. According to Allen Davis, an urban designer for the city, it is the first “properly designed” one, but it won’t be the last.

“It is part of a bigger project, but right now it is a pilot program,” Davis said, noting that the on-street racks are becoming more popular across the state and country. “The big difference is that they’re on the streets and not on the sidewalk.”

Davis said the city wants to install more racks, but not at the expense of parking spaces, which have a high demand in the same urban areas where bike facilities are also needed.

“The important thing for us is to look for areas where we don’t have to remove parking spots,” Davis said, adding that creating more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly areas are part of the city’s comprehensive plan. “Though you can park a lot more bikes than cars, we still need those spaces.”

The location of the first corral, Davis said, is an example of a “win-win-win” situation where bike parking is provided, no parking spaces were taken over and the safety of the intersection was improved.

“If a car’s parked there, it would block people from seeing incoming traffic,” said Davis of the corner where 4th and Davis Streets meet, which is curved rather than at a typical 45-degree angle and leaves drivers without a “sight triangle”. “By installing the bike corral, we’ve actually made the intersection safer.”

Though the corral, which has space for 10 bikes, is paid for and maintained by the city, Davis said he worked with Kevin Rhodes of Palate to get it there and will continue to work with business owners moving forward.

“Public outreach will be a part of it – finding out where and what the greatest needs are and getting feedback,” Davis said. “[Bike parking] is a service we’re already providing or should be providing.”

Though Davis did not have the exact cost of the corral at hand, he said they were able to save money by using a local connection rather than getting the racks made elsewhere and shipped to Wilmington. Davis said most companies that make them are based on the West Coast or in the Northeast, meaning there would be a cost for the materials (“they aren’t as cheap as you might think”) as well as freight costs.

“We were able to partner with Watson’s Portable Welding, which is based here in Wilmington, and they were able to make the racks for us,” said Davis. “By getting a local business to do them, we were able to get the racks cheaper, save the taxpayers some money, save on shipping costs and keep the money in the local economy.”

The money for the materials purchased so far for corrals has come from a couple different funds, and Davis said they’re not quite ready to ask for specific funding for the program in the upcoming fiscal year budget, which is currently being developed.

“Right now we’ve got to get the standards in place. We’re just putting them in and seeing how well they work,” Davis said. “I’m thankful for the money my colleagues were able to find to get the pilot program off the ground.”

The next step for Davis is an audit of Front Street between Ann Street and Cape Fear Community College. There are currently a few sidewalk bike racks along that stretch, but Davis said he’s looking to make them better designed and more efficient. Two of them, one in front of Finkelstein’s Music on the corner of Front and Market and one on Front and Chestnut, have already been removed. A new corral will soon be installed at the latter of those two locations.

As the program gets underway and logistics are worked out, Davis said he’s hoping they’ll be able to get more creative with the design of the racks, which are currently inverted-U shapes.

“These are all materials Wilmington has never worked with before, so we’re still trying to figure out the spacing, the installation, and all that,” said Davis. “A lot of other areas have gotten creative with their racks, which is a good way to show off local culture and history and flavor. They can be really fun and exciting, but they have to perform the same as the U-racks.”

Davis said it could be a good way to tap into the pool of local artists and students Wilmington has, but the city is still too early in the process.

“I welcome it, I just don’t have the infrastructure in place,” Davis said. “Once we get all that established, we can start collaborating.”

The biggest thing Davis is looking for now is feedback from the community.

“How we’re monitoring this now isn’t very strict,” said Davis, saying he’ll periodically check the 4th Street corral to see if and how it’s being utilized. “We encourage people to go out there and use it and give us feedback. We want to hear your comments.”

The on-street bike rack is located directly in front of Palate Bottle Shop and Reserve at 1007 N. 4th St. in northern downtown Wilmington. Comments can be sent to Davis at allen.davis@wilmingtonnc.gov.