Urban Forest: Trees and bikes


We live in an urban forest and traversing a tree-lined street with its leafy canopy can be quite calming. But if one of those trees is dead, its bare branches bleached white as bone, it can be quite jarring. We long for it to be replaced. Like everyone else just starting out in the city, transplanted saplings can have a hard time of it. Pollution, salt spray, insect infestation, dry spells and vandalism all take their toll. Now, thanks to the demise of the parking meter, add to this list: bicycles.


The perfect rack


A parking meter seems to be made-to-order for securing one's bike: the pole is skinny enough for your U-lock or chain to embrace it, your frame and sometimes your helmet, too; it's secured firmly to the sidewalk; and it has a flared, immobile metal top that prevents someone lifting off your bike. Bonus: you could usually find one right in front of your destination.


The 3rd cluster gear going in for the kill



With the dearth of parking meters, due to their replacement by the bike-lock unfriendly parking kiosk, what's a cyclist to do?  Enter the newly planted sapling: it's skinny enough, well secured to the ground and due to its flared crown no one can lift off your bike. Unfortunately, using these trees as locking posts marks them for death, literally.


Slasher victim


No matter how gently one slips a U-lock, chain or even plastic covered cable around its truck, no matter how careful one leans the bike against it, eventually a chain, a gear, a flange or a fender will scrape off bark or worse, slash the tree right to the wood. Get enough people using this tree as a locking post and the trunk will look like the victim in a slasher flick: Nightmare on Elm Street...or Maple Street or Locust Street...


Healthy, intact bark



Bark is a tree's skin and its function is to protect the dense pulp underneath, the phloem layer, which is the tree's circulatory system. This is where the tree performs its physiology. To simplify: water up; photosynthesis; carbohydrates down; distribute where needed. Removing bark not only exposes the phloem layer to insects and pathogens but also forces the tree to focus energy on restoration of the wound rather than growth, this at a critical time when the tree is struggling to establish itself in its new home.


At least this tree is already dead


Trees are not only long-lived but can also take a long time to die, often a number of years, making the cause and affect of their mortality not readily apparent to the casual observer. This makes it difficult for the uninformed to link damaged bark with the trees eventual demise. Educating the masses (or in our case, perhaps, the Critical Masses) is a good first start. I'd venture to say most cyclists would be horrified to learn they're inadvertently inflicting permanent damage to young trees and, if given the choice, would gladly make use a nearby bike rack. We just have to make sure that that bike rack exists.


One of the few remaining meters


The city of Chicago and the Chicago Parking Meter LLC were well aware of the potential problem of loss of bike parking with the switch to kiosks - this is not a case of unintended consequences - and is why they deliberately left a number of parking meters standing.



To make up for this shortfall the Chicago Dept. of Transportation (CDOT) will be installing bike racks where needed on the public way. Their goal is to install 400 to 500 racks a year. Chicago's Bike 2015 Plan calls for an additional 5,000 racks to be added to the 12,000 already in existence. CDOT will also act as consultant to local business, condo or apartment building owners who want to come up a plan for bike parking for tenants and customers. You can get more info, including a request form for a bike rack, at Chicago Bikes web site.



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