Where can I park my bike? – 30 Days of Biking: Day 28

One of the things that can put people off cycling to a destination is the question: “where do I park my bike?”.

I once recall having to attend a meeting at the Manchester Marriott hotel. I decided to ring ahead and ask if they had any bike parking nearby. They didn’t, but they were very happy to arrange for the concierge to look after it. It was slightly odd to experience him taking my bike and gently placing it in the luggage room, before handing me a ticket – somewhat like valet parking, I guess! But still less convenient than if they just had some bike racks outside.

So where are all the bike racks? It turns out that Manchester City Council don’t actually know. Thankfully, people power comes to the rescue. I use the OpenCycleMap to check routes to my destination and also work out whether there’s any sensible bike parking in the vicinity, as opposed to a piece of street furniture.

Check out this example of the area around Manchester Piccadilly train station:

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There’s bike parking marked with a blue C and the number of spaces. These are all around the station, but there’s also a couple of bike parking locations for which there’s less detail: these appear a small blue square. You can also see the full key.

But what if there’s bike parking in your area, but it’s not marked on the map? Well, put it on the map!

You see, the OpenCycleMap is based on the OpenStreetMap (OSM), a user-editable, free and open map of the world. It’s an incredible project, that works like Wikipedia. It allows anyone to edit and (hopefully) improve the content available, in return for giving that knowledge away for free, forever.

In fact, OpenStreetMap is so detailed that it’s now used by default in popular apps like Foursquare and Apple iPhoto, making it a brilliant alternative to Google Maps.There are also several bike-specific apps that use OpenStreetMap to generate bike routes – notably CycleStreets which is the original and still the best.

But the upshot is that if you know of bike parking in your area, it’s up to you to let everyone else know – just add it to OpenStreetMap! It’s as simple as getting an account, finding where the bike parking is and hitting the edit button. Using the default editor is much simpler than it used to be, if you’ve previously tried OSM. Bike parking is often denoted as a “Point”, which you then identify as “bicycle parking” in the left hand search column. That’s as much as you need to add a point on the map – any more detail makes it easier for map users to choose where they might park though. Make sure you save after you’ve made your change and tell people what you’ve changed in the save description. OpenStreetMap will update in minutes and the OpenCycleMap layer will update in a few days.

Sounds simple, right? For more information, there’s a handy beginners’ tutorial to editing OSM.

So what are you waiting for? Join me in improving the OpenStreetMap and make sure everyone knows about that bike stand at the end of your street.