Business booms for bike valet in South Waterfront

Business booms for bike valet in South Waterfront

Photo taken last week at the Go By Bike shop under the Aerial Tram. “Only” 175 bikes parked that day.
(Photo: Kiel Johnson)

What started as a mobile bike shop operated out of a small trailer near the Portland Aerial Tram in the summer of 2011 has turned into one of the largest daily bike valet services in the country. One day last week, Go By Bike bike shop owner Kiel Johnson recorded a whopping, one-day record of 198 bike parking customers.

Go By Bike shop in South Waterfront-13

Kiel Johnson (blue shirt) delivers cycling
service with a smile.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

I asked Johnson to share more about how his valet service is filling a necessary niche in the South Waterfront and he shared the following stats:

  • Our daily average over the year is 132 bikes per day
  • In the past 13 months we have parked 28,859 bikes
  • 60% of users are female and 40% are male
  • We’ve had zero bike thefts in valet or surrounding area while we have been there

While Johnson gives credit to the bike-friendly road infrastructure in the South Waterfront, he says the key to popularity has been the creation of a welcoming space.

“We have shown that one of the ways to drastically increase the number of people riding bicycles,” Johnson wrote to us via email, “is not only to focus on building comfortable infrastructure but also building a vibrant community place.” Johnson sees himself and his four employees not just as valet attendants and bike mechanics, but as ambassadors for bicycling. Their goal is to make bicycling easy enough for everyone to try. “I hope that we can become that excited guy in the office who encourages his co-workers to ride a bike; except for an entire hospital and university.”

Being highly visible is also a powerful marketing tool. “The bike valet is in such a prominent and open place that it shows people bicycling is something that lots of other people do and they can do as well.”

Located directly under the Aerial Tram, just north of the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) Center for Health & Healing, the sea of bicycles and the big red “Go By Bike” sign are impossible to miss for the thousands of people who visit the South Waterfront each day. In fact, one day earlier this month, Congressman Earl Blumenauer stopped by unannounced while giving his colleague (and member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee), Illinois Democrat Cheri Bustos, a tour:

Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives — Earl Blumenauer and Cheri Bustos — stopped by unannounced last week
(Photo: Kiel Johnson)

Johnson found inspiration for new ideas on a recent trip to the Netherlands, where he said there’s, “a bike valet at every train station as well as many shopping areas.” As we reported last year, Johnson has come up with some cool (yet very inexpensive) technology to streamline the valet service. They’ve got a custom app where customers can swipe their OHSU badge to sign in and out of the valet (non-badge holders are also welcome).

Go By Bike operates under contract with OHSU. OHSU fully funds the bike valet (which is offered for free) and it’s technically part of Portland Aerial Tram operations. OHSU’s Transportation Options Coordinator John Landolfe says the partnership has paid big dividends, “For significantly less than the cost of a bike cage of similar capacity, we’ve been able to create a secure experience for 200 or more riders as well as a few full time jobs.”

Landolfe loves that the valet can be easily moved and then re-assembled in the event of construction or tram maintenance (something you couldn’t do with a fixed bike parking facility). He also says the Go By Bike valet and parking services is a “great hub of transportation equity” which has customers from all walks of life including students, patients, doctors, office workers and housekeepers.

Landolfe thinks this model should be replicated all over the country. He’s been invited to speak about OHSU’s bike parking operations at the annual International Parking Institute conference in Florida next week.

Johnson’s next big idea is a bike share system for apartments and businesses which he hopes to have available by June. He also hopes to expand the valet service to other locations. “We are much cheaper and I believe do much more good than the half-million dollar bicycle parking facilities being built.”

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