#48 – Hitching Posts for Bicycle Parking

Santa Barbara, California

Drusilla van Hengel, Ph.D., Mobility Coordinator, City of Santa Barbara


Brief History

The 1968 Santa Barbara State Street Plaza project removed on-street parking from the Downtown Commercial area, resulting in a two-way, two-lane road with right-turn pockets and bike lanes for a length of 914 m (3000 ft). Street furniture such as fountains, planters and benches was installed along long reaches of the project. A significant increase in bicycle traffic and insufficient bicycle parking supply were attributed to this project and the later striping of bike lanes. By the early 1980s, 240 bicycle parking spaces of various types, including front wheel racks and hitching posts, were available on sidewalks in the mall to meet the average daily demand of 2000 bicyclists. They were perceived as a nuisance by local business persons, and created a hazard to pedestrians. Furthermore, the imbalance between supply and demand resulted in bicycles regularly blocking the sidewalks.

An additional problem faced was gaining approval from the Historic Landmarks Commission. The Landmarks Commission was formed in May 1960 to ensure that the area within El Pueblo Viejo District would retain its unique early-California Spanish character and atmosphere through careful city planning and development. It is an advisory group to the city Council that approves, disapproves, or approves with conditions plans for exterior alteration, relocation or demolition of locations within the district. Unable to find a balance between aesthetics and functionality, the Historic Landmarks Commission for the area generally disapproved of the installation of bike racks on State Street, finding bicycles inconsistent with the landmarks in the historic district.

Figure 1. Bicyclists choose to park against street furniture or trees rather than use substandard parking.

Figure 2. Hitching post.

Figure 3. Bicucles parked at hitching posts adjacent to curb.

Although this decision was successfully appealed, the conflict lasted several years, with interim designs including the installation of eyebolts into sandstone pillars or planter walls. Finally a hitching post design was approved for the area. In some locations, more aesthetically pleasing solutions that integrate sandstone pillars or ironwork have been required instead of hitching posts. These decisions have resulted in locations where bicycle parking goes unused and bicyclists park against trees or trash receptacles instead of parking in substandard racks, as shown in figure 1.

The practice of providing bicycle racks on the sidewalk is best employed where bicycle and pedestrian volumes are low to moderate and where sidewalk widths are adequate. At the time, neither of these prerequisites applied. The sidewalk bicycle parking was decreasing the available sidewalk width in an area with many pedestrians, and the bicycle volumes were high, with nearly 50 percent of the bicyclists to the downtown responding to a local survey indicating that they parked their bike downtown three to five times per week.

Through public outreach, city staff learned that the removal of bicycle parking from the sidewalk along State Street likely would lead to a large number of bicyclists parking illegally on the sidewalk. This outreach was conducted by leaving surveys on parked bicycles with self-addressed reply cards. Bicyclists were asked, “If parking your bike on the sidewalk on State Street were made illegal, but bike racks were provided in parking lots, on side streets or along State Street at mid-block locations, what would you do?” Although many indicated that they would continue to park illegally on the sidewalk, the use of racks provided at midblock received the most favorable response.

Fortunately, since that time, several sidewalk improvement projects have been undertaken on State Street, and hitching posts are now a standard street furniture accessory with a goal of providing one hitching post, or two bicycle parking spaces, in front of each business door.


The goal of the project is to provide bicycle parking in the public right-of-way where demand warrants. Removing destination barriers is a key element of the city’s 1998 Bicycle Master Plan, and this ongoing project provides convenient parking for downtown customers arriving by bicycle. Additionally, the bike parking solution was needed to prevent bikes from blocking pedestrian traffic or being left in planters or locked to trees.


In 1983, a hitching post design was approved for State Street. This design continues to be used with slight modifications, such as a protective ultraviolet thermal-resistant sleeve that protects the bicycle frame. The rack provides parking opportunity for two bicycles, with each bicycle having two points of contact with the rack. The design is reflective of the hitching posts historically available to customers arriving downtown on horseback. The success of the State Street hitching post program has been a model for safely providing public bicycle parking spaces citywide. In addition to periodic inspection of the business area, individual requests for parking trigger a field investigation to evaluate the space available for hitching post-style parking. A traffic technician reviews the proposed location for the racks and marks the acceptable location on the concrete. A minimum of 1.8 m (6 ft) of sidewalk clearance must be maintained for pedestrian access, and placement is made so that passengers exiting parked cars may avoid swinging their doors into the rack or parked bicycles.

The metal post is 1 m (40 in) high, with rings placed at 0.5 m (20.5 in) (figure 2). The ring placement allows for the front wheel and frame to be easily locked to a ring. The post is attached to the sidewalk using four expansion bolts. The posts are set adjacent to the curb line so a bicyclist may park immediately after exiting the street. The goal here is to reduce the distance a cyclist must walk with the bike in order to park and to discourage cyclists from riding on the sidewalk (figure 3).

Figure 4. Properly installed hitching posts create orderly parking areas.

It is extremely important to orient contractors and staff installing the posts to the subtle difference between orienting the rings parallel or perpendicular to the curb because the bicyclist naturally wants to park the bike perpendicular to the rings, and therefore the ring orientation will affect the footprint of the bicycle on the sidewalk and may even prevent the bicyclist from parking correctly (figure 4).

Evaluation and Results

The project is evaluated periodically by staff. The bicycle parking count on State Street provides information about the need for more hitching posts, and also confirms what percentage of bicyclists are using the bike parking. Surveys are conducted by counting bicycle usage of available hitching posts during two midweek afternoons. The total number of bicycles parked is also counted.

To date, there are 128 hitching posts in nine blocks of State Street, providing space for 256 bicycles. Thirty percent of the posts are in use at any one time. Although this number shows only a slight increase in bicycle parking availability, census figures over the period between 1980 and 2000 show a general decline in cycling for the journey to work, so the numbers probably represent a real increase relative to the demand. Because there are some locations where the sidewalk is too narrow to permit hitching post installation, we sometimes find bicycles leaned up against buildings or street furniture. However, 82 percent of the bicycles parked in the Plaza are using the hitching posts provided, improving the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists alike.

Conclusions and Recommendations

This treatment works extremely well. The hitching posts are easy to store in the Public Works Yard and therefore immediately available for installation. The program accommodates the need to be aesthetically appropriate in this historic area, yet also provides a functional place for short-term bicycle parking. The rack is relatively easy to install, and additional posts are provided whenever the demand warrants and space permits.

Providing appropriate levels of well-sited bicycle parking reduces barriers to bicycling, encourages bicyclists to use the parking and should reduce conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians or with parked motor vehicles and their occupants.

Costs and Funding

Hitching post fabrication is completed by our staff welders for an approximate cost of $100 per post. The project is funded through our ongoing bicycle improvements capital program. Installation is provided by the concrete crew of the street maintenance division of the Public Works Department.


Drusilla R. van Hengel, Ph.D.
Mobility Coordinator
City of Santa Barbara
P.O. Box 1990
Santa Barbara, CA 93102
(805) 564-5544