UCLA Bike Lockers not exactly up to spec

Bike Locker Diagram from the National Urban Transit Institute
Bike Locker Diagram from the National Urban Transit Institute

Bikesider and Bikerowave volunteer Kyle Pfister recently posted the account below (on Bikerowave’s forums) about his terrible experience with UCLA bike lockers.

Before I give you Kyle’s account – some editorializing.  Since I first got involved cycling issues, planners have trotted out lockers as the holy grail of bike parking.  Kyle’s account aptly summarizes why I think bike lockers are way way overrated.  Bike lockers require lots of supervision.  In addition to being expensive, any bike locker system requires regular maintenance, as well as administrative oversight.  Some bike locker systems, like the one at UCLA, use a reservation system which requires additional supervision.  Bike lockers are expensive to buy, tough to maintain, and ask a great deal from the user, relative to bike racks.

There’s no substitute for a cheap, well placed, and properly installed bike rack.  I have one in my living room!  Mihai Peteu managed to get some installed in his UCLA building.  When done right, they do the track.  Done right (and they usually aren’t) bike racks are examples of good design: simple, functional, and nearly self explanatory.

Kyle before:

I’m headed up to UCLA for a lecture tonight and was worried about locking up my bike, did a little searching and found this:


I just signed up for this service and reserved a locker for my bike, will report about my experience

How do we get these things everywhere?

Kyle after:

YIKES! UCLA bike lockers are not all that I’d hoped for, maybe this is something everyone already knows about, and I’m late to the party, but I don’t know if I’d bother with this again.

1. Web & Phone interface for reserving the lockers is so bare bones, I had no idea what the per hour rate for the locker was prior to reserving it, and was not informed anywhere that when you call to reserve it, it is immediately yours IE don’t call in advance call when you get there.

2. Parking attendants didn’t even know where lockers were, and they were located in a rather out of the way and secluded place on the bottom floor

3. It was clear this was a very underutilized system and that no maintenance or cleaning had taken place since installation

4. When I typed in the combo that was given to me over the phone line, A DIFFERENT LOCKER OPENED UP, NOT THE ONE I RESERVED!!!!!!!!!!! and there was a bike inside! worse yet it appears that that bike had been abandoned, so I called again to get a new combo making sure to type in the correct ID for the locker I wanted and the wrong one opened again.

5. Third time was the charm, went ahead and ran my u-lock through my frame and back wheel just in case, almost didn’t use the locker but I was running late for my lecture so went through with it.

6. Because the wrong door kept opening, when I called to get the combo to get my bike out, it was unclear whether I was starting a new reservation or finishing my old one, I suspect I will be charged for several reservations and for all I know the computer thinks my bike is still in there, good thing a day is only a dollar, and I got the phone number for customer service so I’ll call them later

So while I thought this system would offer me total piece of mind during the lecture I was almost as worried about my bike being stolen as if I had locked it up outside, however at least my bike was out of sight, and someone would have to be a member to get the door to open so I guess theft was unlikely, but because the system didn’t seem to work properly and the interface was so confusing I’d be unlikely to try it again.

Alex Thompson

Bikerowave co-founder, Cyclists' Bill of Rights co-author, President of Bikeside, and Math Phd. HULK SMASH straight from Michigan!

21 thoughts on “UCLA Bike Lockers not exactly up to spec

  1. I had the same experience with those same UCLA lockers…SO disappointing. It seemed like such a great thing, so secure. When I typed in my code, a locker opened up that contained a very nice road bike. I hope the guy got his bike back when he punched in his code…I’m not going to try those things again, at least not until I hear they’ve made major improvements. I was also late to class.
    It really would be great to have super secure bike storage here and there, even if it’s a bit more complex than a bike rack. I heard that in Japan they have huge banks of bike lockers, complete with attendants….

  2. My name is Mike, and I am the administrative oversight for the UCLA lockers. I also helped Mihai install the bike racks in his buidling.

    I agree, the lockers are not up to spec. The lockers are accessed using a 5-digit combination the user receives via cell phone. One code opens the locker, and another code releases the locker for the next user. Some users however retrieve an item from the locker, and open/close the locker a third time. This offsets the system and is the reason why, when Madeline punched his/her code it open a locker that was already being used.

    I’ve been trying to find grant money to retrofit the lockers with a smart card system. There’s a company I’ve been talking to in Berkeley, BikeLink, that owns and operates the bike lockers around the Bay Area BART Stations, and parts of San Diego. I’ve even brought up the idea with METRO, as their lockers still a standard key system, that users sign up for on a 6-month basis. The only thing stopping an overhaul of the lockers on our campus is unfortunately funding.

    Kyle, Madeline, sorry about the negative experience.

  3. Thanks so much Mike for the information. It’s very comforting to know someone is working on this. And it’s good to have an idea of the challenges being dealt with.

  4. Hi Mike, and thanks for letting us know what’s up.

    Can I ask – do you have a preference on racks vs lockers? Where do you come down on that? I’m curious, since you’re close to the problem, I thought you’d have some insight.

  5. Alex,

    I think both have their own benefits. Bike racks do the trick when installed properly, in high visibility areas. Unfortunately, not every building is as liberal as Mihai’s.

    Some employees and students have opined their preference to lockers. Particularly, employees who work in the medical centers, who commute at odd hours of the day/night. Students who study in the library at late hours have expressed interest in lockers as well.

    I also think the lockers make sense adjacent to public transit hubs. UCLA currently has two: Ackerman and Hilgard Terminal. In the longer scope of things, when the Westside Subway makes its way to Westwood, I know we’re already thinking about adding a BikeStation near the subway terminal.

    So, I don’t really have a preference, I would rather just have the different options available to the individual user.

  6. I mean, do you think they’re cost effective? I guess it’s obvious that I don’t – that’s an intuitive conclusion. I’d love to know what the actual costs break out to.

  7. 1 inverted-U bike rack is about $150. 1 bike locker roughly, can range upwards of $2,400. So, there is an obvious cost difference, but there is an added value of security with the lockers. We also have yet to explore pricing models which would support and maintain a locker program.

  8. I tend to agree with Alex, that Simple cheap things are better than complicated expensive things, however the security offered by a bike locker is very seductive to me. I tend to travel with a fair amount of luggage and enjoy riding a nice bike(doing a thing with style is always preferable to simply doing a thing), a locker keeps me from having to use a “hardened” beater for transportation. Also lockers may be good for beginning bicycle commuters as locking your bike up properly and “hardening” your bike against theft of components & accessories takes some time to learn, I’m still in that process several years in. The UCLA system obviously needs a little work, but I’m thankful that it’s there and for Mike’s efforts in getting it to function as it should

  9. Thanks for the #s Mike. Yeah – at 15 times more expensive, plus maintenance and staffing costs, I prefer much much more racks. I do see the advantages of security. When I was a TA and had an office at UCLA I would bring my bike into the office, as would my office mates. We had a bike corner.

  10. It’s a shame that even busy areas like Royce and Wooden aren’t safe even in broad daylight. Not only will people steal during the daytime, they’ll even try to sell you stolen bikes – just the other day I had a homeless dude ask me to buy his fixie.

    I wonder if UCLA can keep up with (safe) bike parking demand in the future, I have a feeling even the current ridership numbers are nothing compared to what it’ll be 2-3 years from now. Maybe we should start lobbying for each campus building to have dedicated indoor bike parking, NYC-Sadik-Khan style?

    On top of added safety, the elevated penalty of breaking and entering may thwart thieves. When you break into a building to steal something, it’s a more serious crime than stealing something outdoors. Someone correct me on this if I’m wrong.

  11. Yes, a standard petty theft or grand theft charge (depending on whether or not the bike is over $400) would then be a burglary charge if someone broke inside a building. Petty theft is a misdemeanor charge; grand theft and burglary are felony charges.

    I’ve been working with the UCPD to address the rise in bike thefts on campus. A lot of people on campus though, do not have their bikes registered or have anything that proves they own the bike. It’s harder to prosecute someone, when the owner can’t prove they own the bike to begin with.

    As Mihai touched on, a lot of thefts on campus I think can be attributed to a ‘deviant’ homeless population. When I met with the PD, they said they’ve arrested a certain homeless person, on suspicion, on several occasions. But because the bikes weren’t registered, they couldn’t prosecute.

  12. Reading this makes me realize I need to finish registering my bike!

    I just spent about 90 minutes at Bikerowave taking measures to make my bike less tempting to steal.

    I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll have to spend 3-5 minutes to properly lock up my bike (I’m not very fast, I’m afraid), but one of my mom-worries is about the students who haven’t realized that they need to take measures to make their bike less vulnerable to theft. (Don’t get me wrong, UCLA has a responsibility for installing and maintaining proper bike parking).

    Alex/Mihai/Mike – I’m glad we’re all talking about this.

  13. Ha ha – I must have missed you by a few minutes – I was just at Bikerowave.

    Speaking of theft proofing – I theft proofed my saddle when I went to NYC w/ my bike. Chainlink, inner tube, and a master lock.

  14. Thanks for all the comments. Came across this while reading about the bike lockers on campus (which I thought were my saving grace until reading this). I bought a “cheaper” fixie track bike for commuting instead of bringing my road bike to campus, but now realize that it is probably the most popular kind of bike to steal. Probably should have opted for a true beater, but like Kyle, don’t want to sacrifice style :p. Any thoughts on theft proofing? I have a good U- lock and am planning to put ball bearings in all my allen wrench holes (guy at the shop told me that one). I see bikes all over Westwood with missing wheels, saddles, handlebars etc…makes me nervous!

  15. A buddy of mine created the following flyer in response to the poor bike-locking technique of most UCLA students:

    Proper Propaganda

  16. Hello, Everyone
    My name is Joe and I am an Intern at Metro Environmental and Sustainability Dept. I am in a position where I can propose Bike Lockers / Bike Stations etc..

    I can assure you that Metro is concerned with the cycling community and is trying to provide support. We have a few programs that encourange bicylce riders to take public transportation and offer free and reduced transit passes.

    Their is room for improvement and If you guys have any ideas or concerns, I am all ears.

    “indside man”

  17. Readers may be interested in a product called Pitlock (pitlock.com). This seems pretty secure, though a bit pricy.

    I’ve never tried them, though.

  18. Pitlocks are rather pricey but they give you peace of mind. We’re talking 256 different possible key combinations, so your chance of getting jacked is much lower than generic theft-proof skewers which anyone could buy the key for at a store.

    If you tend to lock using the rear triangle method, then the rear wheel is secured. If you have multiple bikes, I’d recommend getting a couple of extra front skewers for $6, and use those with the seatpost and rear skewer nuts instead.


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