You know that school has started when King Street becomes a giant swamp of bicycles and skateboards. And with all those extra wheels around, the inevitable question follows: "Where the hell do I lock this thing?" So before you get a little too competitive and end up clothes-lining a grandma on her bike in a race to the nearest rack, consider your options. If you're a newbie to biking in Charleston, make sure you don't piss off the city. They've got rules. Tons of them. And while you might be able to fight the system and fly under the radar of some of these laws, keep in mind that your brand new Surly can be snatched up and impounded by The Man if you're caught red-handed.
First thing's first (after you register your wheels, of course): Follow the signs. If there's a sign that designates a bicycle parking area, you can park there. If there's a sign that says "NO BICYCLE PARKING," you can't. Easy enough, right? We thought so.
Bike racks are stationed all over the city, and they're always a good bet. According to City Planner Philip Overcash, one of the biggest issues with bike parking is that available spaces are sometimes hard to spot, so keep an eye out. "There's a lot of bike parking out there, probably more than people realize, especially in the downtown area and especially around the college up and down King Street," he explains. The City of Charleston recently piloted a program to provide more bicycle parking downtown, with a focus on the intersections along King Street between Market and Spring. Strategically placed because of the narrow sidewalks and high foot traffic, there are plenty of options in this 10-block area to get you to and from class.
One of your best bets is a standard parking garage, all of which are equipped with parking spaces for bikes. For instance, the parking garage next to the CVS on College of Charleston's campus has over 100 spaces for bicyclists. Even better, parking garages provide some shelter from the elements, and they're a public setting where bike snatchers are likely to be spotted. "It's a good, secure place to park, especially if you're parking there for a long time or maybe overnight," Overcash says.
Another rule: Don't block anything. The city says that "no person shall park, store, or leave a bicycle in such a manner as to cause said bicycle to block or otherwise impede normal entrance to or exit from any building." And while there may be some gray area in that convoluted legalese, just use your good judgment. Don't park your bike within six feet of an entrance or exit, don't park your bike on an access ramp, and don't park your bike all catawampus on the sidewalk to piss off passersby. Duh. Oh, and make sure you're not parking close to an intersection, crosswalk, driveway, fire hydrant, or bus stop. The six-foot rule is always best.
Let's say you've spotted a prime parking spot for your bike, but the bike rack's full. And there's plenty of other options around — like that nice-looking tree over there. Actually, you'll be locking it up at your own risk. If the city comes across a bike locked to any handrail, tree, shrubbery, door, signpost, lamp, telephone pole, or fence not designed for bike parking, the Department of Public Safety might just confiscate that bad boy. "We do have issues with folks parking willy-nilly on anything that's locked down," Overcash says. You should also try to stay away from parking or storing your bike inside a public building, unless there is a designated parking area or you have permission from someone inside it. Public buildings must remain in accordance with federal, state, and local fire and safety regulations, and you don't want to be that guy with the bike that tripped a dozen people in a routine fire drill.
And while there are plenty of options for the college kids downtown, other schools may have more limited spots for bike parking, so check first with your college's policies. For instance, at Charleston Southern University, bicycle racks are provided outside of each residence hall, or students can store their bikes inside of their dorm rooms (with approval from their new roomies). At Trident Technical College, bicycle racks are also provided around campus, but students can't take their ride into any of the school buildings.
Even better, the City's making things a little easier for the biking folks in the future. The City has placed an order for 150 new parking spaces. They're also planning to implement three bike corrals — which can hold up to 10 or 12 bikes — at locations along King and St. Philip streets.