Posted by: David Giacalone | July 15, 2010

guess what this is: rack your brains

. . .

– Q: Is the red metallic structure in front of the Scotia branch of the Schenectady County Public Library a witty piece of art (perhaps designed by grade schoolers), a bit of hortatory, and/or something else entirely? (Click on a photo for a larger version)

Answer: It is meant to be artful advocacy, but also something functional. . .

Answer (cont.):  The best clue to the primary function of the item comes from a logo affixed to it identifying its maker: “DERO bike racks.”  A trip to confirmed that the item is indeed meant to be a bike rack (and that no parts are missing). DERO specializes in bicycle racks that are designed to be “great-looking, long-lasting, functional.”  It also prides itself on making creative custom racks.

Indeed, DERO says:

“Bike racks do not have to be boring. Increasing numbers of organizations are making a statement about their creativity and commitment to supporting bike transportation with a custom designed bicycle rack.

“Just provide us with a rough sketch on a napkin, a logo, or just an idea – and we will work with you to turn your concept into a fully functional piece of street art.”

And, if you go to DERO’s page of existing custom designs, you will find — in addition to racks shaped like a chicken, a tennis racket, yoga positions, and dozens of other whimsical notions  — the following custom rack called “books”:

. . .

Art is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, so I won’t quarrel with calling it a (rather cute) work of art.  But I have to wonder about DERO’s pledge of functionality.  Beyond having to first identify the thing as a bike rack, how does anyone know where to hitch a bicycle on this contraption?  How many bikes is it supposed to accommodate?  What happens if a confused or inconsiderate rider situates his or her bike in a manner that takes up several “places”?

DERO has a large, well-designed website.  However, it may be telling that I could find only two photos of a bicycle parked at a DERO bike rack.  They do, however, show quite a few bikes at “funky bike racks” NOT built by DERO, saying: “This gallery is a result of our travels, and those of friends, who have found bike racks that essentially are sculptures or works of art. Sometimes the design is functional and user-friendly, but more often it is not.”  It makes you wonder just what standard DERO uses in testing functionality.

My first thought this morning upon seeing the little red metal book was, “that’s cute, but who spent money to buy and install it?”  The friendly Library staff at the Scotia branch told me it was — according to the folks from the Parks Department who installed it — meant to be a bike rack.  They were wondering, however, if there were more parts to be added to the rack to make it identifiable and usable. (I later phoned to let them know the rack is complete as is.)

As for the expense, the Library staff was told it was donated by CDTA.  The involvement of the Capital District Transportation Authority piqued my curiosity.

My visit to the CDTA site brought a wealth of additional information about their surprisingly far-reaching Bike Rack Program, which is touted near the top of the CDTA homepage:

BIKE RACK PROGRAM. The Capital Region now has 900 additional bike parking spaces. Click below to see final Capital Region bike rack locations. The program provides approved bike racks free to the public sector and non-profits, up to a $1,000 value and at a 50% subsidy for the private sector, up to $500 can be provided by the Bike Rack Program

CDTA tells us that “The Capital Region Bike Rack program is a new addition to a set of Travel Demand Management (TDM) strategies” for the region.”  It is hoped that the new racks will encourage more use of bicycles and less use of motor vehicles. Click here for a Program Description, its purpose, rules, etc.

You can find the scores of locations, with Google maps, by clicking here.

The CDTA’s bike rack program brochure shows the many models available and their prices.  The “book” bike rack found in Scotia costs $637.50, and purports to park 2 bikes. (The Google Map list of racks says there are 4 bike spaces at the Scotia Library location, so perhaps another rack will soon be installed nearby.)  You can find out more about the program or give them your comments with this email address .

Am I just showing my advanced ago, by failing to see how this could be a well-functioning bike rack?  Am I just picking on our County Library again? (see “a moving message from our Library“)  No and No (Actually, I very much appreciate our Library system and use it almost daily.)  One thing for sure: we’re going to see a lot of bikes parked at, and chained to, “legitimate” pieces of public art that often actually do look like bike — or hat — racks, and which will be very difficult to distinguish from the artsy custom bike racks by DERO and others.

These kids rode by too quickly for me to ask them to identify the item in question, and perhaps to demonstrate its use.


  1. The CDTA is an authority, and this form of governance is not accountable to the voters even though it acts like a government in multiple ways. NYS passed an authorities reform bill last year, but this is only the first step, because authorities need to be transparent and accountable. It is issues like these frivolous nonfunctional bike racks which demonstrate the need to open up the decision making process in authorities. One step is democratization. By electing people who govern, and in the case of Metroplex, tax, we would move closer to a responsive government.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Tom. Do you think CDTA would be as responsive as, say, our Schenectady government, if it had elected leadership?

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