Your Village: Where is Iowa City’s $20,000 PLAY bike rack?

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Iowa City’s PLAY parklet in 2016. — video still, Channel 4

Where’s the $20,000 “Play” bike rack? —BS, Iowa City, via Facebook

It’s surprising how many people don’t notice a 25-foot-long, 8-foot-tall bike rack in the shape of the letters P-L-A-Y is missing until you point out it’s gone. Technically, it’s not a rack, it’s a “parklet,” which is a structure that not only offers large-scale bike parking (in this case, 40 bikes), but is also supposed to help beautify its surroundings.

The parklet has stood at the corner of Dubuque and Washington Streets across from the Ped Mall since October 2016. Except during the winter, when the city puts it in storage.

Even though winter is long gone, the parklet is still in storage, Iowa City Transportation Director Darian Nagle-Gamm explained to Little Village in an email. It didn’t return this spring because “contractors for the Ped Mall project are utilizing the commercial loading zone on Dubuque Street for the duration of the Ped Mall project.”

“We expect the rack to reemerge once the project is complete and the space is no longer needed,” she added.

Since construction on the Ped Mall is scheduled to finish in November, if the parklet does show up this year, it won’t be long before it’s back in storage.

According to a press release sent out when the structure was unveiled in 2016 from the firm that designed the parklet, OPN Architects, the big bike rack is supposed to celebrate “Iowa City’s community identity by marrying three functions — public sculpture, community playground and bicycle parking — into one structure.”

The parklet was a joint project of the Iowa City Downtown District and Think Bicycles of Johnson County. Funding was provided by Iowa City as part of its efforts to improve bikeability downtown. But not everyone agreed with OPN’s belief that the parklet “makes a bold statement with an iconic structure that will create memorable experiences for all ages.” Many people thought the city could have spent the $20,000 that the project cost in other bike-friendly ways.

The parklet parking isn’t the only bike-related thing missing from downtown Iowa City. In August 2018, Nagle-Gamm told Little Village that Iowa City’s long-awaited bike-share program would start soon.

“The goal is to have it in place by the fall,” she said last summer.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

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In her email to Little Village, Nagle-Gamm said last year’s negotiations with the vendor the city selected fell through because the vendor wanted the city to add a scooter-share program.

According to Nagle-Gamm, “the City would prefer a phased approach where a bike share is integrated first and that there is an option to potentially add e-scooters at a later date … At this point I can’t tell you when e-scooters might be introduced, but I can say that the City is considering them and sees their potential as a quick, easy and affordable mobility option.”

It’s been four years since the city first announced it was creating a bike-share program in partnership with the University of Iowa.

“We are now finalizing the vendor selection process and expect to launch near the beginning of the semester,” Nagle-Gamm said in her June 28 email.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 267.

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