Here in Greenville, South Carolina, we hold two major annual festivals every year. I volunteer with a nonprofit, Bike Walk Greenville, that puts on a free bike valet parking service to encourage people to ride downtown and to make it even more convenient and safe to ride a bike into the city to enjoy the festivities.
I’ve participated in this for a couple of years, and I have plans to make this service even more accessible and known about so that we can maximize the number of bikes. This year we parked over 150 bicycles, and it was great to be able to interact face to face with the community again after taking a hiatus due to Covid.
I wanted to share some ideas to encourage people in other cities with similar sized events to try out putting on their own bike valet parking service. With some communication and support from the city, who puts on this event, we are able to get this event done with a pretty minimal cost and volunteer support.
Although the festival runs all weekend and into the night, we offered the valet service to daytime visitors between the hours of 11-5. With more volunteer recruitment, we may be able to expand the hours of availability, but we try to keep the hours simple and consistent. These daytime shifts capture the majority of bike traffic, especially families with children who may have a harder time parking a trailer or pull behind; it is also easier to get volunteers for these hours, and avoids some of the issues that may arise in later hours (poor lighting, intoxicated persons).
One of our board members contacted the city and arranged for tables, chairs, signage, and bike racks to be dropped off for the event. Thankfully, the City of Greenville has these racks and kindly agreed to have these items delivered ahead of time (we didn’t have to worry about theft/security for these items due to the location and the security on hand for this city wide event, which is fortunate). We used the SignUpGenius website to recruit volunteers for shifts (the number of slots and length of shifts are up to you, but for this event we used two hour shifts of at least two people; next year I will add a slot for the peak hours of 1-3 when more people are coming and going).
I made a flyer that could be shared on social media, and would recommend sharing with local bike rental agencies, bike shops, city tourism agencies, hotels, and any other parties you can think of who might have people interested in parking a bike at the event. A QR code links to a pin on Google Maps to help clarify the location of the valet. The fact that we are able to use this location consistently every year also really helps people find us!
This year, we had the added challenge of working around bridge construction that was delayed from its planned completion date. Since we were unable to use our usual covered area under the bridge, we had to improvise a corralled area next to the bridge for the bike parking and set up our tables across from it. We made the best of it and look forward to a nice renovated bridge to work under at the next valet!
I made a short video to show some of the specifics of what I brought for tabling, all packed on my Burley cargo bike trailer, so you can check out more details here.
Since I was trying to line up the voiceover, I wrote out a script and while I didn’t totally stick to it, I figured I would include it in case reading it is easier than listening to the video audio:
Here is our fall 2021 bike valet setup, and for context on how we do this every year I will link to my blog post that gives some background on how and why we coordinate this event
My hope is to grow the size of this valet since it’s a twice a year thing, but for now we anticipate parking up to 100 bikes per day between 11-5 on a Saturday and a Sunday. So this is our setup.
We have this BIKE VALET sign provided by the city, and one thing I want is to get more of these made, and for them to say FREE BIKE VALET PARKING, to help make it more clear what we’re about. I also want to add signage along the trail coming in, like little yard signs, that let people who are riding downtown know that we are here and a QR code for a pin on Google Maps to help find us.
So I think that the added signage would go a long way in getting the word out that we’re here and that we’re a totally free service.
And so because of construction going on, on one side of the trail we had this small area where we could corral bikes, this was in the morning and an hour later it was pretty full,
Then on the other side of the trail is where we set up the tables with brochures, merch like our tshirts, and some posters talking about the projects that our nonprofit has been involved with most recently. And so this is where we engage with people, draw them in with our table stuff, and chat about local projects and how they could get involved and stay up to date.
As I mentioned in the blog post, the valet is usually under the bridge over there, but we had to pivot because the construction was not finished in time. I used a table and a fence to block off easy access to the bikes, and I had this checker tape as well in case I needed to make more of a barrier, but we were able to make this work.
I made the tags myself because I couldn’t find a template, so if you want the template I’d be happy to share it with you. Maybe I can link it on Google docs. But basically they’re printed on card stock, stacked in number order, and the top portion we had a space to write a name and phone number, and the bottom part had a matching number and we ripped it off and gave it to the visitor as a claim stub. Masking tape or a stapler could be used to affix to the bike. We used a tag for each bike and went in order so that we could get a total daily count easily, without having to count up tags at the end.
And then over on the table, I have some stickers and bike jewelry that I made awhile back, they’ve been popular with people and I like having stuff on the table. I have a suggested donation signage, and we have some tshirts left for sale as well. I keep a couple out on the table and the rest are stored in the box to keep things tidy. We have an email signup page and a bike rental gift card to giveaway that was donated, I have this donation jar and a QR code to our website donation page; we actually got almost $400 in donations this weekend between selling some shirts and people just donating on the website plus cash donations.
We also have brochures for our nonprofit and related organizations like our state coalition, maps of the local rail trail, and then we have these laminated flyers talking about new projects going on as well as posters that I made and covered the foam board from our older projects, having them laminated was great because it actually rained for a few minutes one day, and having them up on easels was super helpful in bringing people over and weighing them down with this extra chair worked out well. We borrowed these but there are some cheap options on amazon as well.
I brought a bike pump from home just in case, could really help someone out and doesn’t hurt to have one on hand!
Some other things that I keep in our “events” box that were great to have on hand for this event: sharpies, pens, clear tape, masking tape that we used to tag bikes because it stuck to paper but was gently on the bikes, a strong packing tape (gorilla would work too), and the reason for all of this tape is because things fly away in the breeze so having plenty of tape comes in handy
A pair of scissors, and this checker tape that I mentioned I could use for corralling the bikes.
I keep sidewalk chalk in our events box in case we can legally use it, for this particular event they didn’t want to use it, but if we were at a brewery or something this would be a fun way to add signage.
Overall we parked a lot of bikes and raised some money, but best of all we were able to engage with the community, people were so grateful we were here, and they were excited to talk about our mission, which is improving biking and walking infrastructure to make our community a better and safer place to live.
If you have any questions or ideas I didn’t cover, please leave them in the comments, I love hearing what y’all have to add!