With tourism season in full swing, the parking situation in downtown Portland couldn’t be better – as long as you’re riding a bicycle.

New racks line Commercial Street. The city has worked with local businesses to install two bike corrals – cordoned-off areas with racks holding 10 bikes each. The sleek, new Hyatt Place hotel on Fore Street may be the first in the city to incorporate bicycle parking into its design. For those who like to plan ahead, Portland’s Downtown District lists bike parking spots on its website.

Over the past four years, the city of Portland has installed parking for nearly 250 bicycles at schools, parks, transportation hubs and many other sites. From Saco to Machias, other communities also have added bike racks as a relatively easy and inexpensive way to promote bicycling. Topsham, Falmouth, Harpswell, Windham and Portland are among the Maine municipalities that require developers to provide bicycle parking.

Brian Allenby, communications director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, describes bike parking as “one piece of the puzzle” that encourages people to use their bikes. “Knowing that there is secure parking and that you’re not just locking up to a signpost makes a big difference,” he says.

That’s particularly true in places where it’s hard to find car parking. If you can park your bicycle close to the entrance of a business, you are more likely to pedal there.

Some bike racks also add a quirky or artistic flair to their environs. In downtown Bangor, you can lock your bike to a green “lollipop” rack that features a picture of Paul Bunyan holding a green craft beer. Bangor Greendrinks raised the money to pay for two of the racks.

Many businesses realize that it is in their self-interest to install bicycle parking, for both customers and employees.

Molly Thompson handles marketing and outreach for the five Rosemont Market & Bakery stores in Portland and Yarmouth. She noted that none of the stores has much car parking nearby. “It helps that customers bike,” she said. Rosemont has more than 75 employees, and many of them bicycle to work.

Last summer, Rosemont Market and Arabica Coffee each paid $350 for the bike corral that was installed in front of their shared Commercial Street locations; the city covered the other half of the cost. The corral allows 10 bikes to use a parking space previously reserved for a single vehicle. “It’s almost always full,” Thompson reports.

A second corral was installed in June behind the Thirsty Pig on Market Street. The city is inviting applications from other merchants who want to sponsor a corral.

Despite Maine’s progress, there are still plenty of places with insufficient bicycle parking, or none at all. And the state has relatively little covered parking to shelter bicycles from the weather. That would be particularly welcome at places such as the Portland Transportation Center, where people often leave bicycles for extended periods.

In its annual ranking of states based on their bicycle friendliness, the League of American Bicyclists urged Maine to add bike parking at all state office buildings, parks and other state facilities.

Perhaps the most difficult place to park a bicycle is at shopping centers. If they have racks at all, they’re often tucked in obscure corners, far from the entrances. If they lack parking altogether, it’s often difficult to find a street sign or tree to use in a rack’s stead.

Amazingly, the office at the Maine Mall told me that the mall provides no bicycle parking. (I actually found a rickety old rack near Macy’s that barely qualifies.) A friend was so frustrated by his inability to secure his bicycle safely amid the acres of cars that he wheeled it right into the mall.

Over the years, I have encouraged businesses that I frequent to add bicycle racks. It took years, but my bank finally installed one. If enough of us lobby, maybe the Maine Mall will come around.

One final word about bicycle parking: We are fortunate that a growing number of Maine festivals and other events – from the Yarmouth Clam Festival to the Beach to Beacon race – now have valet bike parking. That gives festival and racegoers a big incentive to bicycle there rather than to add to – and fight – the traffic.

Upcoming events with valet bike parking include the Bug Light Festival on Aug. 29 in South Portland.

 Shoshana Hoose is a freelance writer who bicycles in Greater Portland and beyond. Contact her at [email protected]