The Movement Bureau blog, which focuses on "rethinking how we move, not just due to factors such as congestion and environmental damage, but because there is scope to do it better" has an excellent post on how to make bike parking better (If Lincoln Cathedral is architecture, what is a bicycle shed?). I recommend reading the whole thing.
is there not something better to store and lock a bike up to than a sad metal hoop, concreted into the pavement?
The answer is yes. The Building Centre had an exhibit, and competition, to "redesign the bike shed" and the designs were downright cool. To some extent the competition focused on design and appearance, but there was also a focus on improving function, specifically two items 1) 100% theft-proof bike parking. 2) Complete protection from the elements.
'Hoops in the ground' take up very little space - but they don't provide any protection - from theft or the weather.
Of course the system should be reliable and easy too. Some of the ideas are cool, but probably unworkable, like placycle (pictured) which are floating inflatable pods tethered back to the ground by gas supply lines. The massed pods build up into a triffid-like assembly rising above the streetscape, the bike tree (different from this bike tree) or the HUB (which lifts bikes above the street with a conveyor belt). The most workable is probably the Clamp-On, which clamps a bike-locking hoop to existing lampposts.
I'd love to see the Building Museum host a similar exhibit for American cities, even if it were part of a larger "street furniture" display.
The coolest (and best) bike storage system mentioned in the article is the biceberg. It's being used in 5 locations in Spain. You roll up to an elevator sized structure(pictured) and open a space with a smart card. Your bike goes into a bike box (along with your helmet, shoes etc...) and then is lowered below ground into a rotating storage facility. When you want it back you swipe your card again and your box is brought up within 30 seconds. That's awesome. I wish there were some information on the costs. These facilities can park as many as 92 bikes. [The union station bike station will park 150 and cost $2 million - I wonder if this could be installed/operated for less].
A point the writer makes is that the biceburg could change bike rentals. You wouldn't need ugly, distinctive bikes to deter theft - because these stations would be theft proof. You could let bike renters ride glamorous $6,000 bikes if you wanted - much as zipcar lets you rent all the hip cars instead of just Honda civics.
Of course, such facilities as these should never preclude cyclists from being able to lock their bikes to inverted Us (IUs), street signs, parking meters, etc...It should just make for more security.
Speaking of IUs I've seen some poorly installed ones lately (no camera unfortunately). One was on 18th street NW just south of Mass. It was right up next to a street sign in such a way that you could only use one side of the IU and couldn't use the sign (without hanging your bike out into the street) so it took one parking space and turned it into one parking space. The other is at the Village at Shirlington in the alley off 28th Street South. Against the wall behind Johnny Rockets they installed two IUs. But they placed them up against the wall so that only one side is usable. Then they placed them head-to-toe (if you will) and so close together that if a bike is locked to one, using the other becomes almost impossible. Seriously, I should start a consulting business.