Fall 2004, p.4-5

Cycling News: Bike Parking
The Bane of the Would-Be Bicyclist

Freight elevators are an easy way for tenants to bring their bicycles into their offices.

Freight elevators are an easy way for tenants to bring their bicycles into their offices.

For every one of the over 112,000 daily bike riders in New York City, there are many more who want to ride but do not.

What is stopping them? Is it disrespectful drivers, furniture-sized potholes, or out-of-control cabbies? The NYC Department of City Planning's Bicycle Survey Report (1999) shows that the fear of a stolen bike is the number one obstacle to would-be cyclists. New Yorkers would bike in droves if they had secure places to park their bicycles.

The fear is well founded. New York City has the worst bike thieves in the country. The New York City Police Department reports six to eight thousand bike thefts each year; T.A. estimates there is actually ten times that amount. Unfortunately, the police report that, on average, only 2% of stolen bikes are recovered each year. It is simply not safe to park a bike on the sidewalk overnight or for an entire workday.

The solution—secure indoor and outdoor bike parking—is in short supply and getting shorter as bicycling becomes more popular. New York City needs more secure bike parking.

How to Double Bicycling in NYC

If indoor bike parking was abundant in New York City and if tenants were guaranteed bike parking in offices and building storage areas, then the number of people biking to work could quickly double. This increase would indelibly change the feel and safety of NYC’s streets because the more people that bike, the safer biking becomes.

Indoor bike parking can be guaranteed through new City Council legislation, or by changing the City’s zoning regulations or building code:

  • The City Council could pass Introduction 155, requiring all buildings to make reasonable provisions for their tenants to bring their bicycles inside. The bill, proposed by Councilmember David Yassky, is awaiting review by the Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee, which is chaired by Councilmember Madeline Provenzano. In October, over nine hundred people e-mailed Councilmember Provenzano, asking her to schedule a hearing and support the bill. As of press, the indoor bike parking bill is still waiting for a hearing date.
  • The NYC Department of Planning's rezoning of Long Island City, Queens and Downtown Brooklyn requires all new commercial buildings to have “enclosed, accessible and secure” bike parking. City Planning should put this zoning change into effect citywide.
  • The NYC Department of Buildings could include financial incentives to reduce construction and building fees if builders include indoor bike parking in its current round of revisions to the City’s Building Code. The new code could also include specifications for indoor bike parking.
  • The NYC School Construction Authority could require indoor bike parking in all schools.

Outdoor Bike Parking on The Rise

Outdoor bike parking, while less secure than indoor, is essential to accommodate the growing number of people using their bicycles for shopping, errands, deliveries and other short trips. An added benefit of outdoor bike parking is that it organizes parked bicycles and keeps sidewalks free from obstructions.

Even with 3,400 DOT bike racks on city sidewalks—there is only one rack for every 33 bike riders—not enough to meet the huge demand for short-term bike parking. Though the situation is improving over time, the DOT still needs to install more racks. Eight years ago, there were no DOT-installed bike racks in NYC. In 1996, at the behest of T.A. and city cyclists, the DOT started CityRacks, which uses Federal Clean Air Act funding to install free bike racks on public property. Many Business Improvements Districts have also taken the initiative to install bike racks in their neighborhoods. Since the City DOT started installing bike racks, the number of people who bike everyday in NYC has increased 10%, from 103,000 to 112,000.

Still, short-term bike parking in the city is largely a free-for-all. In popular cycling neighborhoods, where the few existing bike racks are well used, and in other neighborhoods where bike racks are still yet to arrive, the shortage of racks forces people to lock their bicycles to all available sidewalk fixtures: sign and lampposts, parking meters, bus stop poles, subway entrances, scaffolding and fences.

CityRacks would greatly benefit from increased funding and staff. The program installs racks in fits and spurts and is often held up by the bureaucracy of dealing with City contractors. More staff would help cut through the red tape and keep up with the day-to-day demand for bike racks—currently at 150 requests per year. More importantly, more staff would allow the program to expand and proactively work with schools, parks, community and senior centers, libraries, the MTA and Port Authority and other government institutions and business associations that would welcome secure bike parking for their patrons.

How many bike racks is enough? New Yorkers need as many bike racks as the City can install. The City of Chicago has one rack for every four riders and installs about 900 new racks each year. The City of New York installs about 400 racks each year.

The City of New York has no policy on removing abandoned bicycles.

The City of New York has no policy on removing abandoned bicycles.

Missing Rules = Missing Bikes

Compounding the extreme shortage of on-street bike racks is the lack of a cross-agency policy to regulate where and when people can lock their bicycles to public-property. The City of New York needs to issue a policy statement affirming that it is not illegal to lock a bicycle to a street sign or lamppost, bus stop pole or parking meter, so long as the parked bicycle does not interfere with the fixture’s operation. According to State Vehicle and Traffic Law, this is the case, but each year the NYPD unlawfully removes untold numbers of bicycles from sign and lampposts and parking meters. The Fire, Parks, Police, Sanitation and Transportation Departments and MTA need to agree on a standard policy for identifying, tagging and removing abandoned bicycles and for giving bike owners an opportunity to reclaim them. One agency should lead this process; the DOT, since it maintains City sidewalks, would be the obvious choice.

This lack of policy causes agency confusion over how to respond to public complaints regarding parked bicycles blocking the sidewalk and causing dangerous conditions and what to do with abandoned bicycles. The lack of policy results in city agencies acting on an ad hoc basis, cutting bike locks and, essentially, stealing people’s bicycles. This is wrong. The City needs a straightforward outdoor bike parking policy to end the confusion.

Security is the Key

New York City cyclists, though plagued by rutted streets and dangerous drivers, are more concerned about bike theft than other biking barriers. To encourage more bike riding, the City must address the lack of guaranteed bicycle access to buildings and scant secure bike parking.

Take Action!

Request a free bike rack!
Call DOT’s City Racks
(212) 442-7687
Go on-line www.transalt.org/cityracks.

Read the latest news on indoor bike parking.