On Sunday, the New York Times City section ran a story called "The Bicycle Thief: It’s Not Who You Think." It went like this: On Wednesday, 28-year-old graphic designer Miao Wang rode her bicycle 12 blocks from her apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to the Bedford Avenue L subway station. She locked up, boarded her train and went to work. That evening, she emerged from subway to find that her black Diamondback bicycle was gone.
Ms. Wang’s bicycle was one of nine confiscated in the latest police sweep of bikes locked to railings, street signs and parking meters around the subway station. With the ten bike racks on North Seventh Street between Bedford and Driggs Avenues typically full, it has become normal to see scores of bikes chained in thick clumps to other street fixtures on the block.
The challenge, DOT bike program director Andrew Vesselinovitch told the Times, is "balancing the need for bicycle parking on crowded sidewalks that thousands of people walk on each day." Underlying Vesselinovitch’s statement and the city’s land use and bike parking policies is the assumption that the only possible place to park bicycles is on the city’s sidewalks. The City of Montreal, Quebec does not work under this assumption and this is what bicycle parking looks like there:
As you can see, at this popular cyclist destination, the City of Montreal has dedicated a small slice of street space to bike parking. As a result, in a spot that would otherwise accomodate only two or three cars, fifty people can store their vehicles, their bikes. Instead of forcing the "balance" to be found between cyclists and pedestrians, both of whom are already fighting over scraps of already narrow sidewalk, Montreal finds the balance between cars and bikes.
Free curbside parking spaces are considered virtually sacred in New York City. Perhaps this is why Vesselinovitch said the balance had to be struck between pedestrians and cyclists. It might just be hard to imagine that it could be done any other way. Truly, there are lots of creative ways to do bike parking in a crowded city. Take a look at Chicago’s new Millennium Park Bike Station:
Considered a crown jewel of Chicago’s 21st century transportation infrastructure, the Bike Station is filled to capacity by daily downtown commuters and tourists most days of the year. In addition to providing secure bike parking it offers lockers, showers and bike repairs.
The Calatrava-designed train station in Lower Manhattan is a no-brainer spot for a park’n’ride bike facility like this. So is the new development at the Atlantic Railyards in Brooklyn. Here is an example of outdoor bike parking I found during a trip to Brussels last year, across the street from the European Union Parliament building. It doesn’t fit a lot of bikes but it shows a certain respect and genuine encouragement to provide cyclists with some roof cover in case of rain. You just don’t see this sort of support for cycling in New York City’s built environment: