Billyburg bike bandits strike again

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:

  • Mitch

    What happens to confiscated bikes? Do you have to go to Greenpoint to get them? If so, my sympathies go to Ms. Wang.

    Bike Stations are a really attractive idea, and they’d probably work well in a place like New York, where it makes sense to pay a resonable price for secure parking.

    There is a non-profit organization called Bikestation® that operates bike stations on the West Coast and, soon, in Washington DC. The Millenium Park facility is a lot more spectular that the ones in BART stations in California (it helps to have a bike-enthusiast Mayor, I guess), but there are lots of examples out there of more prosaic bike stations that could be propagated around New York.

    Of course, everything is harder in New York City, but I think bike stations would be worth the effort.

  • Instead of forcing a balance between cyclists and pedestrians, both of whom are already fighting over scraps of already narrow sidewalk, Montreal finds the balance between cars and bikes.

    Tremendous point, Aaron, great post! Bicycle parking should be on the street, not the sidewalk. Walking and bicycling should be encouraged by public policy at every instance, at the expense of motoring, if necessary, for too many reasons to go into.

    I was recently riding the rails on the other side of the Hudson, where New Jersey Transit has put easily identifiable and standardized bike racks at many if not all of the stations I passed on the Gladstone Branch. On a nice weekend day I saw a good number of people getting off the train and onto their bikes, and vice versa. It is nice to see people in the suburbs finding auto-free mobility, and a public agency that is working to encourage that.

  • Thanks, AD. I was just at Penn Station the other evening to take the train to Newark to pick someone up at the airport. I rode my bike to Penn knowing that we do not yet have any sort of secure bike parking or park’n’ride facility at any of our transit hubs in NYC, but still, I figured there’d be a bike rack outside somewhere. There was nothing. I had to lock my bike up to a lamppost on a sketchy part of 8th Ave and 35th Street. Fortunately, it was still there when I got back. I was actually more worried that the cops would take it as some sort of counter-terror measure than anyone else stealing it…

  • Better to ride the bike to Penn Station and lock it up at a sketchy part of Eighth Avenue than to drive to the airport.

  • I would even pay good money for safe indoor bike parking. I’ve been talking to the health club facilities people at my work and they have tentatively said that they would have a bike room sometime in the Spring. I’ll still have to drag the bike up and down the stairs of my apartment building, but that’s better than nothing…

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