New York City Ate My Bicycle

Streetsblog reader Stephen Kling submits the following:

I pedal my little folding bike to the Metro North station every morning, fold it up, and ride the train from Larchmont to Grand Central, nearly every morning, then glide downtown to Union Square. My fellow commuters eye me warily over their Wall Street Journals. Clearly, I’m a nut.

I’m a freelance graphic designer, with a few clients downtown, and none is more than ten minutes away from another on my bike. My thirty minutes of pedaling each day beats going to a sweaty gym.

Over a beer and barbecued pork shoulder at Hill Country on 26th St., my friend John tells me I’m eccentric. I had insisted we sit at a tiny table near the front of the restaurant, so I could could keep an eye on my bicycle, chained to a pole outside, dangling like bait.

"You’re becoming one of those weird bicycle people," he says. Then he accidentally knocks my beer off the crowded table onto the floor. The foam curdles around my shoes. "See?" he says.

Maybe I am a nut. So the next day I decide to reform my odd ways. I sit at a table in the back at an oyster bar on 21st St., and don’t worry about thieves with bolt-cutters for a minute.

I come out after an hour, and the bike is gone. They even took the lock with them after they cut it.

I ask a nearby parking lot attendant if he’s seen anything. "Oh yeah," he says. "Police came with a truck and clipped off three or four bicycles. Threw them in the back of the truck. Just like yesterday."

"The police? Just like yesterday?"

"Oh yeah. Yesterday, 22nd Street. Today, 21st. White shirts, blue patches, big truck. I seen ’em," he says, pocketing the creased bills I offer.

At least it wasn’t stolen. I head for the auto tow pound at 12th and 39th. This is the parking attendant’s idea.

Along the way, I call the bicycle advocacy group of which I’m a member, Transportation Alternatives. "Yeah, they do that all the time. You have to go to the local precinct," says the helpful woman. "Don’t go to the pound, they won’t know anything." The cab bangs a huey.

I arrive at the precinct house. "Did you take my bicycle?" I ask a lady at the desk.

"We don’t do that. It’s illegal. Speak to the Sergeant."

The world-weary sergeant listens to my plight. "We don’t take bikes. The Department of Transportation might do that. Or Sanitation. Did you call them?"

So I call. "No, we don’t do that," says a Brooklyn-sounding guy. "We never take bikes. Was it near a tree? Call the Parks Department."

"Parks Department. Was it in a park? No, we never do that. Try Sanitation."

"Hello, Sanitation. No, we never take bikes. D.O.T. does that, not us. Did you call them?"

"Morning, Department of Transportation. No, it wasn’t us. Try Parking Violations and Finance. They’re the ones who tow bikes."

"This is Parking Violations. We don’t take bicycles. Plate number? No plate number? I can’t help you without a plate number. Try Traffic Enforcement, call 311. Did I provide superior service to you today?"

"Hello, City of New York. Traffic Enforcement is not a separate division. They report to your local precinct."

"Hello, 13th Precinct. No, Traffic Enforcement doesn’t report to us, I dunno who they report to. Call 212-NEWYORK."

"Hello, City of New York. No, we have no listing for Traffic Enforcement. Did you try the Buildings Department?"

"You have reached a non-working number at the New York City Buildings Department, code 16."

"Hello, City of New York. Who told you Buildings Department? That’s crazy. The local police are the ones who control that."

"Thirteenth Precinct. Did you call Agency Resources? Try them."

""You have reached this number in error."

"Hello, City of New York. Try Community Board No. 2."

"This is Community Board No. 2. No, that isn’t us, try Community Board No. 3."

"Community Board No. 3. No, you need Community Board No. 4.

"Community Board No. 4. Sorry, try Community Board No. 5."

"Hello, Community Board No. 5. Did you try NYPD Manhattan South?"

"Hello, Manhattan South. No, we don’t do that. You should contact Borough Command.

"Hello, Manattan Borough Command. Did you try the Thirteenth Precinct? We’re in the same building."

"Hello, Thirteenth Precinct. Call Central Command."

"NYPD Central Command. Please hold for Traffic Enforcement."

"Traffic Enforcement. No, we don’t take bikes. That’s D.O.T. Did you speak to the tow pound? Maybe it got stolen? Did you think of that?"

"No, I’ve never seen a bicycle here. You can speak to a supervisor."

"No, we don’t take bicycles. You sure you don’t mean a motorcycle? Do you have a plate number?"

As I leave the tow pound, one of the workers says, "The police take bicycles in my neighborhood, too. I seen ’em."

Maybe stolen is better.

  • Gargamel Tralfaz

    Wow this is a horror story! Are you sure it wasn’t Stephen KING, and not KLING?!

  • momos

    This is outrageous. Nobody wearing a uniform of any sort should be clipping bicycles, especially ones that have been parked for short periods.

  • kafka

    Of course, the next post can only begin:

    Stephen Kling awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin

  • Your friend John told you to sit at the back of the restaurant? And he knocked your beer over?
    With friends like that, who needs enemy’s?

  • What a fiasco!

    To me, locking a folding bike outside negates part of the reason for even using a folder.

    I take my folder with me indoors wherever I go. If the store owner doesn’t like it, I do business elsewhere. Depending on the folder I’m using, I’ll either bag the bike and carry it or fold it and roll it in. I’ve done this with restaurants, convenience stores, the post office, banks, walmart, kmart, grocery stores, office buildings, etc. The key is to get a folder that is very light or one that rolls when folded.

  • Spud Spudly

    That’s an awful story. I hope it wasn’t good beer.

  • This is truly appalling. I hope this article on Streetsblog helps. He wrote his tale very well.

    It’s interesting to ask what could we do collectively to help this guy, and others in his situation? Maybe we could start some sort of central data base or site or listserve, so that when people get their bikes taken by the authorities, they could contact the site, and then “we” could collectively inundate the city with phone calls asking where some guy’s bike was. Something to change the dynamic from one lonely guy facing this big system, to a bunch of people ganging up on the system. I know from being a reporter that City Hall hates it when their is collective action on anything. And they hate lots and lots of phone calls. Does this make any sense to people? Any way to do it?

  • makingmark

    Steven,
    Wow. I’m sorry to hear about your bike. I’m also tempted to say that your friend is a jerk, but if only the world were that simple. Most people (myself included, at times) like to pick at people who aren’t like them. You kind of have a choice of trying to brush it off or becoming a hermit.

    Hopefully you learned something I’m still learning: you know best what’s right for you. If your friends don’t like that, screw ’em.

    A suggestion: try calling Mayor Bloomberg? Supposedly, his number is listed. You can try to point him to your posting. This is the kind of stuff 311 is supposed to prevent.

    A question: to what did you lock your bike? Not so I can blame you for your actions, but so I can learn from them. I’ve locked up my Brompton only once when it was out of sight, and I locked it to a Grand Central Partnership rack. If bikes are being clipped from bike racks – wow.

    Another question of curiosity: what make was your folding bike?

  • fred

    Maybe check for surveillance camera footage from nearby shops?

  • How many times must this happen before we get a real solution?

    Here’s the obvious solution: The NYPD needs to come up with a fair policy (and publicize it) for dealing with abandoned or illegally parked bikes. (I’m not saying the bike in this story was illegally parked…I don’t even know what constitutes illegal bike parking.)

    The policy should give adequate warning of removal (at least one week) and information on how to retrieve seized bicycles. With so many similar problematic bike seizures, why don’t we have some kind of standard yet?

  • Lulu

    Mr. Kling,
    Try calling The Villager newspaper. They have run stories about bikes cut by police in the East Village- perhaps they would have a PD contact person for you.

  • Hilary

    This calls for a sting operation to track bicycles that go missing. If all of these agencies deny culpability, then the assumption must be an organized ring of thieves parading as police (or other officials). This should be reason to make it the highest priority.

  • ddartley

    They sure didn’t do this, which they’re now happily doing in my neighborhood (albeit after some conflict):

    flickr.com/photos/10798592@N08/1438223085/

    (by the way, what switch to I apply to make that show up as a clickable link here in comments?! Thanks.)

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    D, all you need to do is add the http:// to the front of your URL, like this:

    http://flickr.com/photos/10798592@N08/1438223085/

    Very sorry to hear about your frustrating experience, Steve. It’d be nice if we could get someone high up at the NYPD to come up with a standard rule about bike confiscation – and standard disciplinary actions for officers that violate the rule.

  • INEPTA

    Perhaps you can go back to the parking lot attendant who tipped you off in the first place. Give him $5 to have him find out who the confiscators are and give you a call the next time they show up. Who knows… it might work.

  • Ask Bloomberg tonight about bikes.
    Short notice buy maybe someone from this community can head over there and pose the question to him.

    Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and journalist Tom Brokaw at The Cooper Union Dialogue Series, Tuesday, September 25th at 6 p.m.
    The event is free but seating is limited. The latest in The Cooper Union Dialogue Series, this event features a conversation between Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and journalist and former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw on issues of national importance. Tickets will be available on a first-come, first-served basis the day of the event, September 25, 2007 starting at 4:00 p.m. in front of Cooper Union’s Foundation Building: 7 E 7th Street, between 3rd and 4th Avenues. The free event begins promptly at 6 p.m. in The Great Hall. The doors will close at 5:45 p.m. Cooper Union’s President George Campbell Jr., the host of the event, and former New York State Governor Mario Cuomo will make opening remarks introducing the speakers.

    from
    http://www.cooper.edu/news/newslink.html#cuds2

  • mike

    Excuse me, but what in the hell is wrong with cops in this City? Why do they consistently act like thugs when it comes to bicyclists? Why does it seem like those in charge of enforcing the law are the least likely to actually know what the law is? If Bloomberg is so serious about greening the City, why doesn’t he give Kelly an ultimatum – clean up your act or else? The NYPD is a paramilitary organization — an order from the top will filter down. It just takes some awareness and some fortitude on the part of its “leadership”.

  • skeptic

    Why are you so sure it was the police?

  • Although the NYPD has a history of harassing Critical Mass riders, it is possible that criminal elements are at work here. I’d watch Craigslist and eBay to see if your bike comes up. What model folder was it anyway?

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Although the NYPD has a history of harassing Critical Mass riders, it is possible that criminal elements are at work here.)

    A real possibility. Either a cell of rogue cops off duty, or people who aren’t cops at all in uniform. Either one would be much scarier than mistaken enforcement, although confusion about enforcement would help non-police to perpetuate the scam.

  • JF

    Or some friends of the parking attendant.

  • Stephen Kling

    Why am I so sure it was the police?

    Four guys who are parking lot attendants nearby all excitedly told me it was “two police cars, about 5 policemen, and a big truck.” Technically, it may not have been police, i.e. NYPD, but the number of uniformed forces in Manhattan is truly amazing: NYPD, Traffic Enforcement, D.O.T., Sanitation, Parks, Buildings, special NYPD Task Forces, Parking Violations….it goes on.

  • Stephen Kling

    As to the question, could it be a gang of impersonators? I thought of that, but a friend opined, “If these guys were that organized, with fake uniforms, cars and a truck, why steal bikes? Why not knock over a bank instead?”

    Also, a telling detail of the theft: The broken lock was neatly removed. Who would bother taking the cut lock? Someone working for the city follwing the rules, maybe?

  • ln

    Those of us who have ridden in critical mass know that bikes stolen by the police eventually end up at what I think was called the Kingsbridge Property Warehouse in Greenpoint. But I can’t find information about it on the NYPD website. Its really hard to find that out because theres no set proceedures for the NYPD to cut locks and steal bikes. Though they have been doing a lot of it lately. They often use a sanitation law to justify it. If I were you I would be hanging around those streets with a camera to catch them! Then alert the media!

  • Julie

    That really sucks. My folding bike was taken on Broadway, in front of 19th St. btw 2:30-3pm on a Sat. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the police, tho, as part of the lock was on the ground. Regardless, it takes absolutely no time for someone to grab it.

  • Ian Turner

    ln:

    If you do try to document bicycle seizures, you are likely to be arrested:
    http://www.villagevoice.com/blogs/runninscared/archives/2007/06/bike_raid_on_ea.php

  • trek970

    Two weeks ago I was in Brooklyn near the Court Street playground in Carroll Gardens. There was a bike chained to a pole on the sidewalk. A Department of Sanitation Car pulled up, two guys got out with a pair of bolt clippers, cut the padlock, and put the bike in the trunk and drove off. Total time: 4 minutes.

  • galvo

    21 street and what? where exactly was this bicycle stolen ?

  • Stephen Kling

    21st, between 5th and 6th Ave. Why? Did you see something?

  • JK

    Maybe someone from TA, or a DOT lurker, can say, but isn’t there an executive order allowing bikes to lock to street signs, meters and other appropriate street furniture. Or, is this pending? If so, when is it expected to take effect? (When it does, it would be great to post the entire order on the DOT/City Hall website so people can print and show to the PD/DOS/Parks etc)

  • galvo

    i didn’t see anything yet, but i now know where to look, it may be a place to grab a cup of coffee and see if anything interesting is going on. i wonder how forthcoming the lot attendenat was, what type of lock and chain were used ?

  • gribley

    A little late to the conversation, here, but my first assumption is that it’s not official in any way but a bunch of guys stealing bikes. What better cover? Get some blue shirts and a truck and you’re in business; why would the parking attendant even look twice? Cleaning up the locks only helps with the air of authenticity. And the whole thing seems far too ambitious and efficient for the local police.

    If it were me, I’d be tempted to stake out the place with a camera for a few days…

  • i took a ride over there on Thursday after checking out the new 9th ave bike lane. there are no signs to lock up to on the side of the oyster bar, most of the bikes were locked up across the street to the scaffolding or to the fence alongside the open air parking lot next to the oyster bar. there was a star bucks across the street. i did see a guy leaving the oyster bar with a bag. he was going to his bike across the street near starbucks. i asked him if he heard of any bike removals by city officials otr thefts, he saids he didn’t know anything and wasn’t particular interested in the thefts whick was kindo of weird..

  • JC

    Silly me, I thought one could actually ride their bike to work and park it outdoors with no problems. Living up on 233rd in the Bronx and biking to 34th Street has been a lesson in tenacity, what with dodging trucks, peds and potholes. But, with the new greenway system in place I found it to be a rewarding ride. Alas, I didn’t spring for the $100 kryptonite lock so all my efforts at bike commuting are for naught. My bike was stolen today, not in the shadows of night time but in broad daylight. Went to lunch, it was there. 30 minutes later, gone baby gone. So, I will revert to subway rides and reading books for now. And to the thief or thieves I hope you enjoy the bike. as much as I did. The question is, I locked it at Herald Square Park. Did the city steal my bike?

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