Bikes in Buildings: So Easy, So Effective

bikes_buildings_rally.jpg
Front row l-r: Tish James, Paul Steely White, John Liu, David Yassky. Photo: Mike Infranco.

With the fallout from Wall Street taking a toll on city coffers, Mayor Bloomberg has a lot of tough calls to make. The "Bikes in Buildings" bill [PDF] is not one of them. It’s a lay-up — a simple rule change that promises big gains for bike
commuting. The bill, also known as Intro 38, would require commercial
landlords to allow tenants to bring bikes inside buildings. No storage
requirements attached.

On the steps of City Hall this morning, City Council members David Yassky, Tish James, and John Liu joined Transportation Alternatives’ Paul Steely White and a band of advocates to urge passage of the bill. In total, 30 members of the City Council have already signed on to the measure, a majority of the chamber.

A similar pledge to promote bike storage in commercial buildings is enshrined in the transportation plank of Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC. As the speakers were quick to point out, "Bikes in Buildings" is an even easier lift.

"It’s simply to mandate that you have to allow access to bicycles, and then you let the landlords figure out, case by case, what’s the most efficient way to do it," said Yassky. The way things stand now, he noted, even if businesses encourage employees to bring bikes to work, most building managers won’t let it happen. "You can bring a dolly or a stroller, but not a bike."

Reversing this widespread policy would address one of the major obstacles to bike commuting, especially among people who already ride: the lack of a secure place to keep bikes at work. Rigorous projections of the bill’s effect are not available, but, drawing from his decades of experience analyzing bike traffic, former TA president Charles Komanoff gave a rough estimate that "universal bike commuter access to buildings would cause at least a 25 percent increase and perhaps as much as a 50 percent increase in bike commuting."

Deb Shapiro, a lawyer who works near Madison Square Park, testified to the senselessness of landlords’ current policies. When she asked her building manager why she couldn’t bring a bike inside, she was told it came down to concerns about liability and property damage. "I know a little bit about liability issues, and this just didn’t make sense to me," she said. "What damage is a bike going to do to a freight elevator? You see all these other things that can go in and out of an office building, like dumpsters and cleaning carts. What more could a bicycle do?"

Yassky had a theory about where that baseless fear of bikes comes from. "There’s this feeling that it isn’t the proper decorum for an office building to have people bringing their bicycles in," he said. "How outdated can you get? I think any building owner should be proud that the tenants in his or her building are biking to work. That should be a badge of honor."

Some commercial landlords are a step ahead of the curve, White noted: "Hundreds of buildings are doing this with no problem — Class A office buildings with marble floors."

Advocates are pushing for City Council to consider the bill this fall. "We need a hearing in City Council and we really need Bloomberg to voice support for this," said White.

  • Sadly, the rally itself demonstrated why we need the “Bikes in Buildings” bill. I was prevented from participating by the security detail that would not allow me near the steps of City Hall with my bicycle. When I asked why, I was told that my bicycle could be used as a weapon. (Well, gee, so could a ballpoint pen and a set of keys.)

    Since I didn’t have a lock with me (I ride a folding bike, and usually take it wherever I go), I was consigned, as a potential bicycle terrorist, to standing outside the fence wistfully watching the rally proceed. I had no idea I wouldn’t be able to keep my bike with me at an outdoor event.

    Morever, I am astonished that one can not even approach the steps of City Hall, a public space, without being subjected to an invasive security procedure. In Albany, there are many demonstrations that take place on the steps of the State Capitol without any such security shake-down, and, presumably, that’s a more powerful government.

    T.A., the next time you organize such a rally, please notify your constituency if it’s a situation that requires locking up your bike. I would have brought a lock if I had known.

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    If there are people that are satisified with this, then I hope it serves them well. But I work in a building (in Yassky’s district) where the mamagement will allow me to bring my bike up on the passenger elevator (but absolutely not the freight elevator). Let me tell you, people really love when I take up all that space, or when a dirty tire rubs up against their clothes. And then, when I get upstairs, where do I put my bike? It’s not like we rent more office than we need. This legislation isn’t solving my problem.

  • Emily J.

    Maybe I am missing something about the logistics of city government, but if a majority of the Council already has pledged its support for the bill, why can’t the Council go ahead and pass it?

  • Stephen

    While sympathetic, I see two problems. For getting in and out of the building, freight elevators normally operate only from 9 AM to 5 PM. If you work until 5:30 PM, how are you getting your bike out? Are you leaving it in the office and walking home?

    Where will the bikes be kept? My office has us crammed tight in here (rent is expensive). The only open places are in front of the emergency exits (well, most of the time).

  • t

    I think the point is that it could be a policy that is determined building by building. In buildings where there is ample storage you could bring your bike to your floor. (One of my old offices had a row of empty cubicles where people stashed their bikes during the transit strike. Another of my old offices had enough space in a back hall that the five people in my office who rode — out of about 40 people — could leave them there.) In some buildings you might be able to roll your bike into your corner office. In others, you could keep it in a storage room or basement.

    The bigger point is that it’s relatively easy for employees to convince their bosses to allow bikes in the office. But it’s VERY hard for those bosses to get their building managers to agree. So you have a Catch-22 as it stands now: you’re allowed to bring your bike to your office, but you can’t bring it up to your office. This bill would make it easier for companies to work with building managers to benefit their employees.

  • fdr

    Emily….a majority of the Council can pass the bill and send it to the Mayor. They will need at least 2/3 to overcome a Mayoral veto if that’s what Bloomberg decided to do.
    Urbanis…City Hall has had security for many years before you can approach the building, at least since 9/11. Remember the guy who brought a gun and murdered the City Councilman a few years ago? He was let in without a search because he was with the Councilman. They don’t allow that any more. Of course it’s harder to murder someone with a folding bike but you never know.

  • J

    Jefferey: While this doesn’t solve your problem, it will solve many other people’s problems. My building allows dogs, strollers, hand carts, and small children inside, but it absolutely prohibits bicycles. I have plenty of space in my office and there is unused space in the lobby to store bikes. If I’m at work and it starts raining or I need to leave my bike behind for some reason, I can’t just throw it in the empty office.

    Stephen: There are 3 links in the chain to storing your bike in your office. 1) Bike commuter
    2) Building allowing bikes inside
    3) Office allowing bikes inside

    This particular law guarantees #2, which should link together many existing #1 and #3s. In your case #3 isn’t possible, so you’re still out of luck. Please don’t let that stop you from supporting this bill, which will help many other bikers out there.

  • fdr, I believe legislation along these lines is included in PlaNYC so I can’t see why Bloomberg would veto. But you never know.

  • srock

    Emily: to fully answer your question, the City Council does not just need to have a majority to pass a bill. A bill must first be subject to a public hearing, and that hearing must occur in a meeting of the committee to which the bill has been assigned. Intro 38 is currently assigned to the Housing and Buildings committee, which is chaired by council member Dilan. Dilan has not called the bill up for a hearing, and therefore the bill cannot proceed through due process to the point where it actually gets voted on by the full city council. If you want to help get this bill passed, write Dilan’s office and ask that the bill be heard. His contact info is here: http://council.nyc.gov/d37/html/members/home.shtml

  • Intro 38 is currently assigned to the Housing and Buildings committee, which is chaired by council member Dilan.

    You mean the son of State Senator Dilan?

  • Emily J.

    Thanks, fdr and srock. I’ll drop Dilan an email.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Well, if there was ever a time to do it, it is now. Convert the empty space to bike storage, and tell your lender the city made you do it. We could remove 2 million square feet from the coming excess supply overnight!

    Perhaps by the time the economy recovers, they’ll actually build a signficant number of new office buildings.

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    Sorry, J, if it seemed that my support was contingent on my problems being solved. The first sentence in my post meant to convey my happiness for anyone who is pleased with this legislation.

  • Max Rockatansky

    Working @ rock center I’d be happy if they just put more bike racks on the street. Of course I wouldn’t turn down the indoor parking!!!

  • Kate

    In my office building the issue was using the passenger elevators.. which are virtually empty after 6:30… when I usually leave, but the freight elevator was closed by that time. I would add to the bikes in buildings bill that it must include the elevators/offices etc.

    The building actually owns a garage where they have just last month installed bike hooks and for me that is a major perk of my job. It was a fight to get it, but so worth it!

  • Ken

    I encourage biking to work. That being said; people who ride Bicycles to work need to have a means of securing their bikes and most businesses provide an outdoor means. The issue is indoor storage at work. Where I work, issues have come up with the bikes scratching the stainless and wood surfaces in the elevators, other passengers getting dirt smudges from the bikes tires. Office storage can be a challenge; storage in the halls can be a fire code issue.

    The biggest concern is during an emergency evacuation, bikers try to get their bikes down the stairs with all the other folks, many problems as you can imagine. The lack of a secure place to keep bikes at work is a on going problem. Unfortunately this is not cost affective for management to provide inside bike storage.

    Automobile parking is regulated by building codes. What about inside bicycle parking? I agree, any building owner should be proud that the tenants in his or her building are biking to work.

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