Monday: ‘Bikes in Buildings’ Showdown at City Hall

bike_park.jpgPhoto of the bike-accessible workplace at 6 West 48th Street: Transportation Alternatives [PDF]

On Monday afternoon the City Council’s transportation committee will take up the Bikes in Buildings Bill, which addresses a major obstacle to bike commuting. The legislation would give people who work in commercial buildings the right to bring their bikes inside the workplace, if they have the consent of their employer. Transportation Alternatives director Paul White calls it "one of the easiest ways to enable much greener travel in New York City." The bill’s prospects look promising: Bloomberg reports that it enjoys the active support of the mayor, and most of the City Council is expected to sign on.

The public can testify at Monday’s hearing, scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m. in the main council chamber at City Hall.

Opposition stems from the Real Estate Board of New York, which is expected to testify against the bill. "I’m sorry but bringing a bike into a narrow or crowded lobby is not necessarily a safe thing," REBNY President Steve Spinola told Streetsblog soon after the hearing was first scheduled. "If
somebody brings a bike in and hits somebody, whether it’s a woman — a
pregnant woman — or a man, or whatever, and hurts them, well number
one, not only will possibly that bicyclist be sued, but I can guarantee
you that they’re going to be suing the building owner, arguing that
they left an unsafe situation."

Empirical evidence of the supposed hazards posed by bicycles is in short supply. "REBNY has been raising the liability issue for months now," said White. "The fact is
they haven’t marshaled a single example of a building that has
sustained damage or incurred liability or otherwise experienced
problems with allowing bicycles inside." T.A. has been compiling a dossier of buildings that let bikes inside, and White says they’ve found that "it’s completely doable, completely easy, and actually is a valuable amenity to tenants."

White sees a parallel to other red herrings dangled about when transportation reforms first surface. "It’s the same kind of argument that we heard in the nineties about
traffic calming," he said, "that if you built curb extensions or put in
speed humps or other kinds of devices that people would be injured by
them and they would sue. And it was proved to be completely unfounded."

REBNY also maintains that sufficient progress can be made through voluntary measures and a zoning amendment that would apply to new construction. "We’ve asked our members to try to
figure out ways of encouraging accessibility for people who want to
bring their bikes, but we don’t think that the city should be mandating
it for existing buildings," said Spinola. "We believe that for new construction, there
is a reasonable requirement that could be made, and in speaking to my
building owners, they understand that, and we’ve been talking to City
Planning about doing that."

The zoning amendment, however, will leave the vast majority of office buildings unaffected. White believes that voluntary compliance will likewise leave huge gaps. "I think if you take all the commercial buildings you’d have something
of a bell curve," he told us. "On one end of the curve you’d have the buildings that
are doing something already, really taking the lead, being proactive
about enabling bike access. On the other end of the curve, you have
buildings that are very resistant to it, for whatever reason. And in
the middle you have buildings that really don’t feel strongly either
way, but the only way that they would really enable access would be if
they were compelled through this kind of legislation."

  • I’m not even going to take the time to read this because it is already ridiculous. As much as I would prefer to bring my bike into the office and have it sitting next to my desk instead of locked up out on the street I would never ask that a private business owner be required by law to allow me to do so. When you elect to pass laws, especially asinine ones as this, you have to understand that what it boils down to is a threat of violence against anyone who may not abide.

    Are you willing to lock a person in a prison cell if they don’t want your bike in their place of business?

  • Flaherty,

    I’m not sure where you are getting your “threat of violence” concerns–seems a bit dramatic. Also, I’m afraid you have the law all wrong. Your read it, right? Because if you did you will see that it does not actually require a private business owner to let his or her employee keep a bike by their desk. Instead, it simply says that if an employer does want to let an employee keep their bike in the office (the space they already rent and pay for) then the employee should be allowed to enter the building in the first place.

  • spike

    Mr flaherty needs to read the second line of the article. “The legislation would give people who work in commercial buildings the right to bring their bikes inside the workplace, if they have the consent of their employer.”

  • Between the miscarriages and violent hallway clashes, I don’t know how anyone has survived me bringing a full size bike into a sixty year old office building a dozen times. And of course the folding bike I normally carry could easily trigger some premature labor and many building managers love to ban those too, so it’s not like we need a law telling office building bouncers to let people walk a bicycle through common areas the same as they can walk a rolling suitcase or stroller (carrying a baby that was somehow carried to term in this city full of bicycles being hurled at the pregnant). Also: Law Suits! Liability! QED!

    Maybe the owner’s org will post another “correction” here chastising Streetsblog for accurately representing their position and explaining at length that they are actually only against applying the law to 100% of extant buildings (uh huh, as reported), because that point is so confusing. Oh, just think, we’ll soon be allowed to bring bicycles into the freedom towers, I will try that on Tuesday, and at the rate that buildings are replaced here this problem should be all but solved in a mere millennium.

  • hey guys, i misunderstood the provisions of the bill so my mistake.

    it seems that bikes are not allowed in public buildings then as it currently stands?

    however, my “threat of violence” is in no way dramatic. government and the laws it enforces are done so by force and violence. it’s the fundamental basis of government.

  • Bobby

    Flaherty,
    Bikes are allowed in some buildings.

    The issue is that some owners of buildings will not allow bikes in at all, even if people who rent or own specific floors are fine with them.

    So, if your employer owns or rents the fifth floor of a building and sets aside bike parking on that floor for you, the building’s owner or manager can still refuse to allow you through the lobby and onto the elevator. So you can keep a bike in your office; you just can’t bring it there!

  • J

    Flaherty,

    While you are correct that the basis of government is an implied threat of violence, you clearly use it here to dramatize your point. The same “threat of violence” is inherent in everything from pooper scooper laws to noise restrictions. We need laws like this one to bring about positive changes when people refuse to do so voluntarily. Your fear mongering is bunk and you know it. Shame on you.

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