In Historic Vote, City Council Passes Bicycle Access Bill

yassky_sadik_khan.jpgDOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan speaks at a press event yesterday. That’s bill sponsor David Yassky in the green tie.

The New York City Council voted 46-1 this afternoon in favor of Intro 871, the Bicycle Access Bill, opening the door to significant gains in commuter cycling. Cyclists who do not commute by bike have long cited the lack of a secure place to lock up as the most important factor holding them back. Intro 871 will give thousands of them a new legal framework to petition for bicycle access at their places of work, but stops short of guaranteeing access to all buildings. All told, its passage marks the biggest
legislative victory ever achieved by bicycle advocates in New York
City.

"This
will open up commuting by bike for New Yorkers," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn today. "We can use bikes as a main mode of
transportation." She was speaking to a packed house. The security guards at City Hall were turning people away from the council chamber because the galleries had reached capacity.

"No other city in the country has a policy like the one City Council
passed today," said Transportation Alternatives director Paul Steely White in a statement on the significance of the bill. "When we open the doors of New York City’s
workplaces to cyclists, tens of thousands of commuters are going to get
on two wheels."

For many cyclists forbidden to bring their rides to work, today’s vote was a long time coming. TA first called for bicycle access legislation in 1993, as a plank in its Bicycle Blueprint. Since then, multiple bills like Intro 871 have come and gone without becoming law.

"This is historic, a very, very major step," said John Kaehny, who served as director of TA from 1994 to 2004. "I can’t think of something that comes close to this from the City Council. This is very important because they’ve done something big. More than anything else, it validates bicycles as legitimate."

Gaining passage for Intro 871 entailed a combination of confronting and cajoling one of the quintessential New York City interest groups: the real estate lobby. Organizations like REBNY — the Real Estate Board of New York — don’t like the idea of a bicycle access mandate, and they wield a lot of influence. To overcome that inertia, everything had to line up perfectly.

TA’s constant advocacy has mobilized efforts over the course of many years. This time around, all the other pieces fell into place: a persistent sponsor in David Yassky, a Council Speaker in Christine Quinn who represents a cyclist-heavy district, and perhaps most crucially, a mayor and DOT commissioner who came out strongly for the bill. Even with the stars seemingly aligned, it took one last push from more than a thousand cyclists to put the bill over the top.

What does this all mean for bike commuting in New York? Well, the change won’t happen overnight. The bill takes effect in 120 days, and then it’s up to individual tenants to petition their building managers for access (we’ll explain how to do this in a future post). Odds are, as Kaehny told me, "it’s going to be a fight the whole way." The bill sets the stage for thousands of mini-battles between bike commuters and landlords who will try to claim exemptions from the law. Ultimately, the bill will be judged a success if commuters come out on top in the vast majority of those fights.

There are gaps in the legislation that will need to be plugged. The bill explicitly covers one building type — office buildings that have freight elevators — so there’s plenty of room to extend its applicability. A future bill could fortify this version, for instance, by guaranteeing bike access to schools, or to office buildings without freight elevators. After today’s vote, there’s every reason to believe those improvements are achievable.

  • Brian

    Where can I get a copy of the actual bill?

  • John B

    When does this go into effect? I haven’t been able to find that anywhere.

  • Folder

    Councilman Erik Martin Dilan of Brooklyn (District 37: Bushwick, Cypress Hills, East New York, Ocean Hill, Brownsville, and Wyckoff Heights) is the only person voted against the bill.

  • Sarah Goodyear

    @John B,
    It takes effect in 120 days.

  • DV

    The bill certainly encourages public – private partnerships to create something like a bike station / bike parking / commuter lockers, etc. As if this is really the ultimate take away. Awesome

    The rest of the bill is kinda funny; if you work in a building with a freight elevator, provided the landlord doesn’t come up with a great list of exceptions to not allow bikes in the building, you’ll now be allowed to bring the bike in the building. Where to actually park your trusty steed is another matter all together.

    The creation of a bike parking task force is a good idea too… A bicyclist holding a Real Estate license might make for a great candidate.

  • Erin

    I’m terribly disappointed. This bill really misses the mark. Bicycle storage is arguably far more crucial than access to the freight elevator. Instead of buildings needing to state why the freight elevator cannot be utilized for carrying bikes, as is the course of action a building’s management must take if it does not want to allow bicycles upstairs, it should have been written into the law that building management must explain why there is no available storage (eg. why the basement, backroom, etc., if existing, is off-limits). It should be implied also that access to the storage rooms shall be by freight elevator if necessary, with parking bikes in individual offices as a last resort.

    In my office building, there is a freight elevator which gets shut off at 4:45pm. After 4:45, if you want to use the freight elevator, tough luck. There is a huge back room area near the freight entrance which sits open and empty. This bill solves none of the bicycle storage problems of this large Manhattan office building.

  • JST

    So the bill’s text is that a “tenant or subtenant” may request access. The “tenant or subtenant” is usually the company that has leased office space – and not an individual employee of that company. Does this mean an employee of that tenant-entity cannot request access as an individual? Or put another way – must the request for access come from an authorized representative of the tenant-entity?

  • This is precisely why I have a folding bike. I’ve been taking my 26″ wheeled Montague Paratrooper to work for the last 2 years. My building has a pretty strict no-bikes policy. I just tuck the bike into a non-descript bag and tell them it’s a tuba. I readily await the day that I can carry it in and unfold it in front of them! Tuba this!

  • GeorgeZ

    Anyone know if this applies to, or excludes for that matter, Historic/Landmark Buildings? Work in the Woolworth building…

    Thnx

  • JK

    Per comments #7 and #8, this new law isn’t perfect. Pragmatic compromises had to be made to get it past the real estate lobby. But both practically and symbolically it’s extremely important. It gives employers much more leverage when negotiating with building management over bike access. It also publicly validates the principal that it’s reasonable to expect to bring your bike into a workplace. Though far more modest, it’s a bit like the federal civil rights act of 1964. That didn’t bring a sudden halt to racial discrimination, but it gave advocates a powerful tool to work with. Likewise, this new law is best seen as a powerful tool, not an end in itself. It will take many small struggles to get bikes into workplaces, and probably new laws which take into account those struggles before bike commuters make it to the parking promised land.

  • JK is right on about this being the starting point in a series of building-by-building struggles, as well as the starting point for a series of legislative initiatives that hopefully will culminate in a requirement that commercial tenants allow their employees bicycle access and storage.

    What can folks do now? Two thoughts:

    1) You get nothing unless the commercial tenant you work for requests a bbuilding access plan. You stand a much better chance of convincing your employer to sponsor a request for a plan if you have your “ducks in a row” first. Don’t raise this with your employer prematurely!. Begin talking with co-workers who bike about what a plan for your building should look like, anticipate the likely concerns of your employer, and look for guidance on how to make a successful proposal from TA and others in the coming weeks.

    2) Freight elevator access is another key issue. Once a building operator with a freight elevator gets a request for a bicycle access plan, freight elevator access may mysteriously dry up. Tomorrow, when you first get in to work and when you leave, take a peek and see if the freight elevator is in operation. Do this a few times over the next few weeks, and keep a written log of what you see.

  • Nate

    I’m in the exact same situation as Erin: In my office building, there is a freight elevator which gets shut off at 4:45pm. After 4:45, if you want to use the freight elevator, tough luck. There is a huge back room area near the freight entrance which sits open and empty. This bill solves none of the bicycle storage problems of this large Manhattan office building.

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