The Hudson River Park Bike Seizure: Why’d They Do It?

Hudson_River_Park_Side_by_Side.jpgThough there’s a rule forbidding parking bikes to objects that aren’t racks, it’s easy to miss unless you already know what to look for. Photos: Noah Kazis

Last Saturday, ten cyclists returned to where they had parked their bikes in Hudson River Park to find them gone. They had been attached to a railing along the river and, as reported in Gothamist, confiscated by the park.

By Hudson River Park regulations — the park isn’t run by the city Parks Department — bikes may only be parked at a bike rack. "Bike racks are designed to have bikes locked to it; our railings and lightposts are not," explained Hudson River Park spokesman David Katz. "This was an iron railing. It’s going to get scratched. It’s going to get scuffed."

According to Katz, the bikes had been locked to the sea wall railing near Leroy Street for around two and a half hours when park enforcement officials decided they had to go. Katz claims that staff asked nearby park users, including those in the dog run and at Pier 40’s athletic fields, if the bikes were theirs. When no one claimed them, they cut through the locks and took them to the park headquarters inside Pier 40. "Since they are in violation of park regulations," added Katz, "they are summonsed."

Ultimately, all ten bikes were reclaimed, said Katz. The owners had all been on a cruise together on the nearby Queen of Hearts boat.

The Gothamist report pointed a finger at the park for not notifying the cyclists that their property was about to be seized. In particular, the lack of signs announcing the rule was seen to make the seizure unfair. Katz claimed that the rule was prominently displayed. "There are large signs at every entrance to the park," he said, including the bike parking rule along with other regulations. 

The truth is somewhere in between. I visited the park and there are, in fact, posted signs at every entrance. I found five within a minute or two walk of the Queen of Hearts’ dock. They aren’t large, however. You wouldn’t see the bike rule unless you were looking for it. Had the cyclists sought out the parking regulations, they would have found them, but it would have been very easy not to have noticed the rule at all.

Another complicating factor is the availability of bike racks. There’s a small rack immediately across the path from the Queen of Hearts, which Katz says was empty when the bikes were confiscated. The rack doesn’t have room for ten bikes, though. A block further south, there is ample bike parking, but it’s inside a Pier 40 walkway, not visible from most angles.

Those difficulties suggest that Hudson River Park should be doing more to accommodate cyclists, said Transportation Alternatives’ Noah Budnick. "If that’s the rule they want to promulgate," he said, "they have to go above and beyond to publicize it. And if they’re going to take people’s bikes, they should at least have a tagging policy in place." After all, said Budnick, the greenway is the busiest bike path in the country and each one of those riders is a Hudson River Park customer. As shown on Saturday, current efforts aren’t enough. 

  • kaja

    I’m interested in two things: the mundane issue of whether there are actually any bike racks; and more importantly, whether the bikes on the seawall were doing anyone any harm.

    If there’s no harm, there’s no foul; basic principle of human life, liberal law, and so forth.

    (In my experience there are never any bike racks where I want them to be, and so I park my junk on city — not private — property. I’d never tie up to a park railing, but only because I’d expect my ride to be ganked by bored and antisocial parks dept employees. I also diligently file cityracks requests, and as far as I can tell, they’re a black hole.)

  • TKO

    Maybe we need to investigate the idea that bike parking like car parking should not be free.

  • steve

    Why isn’t Hudson River Park run by the NYC Parks Dept, and who do they report to if not the Parks Dept? I’m curious where the authority comes from to destroy (locks) and confiscate (bikes) private property. What recourse do the bike owners have?

    Hudson River Park is beautiful and I applaud the efforts of those who continue to maintain and expand it. At the same time, it’s troubling that they feel empowered to enforce their rules in this fashion.

  • I don’t see how this is legal.

    If I set up a parking lot for cars, on my private property, may I legally break into the cars and confiscate GPS units, because I have a sign saying “No GPS units in the parking area”?

    Sure, I broke some windows, but they should have read the sign.

  • kaja

    > If I set up a parking lot for cars, on my private property, may I legally break into the cars and confiscate GPS units, because I have a sign saying “No GPS units in the parking area”?

    I really hope this starts to reveal to some of you the true nature of government and power.

    There’s no right or wrong in the real world other than what the people in power say. If they say they’re taking your bike, you either stop them, or they take your bike.

    Stop them. Else nothing will change.

  • In years of biking my kids (or, later, biking with my kids) into the Hudson River Park Trust’s Pier 40, circa 2004-2009, I was subjected to repeated, insistent demands by Trust police to “dismount” as I/we wheeled into the long, cavernous runway connecting the sidewalk just west of the bike path to the Pier 40 ballfields inside. That we might have been traveling a hair’s breath faster than walking speed, and that we were 5 or more yards distant from any pedestrian, was irrelevant. Given this habitual over-policing, I wasn’t surprised to read of the bike seizures reported here.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The reality is, bicycles have not been accommodated with sufficient bike racks. So bicycle riders have improvised solutions, and been tolerated but always subject to harassment.

    I’m fortunate to have a bike rack near where I work, but at most places I stop off on the way home, there is none. So I lock the bike to a parking meter or sign. Does this mean I shouldn’t go there, or should drive?

    As for making bike parking not free, I’ve said all along that a nominal charge would be a good thing — a nickel for up to 24 hours — and that’s how the parking meters should have been re-used. That would provide a revenue stream, and a justification for more bike parking. And abandoned bikes wouldn’t hog the racks.

  • fdr

    In response to Steve’s question “Why isn’t Hudson River Park run by the NYC Parks Dept, and who do they report to if not the Parks Dept?”:

    “In June 1998, the New York State legislature passed the Hudson River Park Act. Signed by Governor George E. Pataki in September 1998, this milestone legislation formally designated the project area as a park and established the Hudson River Park Trust to continue the planning, construction, management, and operation of the park.”

  • sajh

    The GPS argument is dumb. if a sign says dont park your car here and you do, you get TOWED. In fact, my car was damaged once b/c the tow truck didnt know if my car was front or rear wheel drive, so they broke my lock system to get into the car to do so. But it was my fault b/c I didnt read the sign correctly. Bicyclists need to realize that they are a vehicle, albeit a smaller one and need to follow the rules that cars would basically have to follow (going in the same direction as traffic, stopping at lights, yielding to pedestrians and reading signs). Ten people biking together is a LOT of bikes and I am sure it wasnt as ‘cut and dry’ as they probably put all their bikes up against the railing at the same place. That takes away from the park since now people cant even lean up against the railing and enjoy the water/park b/c there are 10 bikes there! And what’s worse, 10 people didnt think that this would be a problem.

  • Sue them

    The way to prevent this from happening again is for a few of the people whose bikes were taken to sue the Trust (guided by T.A. or similar) and indicate how paltry the “legal” bike parking provisions in the park are.

  • Doug G.

    Charles, if the park has a “cyclists must dismount” policy, what difference does it matter how fast you were going or that you were not close to pedestrians? (And what’s the relevance to the lack of bike racks, safe parking, and this ridiculous situation? Seems tenuous.)

    Park officials shouldn’t be jerks about enforcing the policy, and should be polite when asking someone — especially someone biking with his kids — to dismount. No need to yell or call the police for a minor infraction. But I do think it’s okay for them to enforce a policy consistently. Given the number of people who frequent the parks along the river, it’s probably too much to ask the people who work there to have internal radar guns or tape measurers to judge each and every rider.

    We never accept cars going where they don’t belong, even when safety is barely an issue. Bikes certainly belong in far more places than they’re allowed now, but definitely not everywhere.

  • “The owners (if the bicycles) had all been on a cruise together on the nearby Queen of Hearts boat.”

    What if instead of a bicycle locked to the fence, I locked my baby stroller (to save space on the cruise) to the fence. Would the stroller’s lock be broken and the stroller confiscated?

    Alternatively, since the bicycles were retrieved after being put into safe keeping (minus the locks), why don’t they provide a valet service for bicycles, so we can skip the locking the bikes to the fence bit.

  • Mrs. Bloomberg and her colleagues run a tight ship. There are bike racks at most entrances and at each the rest rooms but they don’t allow riding on the piers or esplanade. They don’t allow dogs or bikes in the restrooms and they seem to close the restrooms often for cleaning. They also don’t like location photographers shooting without a permit

    I’ve never noticed any indication that people might be abandoning bikes when I used to run there. Maybe they just like to keep their fences as tidy as their restrooms.

    Oddly enough, they closed the old West Street Bike Lane that, for several years, ran parallel to the West Side Bike Path some time around 2005 or 2006, when they began developing the area between Battery Park City and Houston Street. I used to enjoy riding that section at night in the winter when there was barely another soul in sight. That section of the bike path is nowhere near as interesting now that you have ride next to the highway.

  • fdr

    Stacy…Mrs. Bloomberg? LOL. But it won’t be so funny when Mr. Bloomberg bankrolls her campaign for Mayor.

  • zach

    Is there a rule for how long a bike can be parked to public infrastructure (meter, pole)? A month? A year?

  • BicyclesOnly

    Putting aside parks (which as the post explains have their own rules) and MTA staircases and fixtures (all of which I believe are forbidden to lock to), there is no rule explicitly addressing locking bikes to public infrastructure (other than bike racks). If NYPD chooses to declare a locked bike to be “abandoned property, they can clip the lock and confiscate the bike. Depending on the circumstances, they will have to afford some due process to the owner.

    In practical terms, that means that if the owner is there with the key offering to unlock and move the bike, NYPD can’t treat the bike as abandoned property (that was established in a case called “Bray”). It’s less clear what due process requires in other circumstances. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Judge were to uphold the recent confiscation of bikes along Presidential motorcade routes, even though it was done with virtually no notice, and affected people who might have left their bikes locked on the street for as little as 5 minutes.

  • BicyclesOnly

    I don’t mean to say above that NYPD was correct or justified in their confiscation of bikes along Presidential motorcade routes in the manner they did it, just that there’s a good chance a judge would refuse to find that what they did was a violation of constitutional rights to property.

  • Lora Tenenbaum

    The State parks system is short of funding. Should it spend tax dollars on bike racks or on playgrounds? On benches that the elderly (and people of all ages) can sit on or…bike racks? Should it take up space with bike racks…or plantings?

    Sure, there should be some bike racks. BUT My first reaction here was that the group of cruise-passengers who left 10 bikes attached to the railings for hours may have a sense of entitlement that is out of line. They basically deprived others of a view and of access by using the railing. Despite clear rules posted at the entrances for those willing to stop and read. Sounds like the officers actually acted very nicely. They waited 2.5 hours. They asked around, looking for the owners. Only then did they remove the bikes.

  • Anon

    As a person who has literally thousands of dollars in damage to my private home’s ironwork from bikes being locked to it over the past 10 years, I completely understand and support the need to enforce parking regulations on bikes.

    While I agree there should definitely be more bike parking, the solution really can’t be: “it’s not fair that there isn’t enough legal parking for bikes; let’s chain our bikes wherever we want, and let someone else pay for the damage it does.”

    What I really think would solve this problem is a registration regime for bikes, similar to what we have for cars. To get a license plate, you’d have to sign a form acknowledging you had read the rules about how to legally ride a bike and where to park a bike, and whatever else we think is important for you to know to secure your rights as a rider, and to ride responsibly in the city. Bikes without plates should be subject to being impounded, just like cars are. This would also be good because when bikes were abandoned, it would be easier to prove they’d been abandoned and have them removed. And it also might help deter theft if every bike had to be reigstered (of course, not promising it would stop theft, just might help make it less easy and profitable).

    There’s upsides for riders. For instance, in places where people are frequently parking bikes illegally, a license-and-ticket system would let advocates crunch data and argue more effectively for placement of racks. Tickets in a particular area is a really, really solid argument that there is a public need that’s not being met. It would help support public advocacy for the conversion of street parking spots to bike racks.

    More than helping with advocacy, this is a powerful step in terms of advancing the goal of the bike movement to mainstream bike use. The way we deal with transportation issue in this country is licensing. Major forms of transport have license plates, because major forms of transportation need rules and we need a way to enforce those rules. I think we’re at a point where the wild west unlicensed bike era is approaching an end, and there are very significant positive benefits for everyone–bike riders and non-riders alike–by having this kind of regulation. You simply can’t effectively enforce a social contract if people are totally anonymous, and you certainly can’t do it if not everyone knows the rules about how to ride and where to park! That’s the situation we have now, and it’s not sustainable if you want bicycles to be mainstreamed as a legitimate and major transportation option.

  • kaja

    > While I agree there should definitely be more bike parking, the solution really can’t be: “it’s not fair that there isn’t enough legal parking for bikes; let’s chain our bikes wherever we want, and let someone else pay for the damage it does.”

    How about instead of creating a giant new government bureaucracy, you put a little camera over your door, plus a sign on your railing saying please don’t park here you’re on camera?

    This is a tort. This part of the “legal system” works; perhaps even /too well/, in that way too many things are treated as torts when they should be crimes. (See: negligent operation of a car.)

    Your solutions are worse than the problems.

  • Karen M.

    having had yet another run-in with a Hudson River trust employee, who had been hiding, and then rode up fast to me as I was rolling on my bike, ready to get off, and threatened to issue me a summons within 2 minutes.

    There wasn’t a soul in sight. A reality check tells me that if you’re policing a law so strongly, do it when it’s a border come zipping by, threatening children, or those bikes — everyone has seen them — where you feel like you have to jump out of the way. Don’t throw your law — and it’s not a law, it’s a “regulation”, although they call it a law when they threaten you with a summons — excuses at me.

    And in both cases where I’ve been stopped, the 2 over 2 years, they were bullying and fairly inhuman.

    Apologies if this is the wrong place to post, but it did seem to pertain.

  • Karen M.

    sorry — not “a border”, but “skateboarder”. Those guys have scared me more than a dozen times.


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