How Do Bike Seizures Fit Into Bloomberg’s “Green Plan”

On Tuesday afternoon the Parks Dept. seized dozens of bikes parked at the Forest Hills train station

Lauren Philson was out running some errands near the Forest Hills train station in Queens on Tuesday when she spotted three or four men using large clippers to steal bicycles. The men weren’t your typical bike thieves. "They were wearing white polo shirts with Parks and Recreation logos on them," Philson says. And they were heaping the bicycles into the big, green Parks Dept. truck pictured above.

A friend’s bicycle had been picked up in the seizure so Philson, a 25-year-old photography professional, asked the Parks officers what was going on. They told her that the bikes were being removed from trees and fencing around trees. Philson believes that bicycles were also removed from street signs and other street furniture and estimates that there were somewhere between 40 to 50 bikes piled into the truck.

Abigail Lootens, a Parks Dept spokesperson, says the bike seizures are not part of any new citywide policy nor were they done in respnse to a specific complaint. "Street trees are under our jurisdiction and if Parks enforcement officers are patrolling an area and see unattended property, they’ll confiscate it. It’s just routine," she said.

Later, a neighbor who used to work in the park brought Philson to the command center where the bikes had been taken. There she spoke with a Parks Enforcement Patrol officer who told her that "it was the first day of a citywide campaign" to remove bicycles from Parks property. The officer said the campaign was "part of the Mayor’s ‘green plan’ including the planting of a million new trees throughout New York City," Philson reports.

The Parks Dept. says that the officer who spoke with Philson is "misinformed." I have called the officer but have been unable to reach him.

Lootens said that she would try to get answers to a number of questions that I asked. She didn’t know how many bikes had been confiscated on Tuesday. She could not confirm whether bike confiscations took place at other locations throughout the city. And she didn’t have information about how often the Parks Dept. conducted bike seizures at the Forest Hills subway station in the past. "It’s just enforcement of Parks rules, a daily thing. It’s not uncommon," she says.

As for procedure, "When bikes are confiscated," Lootens says, "a note is left behind notifying the owner and telling them where they can claim it. The bikes are first brought to the local Parks Enforcement Patrol command center for several days where it is hoped they will be claimed. After that they are moved to storage at Flushing Meadows Corona Park for about a week. If still not claimed, they are turned over to NYPD."

Philson, however, says that no notes were left behind at the Forest Hills train station. Rather, the Parks employees left a single business card thumbtacked to trees on which bikes had been locked. The business card belonged to Kenneth Brown, Captain of the Parks Enforcement Patrol, Queens Sector.

"At the command center, I was giving the Captain a hard time," Philson said. "He said, ‘Look, you’ve got to get a group together in the community and do something about this.’ He seemed like he felt he was doing something wrong by taking the bikes but had to do what he was told."

Photo: Lauren Philson, Tuesday, July 10

  • Steve

    Bloomberg just doesn’t get it, and neither did Ed Koch!

    Koch returned from his 1980 China trip and extolled the 2 million bikes he saw transporting people in Beijing. He didn’t see the 4 million bike parking spaces that went along with those 2 million bikes.

    Bloomberg wants bicycle riding, but has no plans to deal with bicycles that finally come to a stop. I guess when the East River Bike Greenway is completed, cyclists can circle Manhattan endlessly, they will be fine as long as they don’t stop.

    Bloomberg’s department heads and staff have been talking up their trips to Copenhagen and other European cities. Obviously, they have not gotten the message back to his honor that where there is high bicycle transportation use – 35 percent of ALL trips in Copenhagen are by bike – there is also massive on street bicycle parking. One can barely find a foot of empty wall space in Copenhagen for all the bikes parked. Their apartments are even smaller than the average New Yorkers, and nearly all are walk-ups, at home parking is out front of the house. Subway and commuter rail have massive bike parking lots and even multistory garages. Around offices and shops, there are racks but the overflow fills all the available walls.

    Look at the photos of Bedford Ave and 7th St bike parking, and now think 100 times the number of bikes at rail station park and rides.

    I won’t even begin on the mayor allowing Police Commissioner Kelly to maintain the department’s vendetta against cyclists. Counterproductive does not begin to cover the problems.

    Would somebody please invite both the mayor and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe to sit down with Janette Sadik-Khan and have her explain how secure bicycle parking goes along with encouraging New Yorkers to ride their bicycles.

    We better start planning for what happens when, not if, the city is successful in encouraging lots more cycling.

  • mfs

    if parks is clipping the bikes from trees themselves, then that is totally justified. but there’s no reason to clip them from the railings around trees or any other lamppost, etc.

    there needs to be a big educational campaign about bike riding in the city by the city.

    Also an intrepid streetsblogger might want to look into he institutional friction that has happened in the past between DOT and Parks over putting bike racks in or next to City parks.

  • I’m totally outraged.

    I don’t know what else to say.

  • Steve

    I’m not the Steve in #1, but I agree with him. Especially when you consider that a key plank in PlaNYC is a playground within 10 minutes walk of every New York. Rry to find an open basketball court in Manhattan on a nice day–you’ll have to mutliply that 10 minute walk by 4 or 5 times. We take our bikes outn as a matter of course when going out to play basketball, and a frequent destination is the 96th Street courts in Central Park, which are easily accessible via the 96th Street transverse. We lock up on the fence outside the courts. Is Parks Department now saying that I have to look over my shoulder while playing to see if our bikes are being confiscated?

    What makes it all the more outrageous is that the Parks Department has no qualms about allowing cars into the park. They give out free parking passes to retired parks department bureaucrats ( and they have even have converted three of the basketball courts at 96th Street to parking for their own personal vehicles (

    Some of which sport out-of-state license plates and appear to be parked there 24/7, for long streches, although they occasionally move the cars in case of tournaments.


  • Charlie D.

    Someone needs to set a clear policy, communicate it with people, and then enforce it in a fair manner.

    Randomly clipping bikes with no warning is not acceptable.

    Tagging bikes with a warning that says “This bike will be removed on [date] unless this tag is removed” would be an appropriate way of dealing with concerns of abandoned bikes.

    Also, posting a sign communicating where bikes should and should not be parked would also be quite useful.

    I really don’t understand what the motivation and goal of these random confiscations are. Is someone on an anti-bike power trip or what?! Is there any legal recourse by bike owners or Transportation Alternatives?

  • a bunch of fixed gear hipsters had a super loud, annoying party last summer in the back yard of their apt. building, which unfortunately is right next to mine. instead of taking their bikes with them into the back yard, they decided to lock their bikes to the newly planted trees out front. one of them drank way too much pabst and lost the key to their lock.

    their solution to this self induced dilemma is truly selfish and amazing.

    instead of waiting until the next day to get a locksmith or something, they decided that the best thing to do was cut the tree down and that’s exactly what they did – sawed the tree in half and tossed it into a pile of garbage at the end of the block, leaving a stump for me and everyone else in my neighborhood to look at and ponder for a year. and i bet these little toadies are vegan and eat organic. i digress.

    regardless of this instance, i am well aware that if i lock my bike to a tree, it could be removed sans warning bythe city, it’s called common sense. every tree in the city doesn’t need a sticker or sign indicating this. however, if it was locked to a signpost, parking meter or whatever else and clipped without warning, that should be addressed.

  • at

    This is just typical of this administration. MB says one thing and his cronies are doing another. Just take a look at the police, he can’t control their parking habits. So he speaks of greening and congestion pricing to improve air quality and quality of life in Manhattan but he is secretly allowing re-zoning in the boroughs so his real estate developer buddies can build without typical approvals, EIS studies or parking for cars or bikes. So he only cares about Manhattan.

  • mfs

    has corp counsel ever issued a definitive memo about what the legality is of bikes locked to municipal street furniture?

  • Jmc

    The key line here is “Philson *believes* that bicycles were also removed from street signs and other street furniture…”

    More bike parking is definitely necessary and should be a focus of lobbying. However, a shortage of parking doesn’t mean you can leave the bike wherever you want (can you imagine if car owners did the same thing… oh wait, they do sometimes, and it’s widely decried on this blog).

    Bikes shouldn’t be locked to trees or park benches. Not only does this potentially harm the tree or make the bench useless, it also leads to a bad reputation of cyclists in the city. If someone double parks in the bike lane, the car should be towed, and the same thing should happen to bikes locked to trees.

    Also, people should lobby for clear rules about bike parking on signs, etc. I think the transportation commissioner would be interested in this.

  • Eric

    Check out the photo of that crazy bike-thieving truck. It’s not a king-cab, but some chop-shop special – it looks like the spliced two truck cabs together to make a four-door.

  • John Hunka

    Instead of clipping bikes, the Parks Department should install bike racks. The fact that bikes are locked to trees shows that there is an urgent need for more bike racks, and this problem is simply going to recur unless the Parks Department provides bike racks. As usual, the Parks Department can’t think outside the box.

  • dave

    To be fair to the folks that are presently working to improve conditions for cyclists, there has been a significant speed-up in the placement of bike racks around the city. A cunbersum community approval process has been eliminated and racks are going in quickly and hopefully at lower cost.

    Perhaps Parks and DOT should get together and see that racks are placed at the location in question.


  • Jake

    Even when the city gets around to placing bike racks on NYC streets THEY FACE THEM THE WRONG WAY! A bike rack designed for four bikes now holds only two. Bloomy runs this town like we are his employees. Get it straight mayor, you work for us.

  • Steve

    Parks Dep’t employees confiscate bikes but illegally park cars in the Park themselves:

    Way to go Parks Dep’t!!!

  • b

    You may report complaints against the police by calling 311. It is a fairly lengthy phone recording, so be patient.

  • This is amazing! You deserve a round of applause for vision and execution.

  • Steve Faust

    Back to the Future? I wrote comment #1 over 3 years ago, and NYC bicycle parking is still an ongoing policy fiasco.

    Critics of bicycle parking (e.g. bicycle haters) repeatedly say “locking a bike to this or that piece of street or park furniture is ILLEGAL.”
    They are Wrong – there are no bike parking laws.

    There is still no comprehensive city law covering bicycle parking on all city managed land – all sidewalks, parks and city buildings. There are comprehensive laws covering car parking, a combination of state and city laws, but bicycles do not fit into the car parking laws.

    It’s worth noting that a car can remain parked undisturbed for weeks if the appropriate series of holidays fall on alternate side of the street days. Why are bicycles being held to a higher standard? Except for locking to trees, what is wrong with using traffic signs, parking meters and other metal street furniture? What is wrong with locking bikes to park pipe rail fences. So long as the bike is not any further out into the pathway than the typical waste basket or tree pit or newspaper box, why is it uniquely a hazard to pedestrians? Is it just that some people hate even the site of bicycles and want all of them removed?

    How can Sanitation be writing laws to remove “abandoned” bikes, when there is no law defining what proper and legal parking is in the first place. Bicycles are being found guilty of violation of non existent laws! Even more incredible, the proposed Sanitation law excludes bikes abandoned at the DOT bike racks. Total disconnect between DOT and Sanitation. The city is either cleaning up all abandoned bikes on city property or it’s not. Apparently the word is “not”.

    It’s been three years since this 2007 Parks Department bike seizure, six years since the Police RNC / Critical Mass seizures, and only a few weeks since the latest Hudson River Park bike seizures. There has still not been that high level policy meeting between DOT, Police, Parks and Sanitation called by Bloomberg to set parking policy. Cyclists are still being sent around the city in circles with no place to stop and park.


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