Now the MTA is Stealing Bikes in Williamsburg

Back in July
, New York City’s Department of Transportation built sidewalk extensions and bike racks on a few automobile parking spaces-worth of street space near the Bedford Avenue subway stop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was the first time ever that on-street car parking had been replaced by bike parking in New York City.

The Bedford Avenue L subway station is a popular park-and-ride spot for bike commuters and demand for the 25-or-so new bike parking spots almost immediately exceeded supply. Even though the NYPD has been aggressive about sawing off locks and confiscating bicycles in the area over the years, commuters have continued to lock their bikes to street furniture, subway railings and fences in the area. Now, it looks like the MTA is getting into the act as well. Aaron Curran sends along 3-minutes worth of camera phone video showing MTA workers "seizing" bikes locked to the subway railing.

Granted, Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t control the MTA — Lee Sander does — but the question must be asked yet again: How does the seizure of commuters’ bicycles fit into New York City’s long-term sustainability plan? Why is the MTA putting resources towards sawing locks and stealing bicycles rather than simply ignoring bicycles as they have done for so long or, better yet, outfitting subway stations and buses with bike racks, as is so common in so many other cities around the world? Perhaps it is time for DOT to accelerate its plans to install another set of bike racks on the northwest corner of Bedford Ave. and N. 7th St., catercorner from the subway entrance.

  • STOP THIS MADNESS!!!!!!!!!

  • mike

    Sometimes I think half the lack of progress on livable streets issues in this city comes not from ignorance or hostility, but just from the bureaucracy operating on auto-pilot.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The MTA doesn’t see bikes as an extension of the transit system. It’s a new concept here, and it might be convinced to change its mind.

    The extension of the subway to underserved areas of the city now seems like an impossibility given the cost. If we get the Flushing Extension, LIRR to GCT and the upper half of the SAS we will have done well.

    The extension of the Nostrand Avenue line to Marine Park is a fantasy, as is the extension of the Archer Avenue line to Southeast Queens. Too far to walk, and bus to subway takes too long, but bicycles move at three times the pace of pedestrians.

    If the LIRR to GCT actually happens, the number one capacity constraint on the commuter rail system will be parking.

  • I plan on writing a letter to the MTA about this, asking for an explanation and outlining the numerous problems with stealing bicycles from their customers, including the misuse of resources.

    I don’t know if it will help, but I suggest others do the same.

  • Steve

    Question for Aaron Curran: In the video, I did not see any written notices on the bikes indicating that they would be taken. Did you see any?

  • facted

    Can we send this to the traditional media outlets in NYC and see if anyone wants to run with the story?

    It can be argued that removing the bikes from street furniture is following the law, but why not remove the old green bike? They seem to be clearly stealing bikes. In addition, just like when a car is towed, is there anywhere for these people to claim their bikes???

    Digg this up!

  • facted

    Sorry about the second message, but the Digg link is here:

  • vox ferum

    I don’t agree with the MTA’s actions in this circumstance, but by the looks of this video, the clipped bikes were attached to the MTA owned subway entrance which have a plaque that conveys a “no bike parking” message.

    That doesn’t mean procedureless confiscation is ok, but it does make this instance very different from previous Bedford Ave clippings where bikes that were locked to city owned signposts that have no such “no bike parking” message on them were taken without warning or process.

    I completely agree that a consistent pro-bike message needs to be conveyed by all involved in the transportation network, and think the bikes shouldn’t have been clipped without a codified process of tagging, but also want the nuances of this particular incident to be absolutely clear.

  • Michael Cairl

    This action by the NYPD is a disgrace. Not only should there be more bike parking across the street, but give some thought to converting on-street car parking to bike parking. The demand for bike parking seems compelling. Now THAT would be consonant with PlaNYC 2030.

  • rex

    It takes three people twenty minutes to steal two bikes? No wonder the MTA has budget issues. Perhaps they should consider subcontracting to professionals.

  • ddartley

    I also have a question for Aaron Curran: truly, good citizenship on your part to photograph everything, but I’m assuming you didn’t ask the people why they were doing it, or where they were taking the bikes! Why not??

    Michael Cairl–to clarify, if needed: it seems it was NOT NYPD, but MTA. And right around that area is where, for the first time, the City actually DID take away car parking space and reassign it to bike parking (by expanding the sidewalk to cover over former street space).

  • umm?

    Ummm- they are cutting bikes because its against the law? Just like how you guys want people with parking placards to finally be punished. Can’t have it two ways guys!

  • plist

    Best thing the mayor can do re: biking – get all the players on the same page! Come up with a unified approach to biking that encompasses all of the various depts of city govt. Build out the bike infrastructure with adequate facilities and lay out the law in a clear and concise manner. It’s about reaching a consensus on some basic points. I think they’re doing fantastic work at DOT but sometimes it seems like it’s two steps forward and one step back.

  • Carl

    Finally some action from the MTA on this! I can’t standing walking down into the subway and having to see bikes chained to the stairwell. After unstoppable invasion of bike lanes onto our city streets, I would rate bikes chained to subway stairwells as the most serious threat to New Yorkers’ way of life.

  • Hilary

    Local train stations around Tokyo all have sprawling bike-parking areas — at multiple exits serving different neighborhoods. This is the kind of scale MTA has to think in.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Local train stations around Tokyo all have sprawling bike-parking areas — at multiple exits serving different neighborhoods. This is the kind of scale MTA has to think in.)

    Particularly adjacent to outlying locations. I’d vote the Kings Highway express station on the Brighton Line for a pilot.

  • Dave H.

    Any way to do this without having them being ‘sprawling?’ We all know what’s wrong with sprawling car parking lots.

  • Steve from Brooklyn

    Mayor Bloomberg’s bike policy is utterly schizophrenic. On one hand, the mayor is pressing hard to completing the circumferential bike paths around Manhattan. The Hudson River Greenway is essentially complete, and the East River gaps are being addressed. On the city streets, new bike lanes are being installed.

    On the other hand, the mayor’s bike parking program is utter chaos, where municipal bike theft seems to be the leading goal. Secure bike parking is the number one reason people state for not bike commuting and other utility bike trips – street safety is a necessary, but not sufficient element for bike use. At 5 PM, if the bike is not where you parked it in the morning, a door to door bike path will do you no damned good.

    So soon, thanks to Mayor Mike, it will be possible to circle around and around Manhattan, and even cross the borough, on dedicated bicycle facilities, but don’t ever stop and park!
    This some Alice In Wonderland Caucus Race.

    Lack of bike parking, out of control police wasting millions chasing Critical Mass since 2004, and usually lying about their actions, the mayor doesn’t know that adult cyclists are not required to wear helmets – quote from his comments downplaying the Paris bike rental program, Parks and Sanitation and now MTA practicing ad-hock bike theft.

    Bloomberg just doesn’t get it. He depends on his managers to do the right thing, but he is missing the knowledge and maybe the ability to oversee their actions. Mike is trying to help bicycling in the worst way – and that’s how we are getting it. Isn’t there someone connected to the mayor who can sit him down and tell him the facts of life?

  • Hilary

    Hmm. They’re densely packed, but still do take up space. About as much space as the station itself. Probably less than would be required here, because of the elaborate locking systems we need. It helps that they are on either sides of the station. It is worth noting that every station and its neighborhood is a commercial beehive – packed with small shops and eateries aimed at commuters. Our MTA stations and their neighborhoods are desolate and underutilized by contrast. We should allow for “micro-business” zones, that accommodate vendors, stalls, really small shops. These are the businesses that provide services that commuters really want -cheap breakfast, shoe repair, lottery ticket. When all the businesses around a station are large, it takes too long to get to them and shop in them.

  • Hilary

    Steve from Brooklyn: you have a (midtown) Manhattancentric view if you think the Hudson River Greenway is almost complete!

  • momos

    Re: vox ferum, post #8

    I always appreciate nuance and regard for facts. However, no subway entrance I use has any such sign about bike parking.

    If subway entrances were plastered with enormous neon signs informing New Yorkers that they can’t park their bikes it still wouldn’t change the absurdity of this situation.

    The problem isn’t signage or lack of it. The problem is how stupid it is for a public transit agency to take away the means passengers use of getting to its stations.

  • galvo

    why was the green bike left and the other bikes taken? were the others stripped and nonworking bikes?

  • I wonder if that’s what happened to my bike that I thought someone stole at Driggs and N7th. 🙁

  • galvo

    #20 momos,
    the 14 street/union square station has no bicycles signs on the railings at the south east entrances. i always wonder why the no bicycle signs, the area by the railings would be a good place to lock up at , the footprint of the bicycles would not impede pedestrian traffic, they are well off the sidewalk

  • When I realized what was happening I approached the MTA woman to ask her what was going on. A woman crossing the street got to her first, and asked the woman what they were doing. The MTA woman claimed they were seizing the bikes, and that they needed permits. Already a little nervous because I was photographing them, I decided not to push the issue, focusing on documenting the matter for later review. I do regret not asking them more questions at the time, but I hope everyone feels free to ask the MTA these questions now, since they clearly took the bicycles.

    Regarding signs, I also know of no such plaques here. There was, however, a piece of paper attached to the green bike. It was not very visible to anyone other than who owned it, claiming it would be removed. But the paper was at least a few days old. The bikes they did take were not stripped. They looked like fairly new bikes that had been parked there that morning, whereas the green bike looked like it had been there for multiple days. I have no idea how many bikes they may have taken before I arrived. But why didn’t they take the green bike?

    Also, I don’t think illegally parking your car in front of a fire hydrant is the smartest way to combat illegally parked bicycles.

  • Brandon

    They’re doing the same thing at the Graham Ave L station. They put a little sign on your bike stating you need to remove it immediately then saw the shit off and haul it away a few hours later.

  • Brandon

    ….and there is no bike racks anywhere near that subway stop.

  • Steve from Brooklyn

    Hillary – 20
    I guess things must have changed on the Hudson since last Wednesday when I rode from Brooklyn via Chambers St to Dykman into the Bronx and back along the greenway. Did the city demolish something this weekend since I went through?
    Sure there are some rough spots, but one does not have to ride on West St, 12th Ave or Riverside Dr. to travel this route.
    On the east side, one must use 1st and 2nd Aves to bypass the UN gap – not at all a pleasant or easy place to ride, and the Harlem River Dr route is a patchwork of unconnected park sections.
    What are you expecting on the Hudson?
    But at least the waterfront paths are a more coherent project than the city’s bike parking chaos.

  • Mitch

    In Chicago, there are bike racks inside some of the subway stations.

  • Hilary

    You went as far as Dyckman. That leaves Washington Heights, Inwood, Spuyten Duyvil, Riverdale and the connection to Westchester. I’d call that half of the city’s HRVG segment? Not to knock the progress !

  • Hilary

    Steve – I like your appreciation of the Hudson River Greenway as a “more coherent project.” Parkways, as linear park corridors, are what make this possible.

  • Steve from Brooklyn

    Hillary, I have used the path over the Henry Hudson, but seeing that I only needed to reach Lehman College, the northern section was beyond my needs.
    But I hope that we can agree that while traveling from 59th to 200th st may still be in Manhattan, it’s hardly a midtown CBD thing.

  • Steve from Brooklyn

    PARKWAY (c)(tm) by F.L. Olmsted, is a multi-use linear extension of the park system, not just a motor highway with trees.

  • Baer

    Washington Hts. is South of Dyckman, the island of Manhattan ends at w218th st but postally speaking actually extends to Marble Hill. Maybe we could get a bike path on the Amtrak/Metro North bridge.

  • I just talked to MTA customer service. The representative said that I would have to call the Stations Department to find out what happened (718-243-3222), so I left a message and they are supposed to call back within 48 hours (long time to be without your bike) with more information which I will report here.

    The MTA “Rules of Conduct” doesn’t say anything about bicycle parking.

    And, I wonder how you identify your bike if you can get the MTA to return it to you? Couldn’t you just take the nicest bike there? How would they know, and do they even care?

  • Hilary

    Steve – The Olmsted definition of parkway is perfect, even in the post-carriage days. We can’t allow the ones designed for automobiles to become just “motor highways with trees”. Their right-of-way include the parks and trails. These should be expanded.

    A new NYMTC planning grant (thanks or no thanks to a Riverdalian’s earmark) was just awarded to RBA to study the feasibility of a water route from Dyckman to Yonkers. It will presumably look at the Amtrak Bridge as an option. This is good, although it unfortunately holds up the plan that the Parks Dept was ready (with funding) to implement after 10 years of public hearings. That route used the Henry Hudson Bridge and Palisades Avenue, through Riverdale Park to the Riverdale Station and back up to Riverdale Avenue. The controversial part was through the parks. An alternative (utilitarian) route would use the parkway service road connecting to Riverdale Avenue and linking to the Putnam Line. The virtues of this is it was accessible to the densely populated ridge.
    Hopefully, when the planning is all finished there will be three routes to choose from, all of them beautiful.

  • Jason, thanks for posting that phone number.
    To get back on topic, everyone should get on the phone, write a letter, contact the MTA. If they get bombarded by people concerned about their policy (or lack of one) regarding seizing bicycles, they will be forced to respond.

    Hopefully we can push some sort of conclusion through action. I hope we don’t have to see another one of these posts about government agency’s seizing bicycles, but unless we do something, I’m sure this will not be the last incident of its kind.

  • Baer

    So if it was the Sanitation Dept. that removed them isn’t this right back on Bloomberg’s lap? I’m unable to view the video, are mta or sani. workers removing the bikes?

  • Baer – it was the MTA…the “Stations Department” is just one piece of the MTA’s bureaucratic puzzle.

  • Baer

    Thanks, my misread.

  • ddartley

    Got it, Aaron C., and I shouldn’t have sounded hostile to you. I was just so pissed at what had happened.

    And “umm?” certainly has a point about cracking down on placards vs. this. But the reasonable thing to do in both cases, “umm?” is to give some kind of #$% warning first, thanks very much.

  • cosechar

    Given the way these idiots operate, how can you possibly believe that CONGESTION PRICING will be anything but an abject failure?

  • al

    i called the dot about how it’s illegal for me to park my bike in front of my house, since there are only street signs, and that it’s ridiculous because there is car parking everywhere here. free parking. but the nearest bike rack is at least 5 blocks away.

    you know they left that green bike becuase it was heavy.

  • momos

    lol al, you’re totally right. The green bike was too much effort.

  • momos

    # 24 galvo,
    I never noticed that sign at Union Sq. Good points. This also raises the question, why have signs at some stations but not others? Is this a system-wide policy that’s only intermittently labeled, or is it a case-by-case thing?

    Either way, bike parking at MTA facilities is a no brainer that the city should introduce immediately.

  • Jonathan

    For the longest time I wondered whether the Kellogg’s Diner building on the corner of Met and Union could be topped off with two stories of bike parking. Maybe paid lockers on the second floor and free open-air sheds on the third floor/roof. Or could one maybe build a bike-parking structure underneath the BQE where it crosses Metropolitan Ave? It would be one stop further east than Bedford Ave, but there is nothing under the highway right now, and a bike parking lot wouldn’t require too much headroom.

  • pt

    Yesterday or the day before, one of the handlebars of a bike chained near the top of the stairs there slipped through so the handlebar was sticking well into the subway stairwell – this was during evening rush hour. It was a pretty bad safety hazard (narrow stairwell crowded with people and something blocking a normally unobstructed area) and it wouldn’t surprise me if that prompted the action today – either because of citizen’s complaints or because the MTA doesn’t want to get sued for millions in a personal injury lawsuit.

    I’m sorry people had their bikes taken, but even ignoring the safety issue, that is a pretty inconsiderate place to put your bike. The sidewalk there is narrow to begin with, and when it’s crowded, you’ve just made hundreds of people have to deal with your single bike. There are plenty of places to lock your bike a block or two away. You aren’t entitled to a bike parking place within 10 feet of your subway stop.

  • Chaka

    Anyone know where the MTA is gonna hold it’s BIKE SALE?… and when? I’m kinda looking for a fancy high-tech cruising machine…….

  • mfs

    In the recent past, there has been a pretty clear sign that says no locking your bike to the subway entrances. I don’t know if it’s there now. Some times people go overboard on putting no bike parking signs up (like on the fences around trees), but it’s pretty clear that you shouldn’t park your bike on the subway entrance walls especially where the sidewalk is so narrow.

    We really need triple the amount of bike parking there- I end up having to lock to a parking meter a block or two away when I bike to the Bedford stop. The city also needs to do something about the bike sellers that are hogging the spots on the racks.

  • glennQ

    I was thinking the same thing Chaka (post 48)! Where they auctioning the bikes?


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