MTA: Not Stealing Bikes. Just Following the Rules.

The MTA has been taking a lot of flack following yesterday’s dust-up over MTA workers seizing bicycles locked to the Bedford Avenue subway station stairwell railing in Williamsburg. Perhaps the wrong transportation agency is taking the hit on this one.

A camera phone-toting tipster sends along the above photo. It shows that, not only does the Bedford Avenue subway station stairwell has a posted sign warning, "Any property attached to these railings will be removed," but it also lets people know where their property has been taken and what phone number to call to retrieve it: 212-712-4500.

MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin gave Streetsblog a call to let people know that the Lost Property Unit is located on the mezzanine below the 8th Avenue ACE subway lines at Penn Station. It is open 8am to noon, every weekday except Thursdays when it is open from 11am to 6:45pm. The MTA, Soffin says, doesn’t have an interest in discouraging commuters from biking but "if someone trips over one of those bikes, we could get sued, without a doubt," he said.

So, with that, it seems, the Williamsburg bike parking problem lands firmly back in the lap of New York City’s Department of Transportation. Back in July, DOT eliminated a few on-street car parking spaces, bumped out the sidewalk and installed bike racks on the southeast corner of N. 7th St. and Bedford Avenue. As shown in the plan below, the northwest corner is slated to get the same treatment. We have some calls out to find out when that project will begin.

Teresa Toro, chair of Community Board 1’s transportation committee has
been the driving force behind these bike parking improvements.
She says that at this month’s meeting, CB1 approved five more locations
where the community would like to see on-street car parking spaces
replaced with bike racks on bumped-out sidewalks. CB1’s suggestion will be sent over to DOT
where, Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has suggested that she is happy
to see more projects like this move forward

Toro says the other five recommended spots are:

  • The northwest corner of Driggs and N.7th St., near the other Bedford Ave. subway entrance.
  • Manhattan Ave. and Driggs, a spot near the park and with lots of nightlife and shopping.
  • The southwest corner of Bedford Ave. and N.5th St. "There is a storefront there but the entrance is on
    Bedford," Toro says, "It’s nice and unobstructed and would be a really nice little bike parking plaza."
  • Near the entrance to the new state park on Kent and N.8th. You’re not allowed to ride a bike inside the park and there is currently nowhere to lock up outside the park.
  • Bushwick and Powers Street, one block north of the Grand Street L subway stop.

"Commissioner Sadik-Khan has indicated that she is entirely willing to
do more of these," Toro says. "DOT will get a letter from CB1. Then they’ll have to send out their engineers, do their turn
radius measurements and make sure these are good locations. Then we just have
to find the money to do it but the biggest hurdles are past us."

  • Portland (Oregon) has lots of these converted parking spots, as pictured here:

    DOT could do this much more quickly and cheaply by NOT building out the sidewalk, but simply using the plastic bumps and posts as barriers.

  • P

    Sure it’s much cheaper and faster but who is responsible for cleaning the glass from the bike parking area?

    It’s too bad they could use the Northeast corner- cyclists don’t want to cross the street to park.

  • galvo

    we need to get the local schools to form awards , contest or clubs to to come up with innovative ideas for bike parking and storage.
    there is so much unused spaces and rooms inside subway stations that is vacant and unused. if they are never going to fix the bathrooms , have them serve a purpose. i always look at the fireplug areas that somehow could be used for bike parking without interfering with the firefighters connections

  • Wols

    That yellow plastic stuff in Portland is butt-ugly though.

  • actually i find the yellow plastic bumps enclosing several rows of bicycles to be rather attractive, especially compared to ONE Escalade.

  • momos

    Bureaucratic maze aside, the fundamental point is that the MTA is spending public resources to take away the environmentally-friendly means of travel of its customers.

    Imagine the orderly bike racks that money could buy. Someone said it in the original post: if locking bikes to subway entrances is such a problem, you’d wish the MTA would say “gee, our customers have an unmet demand for bike parking adjacent to mass transit. Let’s install racks for them,” instead of sending out Suburban-driving employees to illegally block fire hydrants, bust locks and confiscate bikes at a storage location that New Yorkers who work normal business hours can’t access.

  • Jonathan

    momos, nice catchphrase there, but if you had tied your shoes to the railing, the MTA would have taken them too. You could also phrase it like this: “The fundamental point is that careless MTA customers are leaving their belongings in the way of other passengers, obliging the MTA to spend farebox revenues to clear the path and to warehouse their stuff.”

    I do agree with your second point. If the head of NYC Transit, or even the station manager, came to a community board meeting and asked the CB to create more bike parking, I imagine it would make quite a difference.

  • momos

    Everyone (including me and the MTA) agrees locking bikes to subway entrances is not ideal.

    My “catchphrase” is intended to call attention to the MTA’s response. There are three choices: 1). Do nothing. 2). Spend money confiscating bikes. 3). Spend money building bike racks.

    The MTA choses to spend money confiscating bikes. My point is that money should go to bike racks instead. This would simultaneously solve the two problems of safety hazards and insecure bike parking.

    It’s incorrect to compare locking bikes to entrances with tying garbage such as old shoes to them. While tied shoes and locked bikes both pose safety hazards, they obviously call for different responses by the MTA. Garbage must be cleared away. Parked bikes, while safety hazards, are also the first/last transportation link to the subway system for many MTA customers. The recurring presence of parked bikes is not a result of loitering and carelessness, but of the failure to plan for subway riders arriving at a station by means other than foot.

    For any believer in “livable streets,” who the desirability of urban cycling as a given, the burden of responsibility here is on the MTA, not cyclists. The core problem is that the MTA has failed to provide bike parking. The core problem is not individual cyclists who park their bikes at certain angles or at one end or another of a railing.

    Do you see the paradigm with which we must understand this issue?

    This debate is reminiscent of the fight over bikes on sidewalks. With no safe place on the street, cyclists sometimes ride the sidewalk. Pedestrians then get angry at cyclists and accuse them of disregard for safety and all kinds of vile character flaws. But the problem is not the cyclist; the core problem is abysmal street design offering no safe place to the cyclist (thus adversely affecting both cyclist and pedestrian).

    These are all symptoms of an urban environment that has no place for bikes. THAT is the real problem.

  • J$

    How many bike racks would the MTA NOT be able to buy when they have to settle a lawsuit because someone tripped over a protruding pedal on the stairwell.

  • Jonathan

    momos, I remain unconvinced that “the burden of responsibility here is on the MTA, not cyclists.” I believe that no matter what you fastened to the subway entrance, be it your bicycle, tricycle, walking shoes, segway, motor scooter, or even your wheelchair, you are wrong and you have wasted the MTA’s farebox revenues by making them remove your mode of transportation.

    Yes, I believe that Livable Streets advocates like you and me should push for more bicycling facilities, but that doesn’t mean that cyclists (like me) get a free pass to park wherever we want or ride wherever we want until that happens.

    IIRC there are plenty of parking meters up and down Bedford Avenue, on both sides of the street, to which one can fasten one’s bicycle. If you can’t find a good place to lock up your bike this morning, come a little bit earlier on Monday.

  • Zach

    Man, some of that is good news. I’ve been locking my bike to the telephone pole at Driggs and Manhattan for months now. Half of Greenpoint rides their bikes to the bars on that corner and then has to do dumb crap like chain them to trees for lack of parking.

  • Teresa Toro rules.

    One question for the DOT: now that there are a number of “dead” bikes locked to the new racks at Bedford and N. 7th, whose job is it to remove them?

    Seems very strange that the DOT installs racks but has no maintenance plan. I did call the DOT and ask them about the “cityracks”, and was told that probably the Dep’t of Sanitation would be responsible for removing abandoned bicycles.

  • Just for the record, this photo is from an entirely different entrance.

    This is NOT Driggs and N. 7th.

    And if the MTA is so worried about being sued, why is the green bike still there?

  • Spud Spudly

    Chain your bike to someone else’s property and you may not get it back. Pretty simple, I think.

    Is there any reason to believe that the MTA owns the real estate that would be required to install bike racks at that location? The streets belong to the city, not the MTA, so if you want bike racks on the street maybe the MTA isn’t the right agency to look to. Maybe all they own above ground are the stairs and railings.

  • momos

    The bureaucratic maze of who owns what and has what jurisdiction of course is important for practical purposes.

    But stepping back, it is ALL public property. We, you and I, the tax payers of New York – WE own the MTA and the city streets.

    The point is for the various agencies to connect to each other and work for the public. If the MTA doesn’t own the sidewalk space where its entrances are located, then NYCDOT probably does. Fine. Whatever. Obviously the two bureaucracies have adjacent responsibilities. All it takes is for two enlightened administrators with initiative to pick up the phone and call each other and do whatever needs to be done to get a bike rack in there.

    In the meantime, the public — especially readers of Streetsblog — should hold their feet to the fire and not be making excuses for them.

  • Emily Litella

    Rule or not, its selfish to expect thousands of people to step around you pedals, handlebar, tire because you think you are entitled to chain to the closest object to your destination. Boo hoo all the other signs, bike racks and light poles are taken. TS! Walk a friggin block to an appropriate spot. Do you know how petty and stupid you sound bellyaching about this? Get real people. And to think folks were suggesting there be bike racks in that tiny mezzanine.

  • Chevy Chase

    Emily, playing the typical 55-year-old Brooklyn Community Board crank, thinks that bike-to-subway commuters are selfish for expecting to find a half-secure parking space within walking distance of a subway station.

    Here’s a little news for ya, Emily: “Selfish” is Brooklyn’s massively entitled, horn-honking, CO2-spewing, violent, moronic motoring class and its expectation that vast tracts of our public street space should be handed over to them for free for the storage of their gigantic, four-wheeled living rooms. These urban motoring morons are, by just about any reasonable standard, in the 99.9th percentile of most selfish people on Planet Earth.

    After listening to all of the honking outside of my apartment window on Saturday afternoon and then being nearly run down by a van driver going about 50 mph on a neighborhood street while trying to bike my 9-month-old in the early evening, I would just like to hoist a gigantic middle finger to Emily and all the rest of ’em.

    Brooklyn motorists: You should be stripped of your civil rights and charged $100 for the privilege of turning an ignition key, because most of you display zero responsibility to the rest of society. “Selfish” only just begins to describe it. You are a bunch of sociopathic idiots.

  • Dave H.


    Emily was suggesting people park a block away rather than chain their bikes to the subway-entrance railings. I think she may be right about this. I do agree with you about drivers in New York, but I just don’t think crankiness or accusation matches will get anyone anywhere.

  • Chevy Chase

    The answer isn’t walking another block to find an “appropriate” spot. The answer is getting the MTA and DOT to get off their collective asses and start re-assigning street space for bike parking. At the very least the MTA ought to have the courtesy to put a note on these bikes to let the owners know that they’ll be removed in x hours. There is no sign at the Driggs subway stairwell.

  • Dave H.

    I can agree with that. But until some car parking is converted into bike parking, I think the answer is not to chain your bike to a subway station entrance and walk a block. Does that sound reasonable to you?

  • Hilary

    Why hasn’t TA sued the city to provide adequate parking facilities for bicycles? Just curious..

  • Dave H.

    What grounds would there be to sue? It’s also likely that with DOT being so cooperative recently, TA doesn’t ruin the relationship.

  • ms nomer

    Erm… how many of you have called 311 or filled out NYC DOT’s online form to request bike racks near your home/office/favorite bar?

    This shouldn’t be about lameass bike clippings, or about waiting for Brooklyn CB1 or DOT to get off their asses. We can all make such requests ourselves, for any location. Actually it would be an incredibly strong statement from New Yorkers if NYC DOT were to receive a virtual avalanche of requests for bike racks.



Correcting Thursday’s MTA Bike Seizure Correction

Quick, easy, inexpensive on-street bike parking in Montreal. Why not Williamsburg, Brooklyn? On Wednesday we posted Aaron Curran’s video of MTA workers seizing bicycles parked against the Bedford Avenue subway station stair railing in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. On Thursday we posted a clarification noting that the subway station stair railing at Bedford Ave. and N.7th St. […]

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 […]