Paco Abraham Turns Duane Reade on to Bike Racks

Yesterday DOT announced it is seeking submissions for the first ever bike-friendly business awards. This being the week of Earth Day, a few bike-positive firms have come to our attention recently — Macy’s, W Hotels, J Crew — but the most substantial business-led effort to improve the city’s cycling environment this year may have come from Duane Reade. The omnipresent drugstore chain has asked the city to install bike racks at all its New York locations — 150 in Manhattan plus dozens more in the outer boroughs.

Okay, this doesn’t quite match the awards criteria, which are more about providing a welcome environment for employees who commute by bike, but it is a very public-spirited step that deserves major kudos. The request is the largest ever received by the CityRacks program — "by a comfortable margin" — said DOT spokesman Ted Timbers. And the story behind the Duane Reade bike racks suggests another award — one for individual activism.

Duane Reade’s request was prompted by none other than Streetsblog reader and frequent commenter Dave "Paco" Abraham.

paco abrahamPaco (right), a television producer for Sharp Entertainment, describes himself as the kind of person who asks everyone in the office to use the other side of the printer paper. About a year and a half ago, he started commuting by bike on a regular basis, from his apartment in Cobble Hill to his workplace in Chelsea. The experience gave him a new perspective on the city. "That got me thinking about all the little details that help a biker out," he said.

He had already been in touch with Duane Reade about waste-reducing measures like providing cloth totes instead of plastic bags, and the idea for bike racks seemed like a natural progression. About six months ago, he made his pitch.

"Every corner has a Duane Reade or Starbucks," he said. "If every one of them had a bike rack, then that’s more for everyone to use. Cyclists and Duane Reade would benefit. A messenger can just run in for chapstick or bottle of water or whatever they need. Or a guy in a suit can get his deodorant right before going to work. No one has to hunt for a place to park their bike." (See the full text of his email pitch below.)

His contact at Duane Reade was very receptive to the idea. "When we heard Dave’s proposal we thought it was a great idea to give
our customers easier access to an environmentally friendly means of
transportation," said Lauren Purdo, marketing manager at Duane Reade.
"Adding the convenience of bike racks, if that helps cyclists gain
better access to our store, then we’re happy to provide that."

While the racks will come at no cost to Duane Reade — DOT’s CityRacks
program handles the installation — the company could easily have made an excuse about "sidewalk clutter" or some other perceived risk, and dismissed the idea. Instead, they embraced the notion of a rack in front of every location.

Duane Reade’s bulk request now gets mixed in with CityRacks’ general installation list. Each store site will be evaluated, and DOT will install the racks over the course of the next six to nine months, according to their press office.

Asked whether he had any advice for other bike advocates who want to float a proposition to the private sector, Paco said a well-thought-out phone call can be enough to get the ball rolling. "If people have good ideas, it never hurts to reach out to a company," he said. "Definitely be persistent about it… It’s not like I had a brilliant idea, it’s just a little thing that could make a bigger difference."

"If you think out both sides of it, try to see it from their eyes," he added. "Either they may want to do good, or they may see a business opportunity." Here’s how Paco made his case in an email to Duane Reade:

a. the Cityracks program of the NYC department of Transportation provides free sidewalk bike racks upon request.  Just as Duane Reade is known for having a Chase ATM at every location, perhaps wherever street logistics allow, there could also be a bike rack.
b. a bike rack in front of every Duane Reade means a commitment to the growing community of urban cyclists in NYC
c. a bike rack in front of each location also implies more pedestrian traffic and therefore is likely to bring more customers. If you have to stand in front of a Duane Reade just to lock up your bike, you’ll be more inclined to run in and grab whatever quick items needed, or perhaps do a substantial shopping and throw purchases in the duane reade tote bag which goes in your bike basket. it appeals to the messenger who needs chapstick for his windburned lips, or the business suit biker who needs deodorant before heading into a shareholders meeting. 

Photos: Bikes – Paco Abraham; Paco – Jenny Wiese

  • This is fabulous news for Manhattan, where Duane Reades are omnipresent. In one fell swoop, we’ll have bike racks all over the city.

  • Great work Paco – the type of everyday activism that changes the streetscape with a classic win-win proposition for local businesses and environmentally friendly street users.

  • Wouldn’t it be nice if the racks were inverted-U with square tubing, installed parallel to the curb? Wavy racks are no fun.

  • Spud Spudly

    Good for bikers and great for Paco. But why does Duane Reade get credit? They asked the city to install — at no cost to Duane Reade — bike racks on property that Duane Reade doesn’t own…with the obvious benefit to them that it may increase business in their stores. SO? Is this really deserving to be called “the most substantial business-led effort to improve the city’s cycling environment?” They did it in their own self-interest with zero cost or liability to themselves! Maybe if they at least paid for the racks or for installation. If I owned a retail store I’d ask the city for bike racks and a municipal parking lot, and I’d petition the MTA for a bus stop and a new subway line.

  • momos

    Spud – I agree that this involved no sacrifice whatsoever from Duane Reade.

    However, if Duane Reade gets credit for a pro-bike initiative AND people see how it serves Duane Reade’s interests as well as the public’s… it might help bring the business community around to the idea that cyclists and pedestrians are far better for business than cars.

  • Spud Spudly

    I support anything that can demonstrate to business that environmental initiatives can be positive to their bottom line. So if this helps to accomplish that, then great.

  • ddartley

    Also, Spud, institutions, such as Duane Reade, very often REFLEXIVELY say “NO” to such suggestions, with hardly any thought.

    Having run up against such culture myself a few times while making suggestions that would similarly only HELP the institution, not hurt it, I see Duane Reade’s willingness to make the request as very uncommon, and a very positive change for the better from the usual.

    Also-maybe now DOT will see a need to add staff to the City Racks program, which I believe is currently administered by ONE person (hats off to you, Jason).

  • LN

    Duane Reade would support biking even more if their enormous trucks didn’t park in the bike lane to make deliveries.

    If Rite Aid, CVS and Starbucks take up the challenge and also install (and pay for) bike racks in front of their stores. (and park their trucks responsibly)…

    Then we would have maybe 70% of NYC covered and City Racks can concentrate on residential hoods like mine where delivery guys damage our struggling trees because theres nothing else to lock to.

  • LN is correct, Duane Reade is a regular offender in terms of its own trucks blocking the blocking the bike lane.

    A much better choice would be a business that uses employees on bicycle and treats those employees fairly.

  • Whis is not to denigrate Paco’s efforts–I’ll think of you, Paco, the next time I lock up in front a Duane Reade!

    I am a bit frustrated by the CityRacks request program because I have requested racks at a number of locations in and near Central Park and none have been installed, nor have I gotten any response explaining why there are no CityRacks in Central Park.

  • Hilary

    There should also be some lemon awards. The new New York Times building is certainly one. But how about the Paragon Sports at Union Square, where bikes are all chained to the poor tree out front? Management couldn’t have been more dismissive.

  • ddartley

    BicyclesOnly, cyclists should ask DOT to expand the CityRacks program and its staff. As far as I know, one guy manages the whole thing.

    It took about six months, and some follow up on my part, before my request for racks in front of my office building was fulfilled, but to their credit, when they finally got to it, they also hit the big office building across the street at the same time (I didn’t request that), and another spot I had requested racks for.

  • ddartley

    LN, businesses pretty much aren’t allowed to install bike racks on sidewalks on their own. It generally HAS to go through the city.

    The positive side of that is that CityRacks is an extraordinary government program in that all it involves is a request from one citizen directly to the responsible agency, and the agency usually quite reliably responds. That’s extremely uncommon.

  • david

    @Bicycles only:

    I think my requests were ignored but I brought the matter to my block association, who agreed that racks were helpful, and submitted a request and suddenly my street has a bunch of racks


  • David, I’ve heard that story before. I think the analogue for a block association int he park is Central Park Conservancy, or New Yorkers for parks, or another of these organizations that don’t care much or at all for bicycling.

    All the same, the policy of no bike racks in the park is idiotic. they allow racks at other city parks, but not in Central Park. There are a dozen major destinations for people to visit in Central Park and the most convenient way to get to them is by bicycle. The city even rents bicycles for use in the park, but provides no racks.

    The only two permanent racks in all of Central Park are next to the 96th St. tennis courts. They are probably the result of the kind of advocacy you are ascribing to block associations, by some organization of people who play tennis there.

  • Damian

    Since there’s a DR every 10 feet in Manhattan, this is a good thing for cyclists.

    (Now if there were more than one person working the register at each of these Duane Reades, I might actually go inside.)


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