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Good Signs for Bikes in Buildings Bill at City Council Hearing

5:08 PM EST on December 9, 2008

No vote was held at yesterday's City Council hearing on the Bikes in Buildings Bill, but supporters outnumbered opponents among those who testified. The measure, which would smooth the way for commuter cyclists by greatly expanding bike access to commercial buildings, is expected to go before the transportation committee again next month, after undergoing some revisions.

The major changes will entail making a stronger distinction between bicycle access and storage (the bill aims to require the former, not the latter), and tweaking the language that grants exemptions to certain buildings. In addition, bike-friendly regulations for new construction will be struck from the bill. The same zoning rules are still on track to go through the Department of City Planning's public review process.

As the finer legal points get hammered out, one definition in particular figures to be a key point of contention. The bill grants an exemption to buildings that cannot "reasonably accommodate" bicycles. Supporters say the bill's effectiveness will be limited if this lets building owners off the hook too easily.

"Freight access can't be the
only thing that equates to 'reasonable,'" said TA's Peter Goldwasser. "If you can't access from the back or the side... bikes should be able to come through the

Representatives of the Real Estate Board of New York and the Building Owners and Managers Association had no ready response when the bill's sponsor, David Yassky, asked why bicyclists shouldn't
be able to make use of the lobby. There was a long pause, we're told, after which one opponent claimed that people would end up waiting in line if bicycles were allowed through the front entrance.

Another angle, associating bicycles with the threat of terrorism, went over like a lead balloon. Noting that the bill only guarantees bike access to building employees, Yassky asked (rhetorically) if the bill's opponents meant to imply that employees will become terrorists once they start bringing their bikes inside.

In addition to advocates and city officials, about a dozen people testified in favor of the bill, including REBNY member and real estate broker Janet Liff, who described an insular code of conduct among building owners afraid to break ranks and admit that bike access "is just not that difficult." Read her testimony here [PDF], as well as testimony from developer Two Trees Management [PDF] and bike commuters Sabrina Lau [PDF] and Jillian Smith [PDF].

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