Good Signs for Bikes in Buildings Bill at City Council Hearing

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
front."

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].

  • Rhywun

    I see some problems here. For starters, the regular elevators in my building are not big enough to accommodate bicycles (they fit about six people comfortably). Only the freight elevators are really workable. And of course those require assistance. Second, the entrances on all four sides are revolving doors. There is one (locked) regular door (aside from the freight entrance) which again requires assistance. So, this plan doesn’t come for free.

    I would frankly rather see something like bicycle storage businesses or even some sort of city parking if that’s workable than bicycles in lobbies and elevators anyway. I haven’t seen any such thing in the Wall Street area where I work. Which probably explains why the only bicycles I see office workers riding to work are those little folding ones.

  • May

    Rhywun, A few thoughts on your post. While not having actually seen your elevator (sorry), if it fits six people, then it can certainly fit a bicycle. This just means that maybe the employee with the bike has to wait a little longer to ride the elevator up to the office floor, letting a particularly crowded elevator go by. Or, maybe the bicycle commuting employee plans it so he arrives 10 minutes early each day, missing the busiest period of elevator usage. In short, “busy” or “small” elevators just can’t be a blanket reason for not allowing bicycle access.

    Now, to your point about revolving doors–this seems like a genuine concern, and perhaps should be one of the factors to include in figuring out the whole exemption thing. But, in your case, it sounds like there is another non revolving door which could provide a viable alternative if a suitable system for unlocking it could be developed. Again, going with just what you have written, I think your building is a really good example of how the generally excepted “norm” (that bicycle access just can’t work and creates a world of really tricky and complicated problems) makes us ignore some simple solutions, like arriving a few minutes early to miss a crowd…or even just waiting in line. Now, every New Yorker is good at that!

  • J

    Well put, May. If we try to find reasons this won’t work, then we are doomed to fail. If we try to find solutions so that this can work, then we may very well succeed.

  • Ian Turner

    I think the presumption is that buildings without space for ground-floor bike parking will accommodate cyclists in freight elevators. There may be space in regular elevators, but bicycles bring in dirt and make the experience less comfortable for non-cyclists. Freight elevators are universally large enough to accommodate at least one bicycle, and freight entrances are never revolving doors. If the result is that cyclists have to wait longer for freight elevator access, that is only a reasonable tradeoff.

  • I had the freight elevator thought myself, but then I pondered the fact that people pushing strollers and people in wheelchairs aren’t relegated to the freight elevators. If strollers and wheelchairs are permitted (and is there any place that doesn’t allow them?) then there shouldn’t be a problem with someone walking a bicycle through the lobby and onto an elevator.

  • Each building is going to have its own particular issues regarding bike access, but, as others have posted, a little common sense and courtesy should resolve almost of them. I don’t believe bicycles bring any more dirt than shoes do. A bicyclist can always wait for a less-crowded regular elevator, and those who ride folders can fold their bikes before boarding. There are so many wheeled vehicles (rolling suitcases, strollers, etc.) and large pieces of equipment that enter and exit a busy office building all day, that a bicycle should not pose any additional challenges. Letting bikes into an office building is just not that difficult.

  • Here’s another thought: has anyone ever been unable to bring their bicycle into an office building because it was physically impossible? Or was it because security told them bicycles weren’t permitted in the building?

  • Ian Turner

    A cyclist with a bicycle (assuming it’s not folding) takes up considerably more space than a parent with a stroller or a wheelchair user. In addition, the bicycle has more sharp edges than either a stroller or a wheelchair. Finally, unlike strollers and wheelchairs, bicycles have large wheels that move a high speed. In wet conditions, a bicycle’s wheels kick up a lot more dirt than either strollers or wheelchairs, and way more than shoes. For all these reasons and more, bicycles are best accommodated in the service elevators of most large office buildings.

  • Rhywun

    Again, I think the better solution is to work at providing more publicly-accessible parking facilities, rather than demanding an unprecedented right from building owners, and fighting with each of them one at a time for access. Surely there are working examples elsewhere that we can use as a model.

  • If a good bill passes it will only mean that all office buildings have to make the same helpful efforts that mine does. It doesn’t have large or particularly frequent elevators, so full-size bicycles must use the freight elevator (doesn’t end up taking longer, anyway). (The attendant seems to appreciate the change of scenery.) Freight closes at five so you are allowed to use the regular elevators to leave. But they’re often crowded by the time they finally get down to my floor so I take the stairs half the time, with or without a bicycle. The end.

    Except! We’re moving to a new building in a few months; my interest in this bill is not at all abstract. It would be a great relief to know that practical measures will be taken to allow me to bring a bicycle into the company office (which welcomes them), wherever we end up. If there weren’t buildings out there banning even folding bicycles (a foolish move), such legislation wouldn’t be necessary. Sadly, it is so.

    And maybe it’s the granny speed I ride at or my tires or something, but I don’t have a lot of street dirt falling off my bicycles. If I did I wouldn’t bring them into the office or my clean apartment (carpeted, oddly enough). This is not a bill to turn everyone into a jerk—of course we’ll have to show common decency just like already—it’s a bill to make some people stop being jerks.

  • When I first started riding into Manhattan, I really wished that my office building would allow me to bring the bike inside. I would have been happy to be allowed to use a freight elevator, even.

    Soon, I found one of the only parking garages in Manhattan which allows bike parking, near my office, and I used it for about a year.

    Eventually, I realized it was easier and quite safe to just lock my bike to the rack directly in front of my office building, and this is what I did until I moved too far out into Brooklyn to continue riding to work.

  • pauliebanks

    Let’s focus on a bill that will allow the most bikes into the most buildings easily and safely. You’re particular building does not matter, nor does mine. It’s what’s best for THE COMMON GOOD. Please everyone, let’s try to keep that in mind and not just when talking about bikes in buildings. Elevator sizes aren’t going to be dictated in this bill. Revolving doors on four sides–freight has to enter some how but that’s also beside the point. Let’s focus. Thank you.

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