Bloomberg Says Bikes Don’t Belong on the Subway

mayor_subway_533.jpgPhoto: AP via New York Times

How green is our mayor? Fielding a question on his weekly radio show about using the city’s underground tunnels to move freight, Michael Bloomberg this morning went off on cyclists who bring their bikes on board the subway. City Room has the quote:

There are messengers who do it. Some of them take their bikes, which drives me crazy, cause I’ve just never agreed with the M.T.A. I know bicyclists will now ring the phones off the hook, but they are just too big, particularly at rush hours — I just don’t think they should allow it. But I’m not running the M.T.A. …

While the mayor, who rides the 4/5/6 line to work, is not in charge of the MTA, he does control the city’s streets. Could it be that many East Side cyclists are driven underground by a lack of adequate biking facilities?

It’s disappointing that Bloomberg, who seems to understand the value in providing dedicated spaces to ride, doesn’t see a connection here. If he wants fewer cyclists on his train, protected bike lanes for the East Side would be a good place to start.

  • gecko

    #50 gecko (corrections)

    “admiral” should be admirable

    “gratuitous digital signage” are not really gratuitous as they do help to use the system.

    “frequent meaningless messages” are not really meaningless and have been implemented to calm passengers in many instances of uncertainty.

    But overall, the improvements should be much more dramatic in the midst of economic and climate change crisis and subsequent rapidly changing times.

  • Meanwhile, on the Stuttgart Rack Railway

  • (thanks to The Overhead Wire and Spagblog for the link.

  • “Nathan, did you pay a fare the two hundred times that you didn’t ride the subway? If not, why should you expect accomodation now? And if so, how is your situation different from that of the shift worker who only rides the subway during the (effectively free) off hours?”

    I’m surprised you think the fare is the point here, but I would happy to pay extra to bring my bicycle into a train at whatever hour unexpected circumstances require it. It hasn’t happened yet and I hope doesn’t. If fare were the topic we would be talking about off-peak discounts to reward that shift worker, a premium price for peak trips to encourage bicycling and walking, and (to be utterly dismal) escalating surcharges for any object bigger than a briefcase.

    But what I am saying and what I think LN is also saying (and you are striving to logically impale with unsuitable gusto) is that our bicycles, the physical objects, have been directly responsible for saving quite a lot of space on the subway. Because and only because of the bicycle I’m able to avoid (underpriced) rush hour trains that I don’t want to take and people on them don’t want me to take either. I can’t change shifts. I don’t want a handout, or whatever you think I want. But it’s narrow-minded to be in up arms about this object—which on the whole saves a great deal of subway space—being occasionally brought on the subway. Accommodating bicycles on public transportation expands bicycle use and has the potential to net-lighten the load of our subsidized (yet under-subsidized) public transportation. It’s in the public interest.

  • Racks on buses: I think where we need them most in the outer parts of the boros. Bike commuting and use would increase greatly if people were able to bring them on a bus.

    I think it is also the place where they would be the most easily be accepted. Although I would love to see them on buses in Manhattan too, there would probably be quite a bit of difficulty with some lines.

    Put them in Eastern Queens, South Brooklyn, most of the Bronx, all of Staten Island, they are greatly needed and I think would help slowly nudge them to more populus regions of NYC. It is amzing, every large city except New YOrk has bike racks on buses. SF, LA, Boulder, Portland, Seattle, why is so NYC behind the times on this issue? It frankly has become annoying.

  • Greg

    I want to emphasize the earlier point about promoting folding bikes for use with transit. And definitely bike racks on buses. The combination of bikes of some sort + transit is a huge win and folks in charge ought to be looking for any way they can encourage that…

  • Since the Mayor’s subway commute is not quite what it’s cracked up to be, maybe he could help the crowding situation by remaining in one of the two big SUVs that drop him at the 59th & Lex station and then continue sans Mayor down to City Hall.

    Better yet, he could offer several cyclists a lift, as there’s plenty of room in a Suburban emptied of the Mayor and his security detail to stash several bicycles and their cyclists. And since they’re City vehicles, they may not be inconvenienced by having to stop at red lights, making the trip downtown all the more zippy.

    Other commenters have already hashed out the pros and cons, and perhaps the Mayor was voicing something that boils down to an issue of common sense — something that’s frequently in short supply in New York City. But more often than not, when Mike Bloomberg speaks, it just sounds like an impatient scolding from NYC’s richest man.

  • My point exactly Clarence. I haven’t checked your entire library of films, but if you have not already, maybe it is time to produce a film that shows how easily bus bicycle racks operate and how they could greatly benefit the bicycle network in NYC.

    re: annoying, I think it actually embarrassing too. I visit the city monthly, and just noticed two days ago that something was really missing from the front of all those buses in Astor Place.

  • Mike,

    Check next film up later today on a BRT system in L.A. that has THREE bike racks on the front of their buses!

  • LN: “I ride my bike most days, therefore giving up that space on the subway to everyone else most of the time.”

    The MTA allocates service based on daily ridership. I doubt occasional ridership factors into MTA’s calculations unless it follows some regular pattern. Therefore riding your bike “most days” doesn’t free up “space on the subway,” it induces service cuts, to the detriment of everyone who lives in your neighborhood.

    The transit systems needs both bodies and fares to survive, especially now that it’s radically underfunded. There’s no reason why the electeds should move heaven and earth to find funds to serve nearly nonexistent riders.

  • Sam Gardner

    If you ever took your bicycle down there, you know you don do it for your pleasure: some breakage you cannot repair on the spot, or a thunderstorm you did not account for when leaving the house. In these, cases, you really don have an alternative to get your bicycle back home.

  • Jason A

    “The MTA allocates service based on daily ridership.”

    Considering how hamstrung the MTA is from years and years of underfunding, that’s true, but a little misleading.

    There’s clearly a larger demand for transit service than the MTA can provide. Cyclists are therefore natural allies for straphangers in keeping people off over-stuffed trains. Allowing cyclists to use transit when needed (and as others have pointed out – when cyclists use the train it’s always a worst-case scenario.) is essential towards promoting cycling as a viable transportation alternative.

    But in the big scheme, this is yet another unfortunate instance of responsible commuters needlessly fighting over resource crumbs. The larger outrage here is that we have an over crowded transit system, held together with chewing gum and rubber bands. It’s an overtaxed system that our leaders have failed to sustain – much less expand to keep pace with the increasing demand for additional service…

    That the subways can not handle the occasional bicycle is yet another failing of our shortsighted elected leaders.

  • First of all, this all relates to budgets and the USA spends over 500 billion dollars a year on the military… but anyway…


    #46 – Great point, LN! If cyclists who occasionally take the subway used to always take the subway, then they are heroes.

    A big packages, bikes… and dogs (see below) area could be useful.


    There have been three-bike front racks available for over two years. It is good to remember that they aren’t just for hills or long stretches — they simply let a traveler be more flexible. As with the subway, this can mean bad weather, a breakdown, danger on the street, drunkenness or another physiological condition… or just for when you mean someone who is walking and you want to get on the bus with them!

    Large pet dogs – leashed and muzzled – are allowed on urban transit in Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto and most European cities. Would it be possible to at least accommodate them off-peak on some subways and ferries in order to form a mobility chain which hooks up with Metro North? See my website for more ideas and info.

  • Lee

    Don’t know about NYC, but in DC we have this same argument – in DC you see people bring coolers, strollers, I even saw a refrigerator one time, all kind of large objects but you can’t have a bicycle during rush hour.

    I think they should offer to sell or long-term rent folding bikes to people on the subway, and sell them to people on the subway. Rail and bikes do have a symbiotic relationship in a well-developed transit system, so you need to encourage this and get the best equipment into the hands of the people.

  • I think that the best solution is to have a “bike car”, where some of the seats are taken out so that people can bring their bikes onto that car. That way straphangers won’t have to deal with cyclists as long as they stay out of the bike car. L.A. has removed some of the seats (or is planning to, in some cases) on its rail lines to this end.

    I also think that cyclists have a responsibility to minimize their impact on others. For that reason I encourage people to look into purchasing a folding bike if they use bike + subway to commute. The folding bikes take up A LOT less room and are much easier to get around. Observe. Another option is to alter your work schedule so that you don’t commute during rush hour, if that is possible.

  • rah

    First, if the MTA was adequately funded and operated properly, bicyclists and mass transit users would not be sniping at each other on this blog.

    Second, Bloomberg takes a fleet of SUVs 22 blocks from his home to the subway station. He is not a typical subway user. I’m guessing some political PR flack decided that putting a billionaire on the subway would make for good copy and create the impression that Bloomberg is an everyman. A lot of people seem to have internalized the idea that he’s a “huge supporter” of the subway for no clear reason.

    Third, the subway is sometimes the only option for a bicyclist with a mechanical failure, or in the event of bad weather. I hate having to take my bike on the subway because it is an inconvenience to me and other riders, and only do it when I have no other options. But when I do, I always wait to make sure I’m getting on a non-crowded car to limit any inconvenience to other riders. I realize that some inconvenience may be unavoidable, but we live in an imperfect world, and this is a case where a little empathy from other subway riders will go a long way.

    Finally, I just wanted to say that part of the magic of living in NYC is seeing a 5 foot girl with a cello case twice her size on the subway. Stuff like that brings a smile to my face, and I’m happy to be inconvenienced by it. Have a nice day all!

  • Brooklyn

    Hurt my knee racing yesterday. I’ll be taking my bike home on the rush hour subway tonight, thanks very much.

  • Speaking from the other side of the country, we have the same problem in Los Angeles. Here, though, we have the problem of bicyclists not wanting to use the area cleared of seats and instead park in the aisles or across the doors. There has been much discussion on the subject and Metro (our MTA) is now going to clear a larger area in each car and put big yellow decals on the walls designating those areas as the only place bikes are allowed. And there will be tickets issued (as the process proceeds) to those who still think “anywhere is okay”.

    And don’t get me started about people who won’t fold up strollers before they board the train.

  • There will be no end of politicians saying inane things.

    No cyclist likes taking their bike on the train, but we should have the right to do so. It’s really useful in situations like flat tire, bad weather, super long distance.

    As the city bike infrastructure continues to improve and ridership goes up maybe they should consider removing half the seats from the last and first cars to make room.

    Bikes and rights would reign supreme under a Rev. Billy administration.

  • gecko

    Improvements in this city’s bicycle infrastructure must accelerate terrifically to meet the serious crisis at hand and Bloomberg should stop worrying about a few cyclists on the subway.

  • Bob Bedrossian

    If people had Green E-bikes they could get to where they were going without being on the subway. Lets think of alternate ways of commuting that doesn’t involve cars and overburdened trains.


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