The 5 O’Clock Shutdown: What If Your Building Limits Bike Access?

bikes_buildings.jpgImage: NYCDOT

Since the Bikes in Buildings Law went into effect last month, landlords and building managers have gone about complying (or not) in different ways. Some, like real estate mogul Larry Silverstein, are embracing bikes in the workplace. Others are dragging their feet and putting up obstacles for bike commuters who want to bring their rides inside. This story, courtesy of local blog Prolly is not Probably, falls decidedly in the latter category.

One reader wrote to the blog that it’s almost impossible to leave his office late with a bike:

The building I work in will only allow for bikes through the freight elevator (I’m aware that this is legit), however it’s only open from 8-5. 90% of the employees in the building leave after 6pm. Here’s the biggest kick in the nuts, management wants to charge $75 per person if you choose to take your bike out of the building past 5pm! I asked if we could use the stairwell…"nope". I asked, "what rights do the owners have to fine people?", no real answer to that either!

The Bikes in Buildings Law is not without loopholes, and limitations on the use of freight elevators are some of the biggest.

According to Peter Goldwasser, the general counsel at Transportation Alternatives, the building owner in this case is in compliance with the letter of the law. "The law mandates that if access and egress is to be provided via a freight elevator, that the freight elevator must then be made available for such usage during the regular established operating hours," he said. If the elevator operating hours end at 5:00 p.m., so does the building’s responsibility to provide free bike access.

Goldwasser also noted that it’s relatively common for buildings to charge fees for after-hours use of the freight elevator, generally to cover the cost of paying the elevator operator overtime. If the freight elevator is self-service, Goldwasser said that "while legally permissible" to charge a fee, "one could make a compelling argument that it is against the spirit of the law… if the building is not actually incurring any additional financial costs" after regular freight elevator hours.

The bike commuter dealing with the high price of freight elevator access, who asked to remain anonymous, told Streetsblog his building does have an elevator operator, which gives management additional ground to stand on, though we do have a request in with them about the justification for that $75 fee.

So, what can you do if this happens to you?

A good avenue to pursue, said Goldwasser, would be to work with your employer and building management to amend your building’s bicycle access plan to include some sort of after-hours alternative. If the freight elevator is simply not feasible, he added, ask for after-hours stairway access. Again, it’s not legally mandated, but a landlord or property manager working in good faith for bike access shouldn’t stand in the way.

  • Sounds like the Bikes in Buildings Law has a long way to go.

  • J

    It is all well and good to ask the landlord to work “in good faith” with “the spirit of the law”, but it is the bike-hostile landlords that necessitated a law in the first place. Unless you legislate all the details necessary to make this a legitimate means of storing your bike, it doesn’t really change that much. Sadly, it seems that that is the case here.

    Hopefully, this can be amended in the future to provide real access.

  • Gwin

    I (and others on Streetsblog) have been griping about our buildings’ freight elevator hours as an impediment to bicycle access since the law was implemented.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    When I worked at Comedy Central, there were five or six of us that rode to work regularly. When one day the building decided it didn’t want to allow bikes anymore (this was in 2001) and handed us each a piece of paper as we brought our bikes up that day, we went to our CEO at the time Larry Divney and each wrote him a letter. We told him it was very important to us as employees to have this option as it keeps us healthy, happy, and eager to work every day. He turned around and wrote a letter telling the management of the building that they needed to stop this policy. And they did.

    So I would tell folks who this is happening to: if you can, get the management of your business involved or team up with other people in the building.

  • J

    I don’t mean to be discouraging, but in some (many?) cases a well-designed law is the only way. A few coworkers and I went door-to-door a few years ago, with a petition asking the building to allow bikes inside. We probably got over 70% of the 60 or so companies to sign on. We even met a broker for the building who lost a tenant at the last minute when they found out about the bike policy. The building still said no way.

    It certainly can’t hurt to ask, but sometimes a well-designed well-enforced law is necessary when reason and compromise fail.

  • lee

    just bring your freaking bike in and out of the building. what are they going to do, call the cops?

  • Erin

    Lee #6 wrote, “just bring your freaking bike in and out of the building. what are they going to do, call the cops?”

    In my case, building management at the front desk did the following:
    1) blocked the doors so I couldn’t leave
    2) said I had to take it back upstairs (using the elevator they said I’m not allowed to use)
    3) told the CEO of the company I worked for that I was breaking the rules of the building, resulting in me getting yelled at by the three highest people in the company and consequently very nearly fired.

    Not so easy.
    And yeah, the freight elevator in my work’s building closes at 4:45, and there’s no space in my office anymore for bikes anyway.
    And the building has a huge empty concrete back room where they used to let people park their bikes, but they don’t anymore.

  • JK

    If your building mgr is being unfriendly, email Sblog and TA the specifics. Maybe one or both will do a running Bike Parking Hall of Shame and spotlight their unfriendliness like the Voice does with Worlds Worst Landlords. Every year TA can add this to their friendly/unfriendly award. It’s important to praise the good, but also to call attention to the unhelpful.

  • Seconding all of this.

    I work in a Jeffries-Morris building which was bike-friendly before the Bikes In Buildings law. After Yassky’s bill, my building banned bicycles outside freight hours out of spite — “we’re not going to be told what to do!”, and, “bicycles don’t belong in office buildings”, among phrases out of the mouths of my building’s management.

    I am told this is now the case for all J-M buildings in the city.

    (The freight here runs 7.30am to 4.45pm.)

    My employer is big on bicycles, but has a ten-year lease, and got tired of fighting the building over this.

    So, Yassky’s bill has resulted in me having to carry locks around all the time, when previously I was in hog heaven. Did wonders for my libertarian streak and respect for unintended consequences.

    Laws aren’t the way to solve these problems.


    #3’s tough, but #1’s kidnapping, which is a felony. If someone ever prevents you from leaving a space, you should reach for your phone and call the police.

    Tell the cops nothing except that these men here prevented you from leaving. ‘Why’ doesn’t matter; say nothing else. (I am not a lawyer.)

  • Looks like it’s actually just false imprisonment in New York, not kidnapping. Misdemeanor, still totally worth calling the cops about. (I am still not a lawyer.)


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