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.

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