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Sanitation Department Spares Ghost Bikes From Trash Heap

This memorial to Eric Ng, killed in __ on the West Side Highway, is no derelict. Photo:
This memorial to Eric Ng, killed in __ on the West Side Highway, is no derelict. Photo:

The Department of Sanitation has backed off its controversial plan to remove ghost bikes from the streets of New York, relenting to a public outcry in favor of the memorials to cyclists killed while riding. Proposed rules governing the removal of derelict bicycles released in June would have taken away even the best-maintained memorials, but the final version published on Friday [PDF] specifically carves out an exemption for ghost bikes.

Originally, Sanitation was only going to spare what it called "ghost riders" for an extra few weeks. Ghost bikes would have been removed thirty days after being tagged with a notice, compared to five days for ordinary derelict bikes. The new rules, however, include a specific exemption for (the now-properly named) ghost bikes in the definition of what counts as a derelict bike. A statement attached to the rules declares that "under these rules ghost bikes will never be deemed to be derelict."

This is a victory almost entirely attributable to the bike activists who mobilized over the issue. The revisions were made solely "based on the written comments and the public hearing that we had," said a spokeperson from the Sanitation Department, which received over 250 comments on the proposed rules.

The new rules also set the terms under which abandoned bikes can be removed from where they are locked. Sanitation has established five criteria to determine whether a bike is derelict. Starting October 4, the department will tag any bike attached to public property that meets three of those criteria. Seven days after getting tagged, the bike would be disposed of. If applied fairly, that could clear away truly abandoned bikes and free up space for people to park the bikes that are functional and actively used.

The criteria are:

(i)  the bicycle appears to be crushed or not usable;

(ii)  the bicycle is missing parts, other than the seat and front wheel, including, but not limited to handlebars, pedal or pedals, rear wheel and chain;

(iii)  the bicycle has flat or missing tires;

(iv)  the handlebars or pedals are damaged, or the existing forks, frames or rims are bent; or

(v)  seventy-five percent or more of the bicycle, which includes the handlebars, pedals and frames are rusted, along with any chain affixing such bicycle to public property."

There's one loophole to keep an eye on, though. If any bike "creates a dangerous condition by restricting vehicular or pedestrian traffic," state the rules, it may be removed immediately, whether it's derelict, a ghost bike, or otherwise. Whether a bike creates such a dangerous condition would generally be determined by the NYPD, said the Sanitation spokesperson.

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