City Hall Wants Council Members to Beef Up “Bikes in Buildings” Bills

No matter how well you lock up your bike in NYC, if you leave it outside for any significant amount of time, you never know what will be left when you get back. For secure storage, nothing beats a spot inside. But thanks to a bizarre aversion to bicycles shared by many landlords and property managers, a large percentage of NYC buildings are de facto bike-free zones.

Folding bikes are no bulkier than rolling luggage — and they’re fine in City Council chambers — so how come a lot of building managers don’t allow them in elevators? Photo: @juliakite

In 2009, the Bicycle Access to Buildings Law started to chip away at these restrictions by creating a legal mechanism for employees to win bicycle access to their workplaces. That law had its limitations, though, like a loophole that compelled some bike commuters to leave their ride at the office if the freight elevator was shut down for the day. This session, three bills have been introduced in the City Council to expand the guarantee of bike access to buildings.

The bills appear to have a clear path forward, judging by a hearing on all three in the Housing and Buildings Committee yesterday. A representative from NYC DOT commended the legislation and wants the sponsors to strengthen their proposals, signaling City Hall’s general approval of the new bills.

One problem with the 2009 law is that even if a tenant successfully petitions for bike access to a building, there is no full guarantee. Building owners can deny access to passenger elevators entirely, and while access to freight elevators is required during operating hours, it’s common for buildings to cease operating their freight elevators long before most workers head home for the day. In a DOT survey of 209 tenants who had applied for bike access to their buildings, many said that limitations on freight elevator access were a significant hindrance, according to testimony delivered yesterday by DOT’s Michelle Craven.

Intro 795, sponsored by Jumaane Williams, who chairs the committee, would allow people to exit buildings using the passenger elevator when freight elevators are not in service. Craven suggested that the bill could go farther by extending passenger elevator access to employees who arrive at the building when the freight elevator is out. And TA Executive Director Paul Steely White said the bill could be strengthened by creating an enforcement mechanism to penalize buildings that fail to grant access, and by clarifying that any building without a freight elevator must provide bike access via the passenger elevator.

Another bill, Intro 405, sponsored by Helen Rosenthal, would guarantee access to passenger elevators to people with folding bikes, another measure that DOT’s Craven said the agency supports. Discussion of this bill included what has to be the first live demo of a folding bike in City Council chambers, courtesy of Families for Safe Streets’ Dulcie Canton.

The third bill, Ydanis Rodriguez’s Intro 695, extends the guarantee of bike access to residential elevators, a goal that DOT also said it supports.

Next up: Sponsors will adjust their legislation before the bills come up for a vote, which has yet to be scheduled.

  • Joe R.

    It’s a sad commentary on the attitudes of many in this city towards bikes that laws like this are even needed. Any place you can take a shopping cart or stroller you should also be able to take a bike.

  • Kate

    It’s about elevators but it’s also about the front lobby… at least that’s the issue in my office building. There’s indoor bike parking but they don’t allow you to walk the bike through the lobby, and the freight entrance hours are 8-6 Monday-Friday, so, lobby access (open 24/7) would make all the difference here.

  • BBnet3000

    The fact that you can’t walk straight in the front door of any office building in the city with a folded up folding bike is shameful.

  • Jesse

    What if new developments had bike parking minimums?

  • Simon Phearson

    My building’s rules on internal bike parking were so cumbersome – security sign in/out, multiple freight elevators to use, limited availability of freight elevators, long waits at elevator banks for elevators, etc. – that I ultimately gave up and started paying for parking at a nearby garage. From the sign in sheets, it was apparent I was the only one in the building regularly making use of the building’s parking. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the owner’s intention.

  • The same is true at my building, which is located right next door to the South Street Seaport. Unfortunately, my building’s freight elevator shuts down at 5pm, at which time the cargo bay doors close; so I have to get to the elevator at 10 minutes before 5:00 in order to be sure to get out by 5:00.

    After having been left standing on my floor futilely pushing buttons a few times, I have taken to calling the lobby on the phone every day at 4:50, in order to be sure that there is no unusual circumstance (elevator being serviced, elevator in use for one particular tenant) that would prevent the elevator from arriving at my floor.

    Even still, a few times I have arrived at the ground floor only to find the cargo bay door shut; and in those instances I had to request that security person open it. The first couple of times this happened, it was a big problem. Now, after several years of daily riding, the guards all know me; so they don’t give me too much hassle if I barely miss the door closing by a few minutes once in a great while. But I still have to be careful to charm these people, because they would be within their rights to refuse to open the door; if they did that, I’d have no choice but to leave my bike in the building overnight.

    And on days when I know that I will have to work past 5:00, I have to bring the bike down to the street before the freight elevator stops and lock it there, and then go back up to my office. This is the main hassle that could be avoided if bikes were allowed to use the main elevator after the freight elevator has gone out of service.

    When my company’s Water Street office was displaced by damage caused by the hurricane, we found space in another of our downtown offices that had not been affected by the storm. I was pleased to find that management of that building allowed bicycles to use the main lobby; so bicyclists enjoy 24-hour access there. What a difference! No hurrying to get dressed at 4:30; no worries about getting a call or receiving some assignment at 4:45 that will keep me at my desk late. Having those conditions for several months was pretty damn comfortable. Indeed, when our regular office was repaired, I was sorry to go back there.

    I realised that it is all down to decisions of the building management. The management of the building where we were temporarily housed are just very cooperative. By contrast, the management at our regular building do the absolute minimum required under the law, and absolutely no more.

    And even their compliance with the law is done begrudgingly and spitefully. For instance, the law requires buildings to provide a place indoors for bicyclists to lock up their bikes. So this building provides it — on a wall! Bicyclists have to lift their bikes, and lock them to a rack that is located on the wall. I guess we should count ourselves fortunate that it’s not on the ceiling. (Fortunately for me, I can store my bike in my cubicle, so I don’t need to utilise this so-called “bike parking” provided by the building.)

    I do understand a policy of not allowing bicycles in the main elevators and in the lobby during business hours. But for a building to bar bikes from its lobby at all times is unreasonable, and should be illegal. If building management want to behave like turds, there currently is nothing that anyone can do to stop them. Clearly, it will take a law to combat such intransigence.

  • AlexWithAK

    The bike room in my office building is great. It’s in the underground garage so there’s 24 hour access. No need to mess around with freight elevators. Unfortunately, they only grant access to full time employees and generally make you jump through hoops and sit on a waiting list first. This in spite of the fact that the bike room is usually only about 1/2 full most days. They also make you reapply every 6 months for some reason. You have to use your security badge to scan in, so I don’t understand why they can’t just look at those numbers to determine capacity and usage. I’m glad we have it, but it seems they have people managing it who’ve never actually SEEN the bike room let alone used it.

  • Joe R.

    With any bike, really. A bike takes up no more room than some of those SUV-sized strollers. If you hold it upright it can take as little room as a folding bike. Any bike is far smaller than one of those mobility scooters which have access everywhere. Let’s just call this what is really is, namely an irrational reaction to bikes.

  • BBnet3000

    It seems like a no brainer to allow people to use the regular elevator after the freight one is closed, which is by definition a much lower demand time for the passenger elevators.

  • AlexWithAK

    I get it to *some* extent. Some buildings have very small elevators and if you had a bunch of people trying to get their bikes in during peak hours it could be a problem. BUT, for the most part it’s much less about being pragmatic and more about arbitrarily viewing bikes in the elevator and lobby as somehow sullying the place.

    I’ve often wondered what I would do if I changed jobs to a place without an easy-access bike room, so I’m very glad this legislation is moving forward.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, there might be some situations where this could happen but in that case the polite thing would be for people to just wait a bit until the elevator was empty before boarding with their bikes. By and large though, this isn’t a problem since most places have reasonably large elevators.

    My guess is this general attitude towards bikes probably comes from the notion that they’re primarily a transportation mode for the poor. Anyone else either rides the subway or drives. As such then, bikes had the usual stigma attached to anything associated with poor people. It’s only in maybe the last decade that bikes have started to be seen as a socially acceptable mode for everyone to get around. Unfortunately, it seems many in building management still haven’t gotten this memo. We’re still dealing with attitudes formed several decades ago.

  • This boggles my mind. This is the same country which feels that a gun free zone is an unthinkable breach of rights.

  • Adam Anon

    Landlords are afraid that some asshole touches your bike and gets grease on his fashionable pants and sues the building for millions. This is the same reason why buildings don’t have playgrounds. Landlords are afraid of frivolous lawsuits. This is not entirely irrational as this city is full of douchebags. Just the other day some prick in a hurry squeezed in front of me while I was walking my bike of off of a ferry and the front wheel touched his shoe. He wanted to punch me and yelled at me for several minutes while nervously wiping the back of his leg.

  • Andrew

    A bike takes up no more room than some of those SUV-sized strollers.

    And how often do you encounter those in office building elevators?

  • Joe R.

    Some work places do offer on-site day care, so I would imagine seeing them in office buildings isn’t unheard of. The general idea though is lots of other wheeled conveyances no larger than a bike are indeed allowed in office buildings, yet bikes seem to earn a special place in hell. Or at least bike purgatory.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    quite a lot of Manhatfan buildings do have parking garages, it should be straightforward to convert a couple of car spaces to bike parking. The landlord could make more money parking 30 bikes instead of 2 cars.

  • ahwr

    Some garages do offer bike parking. I think parkfast still charges a dollar a day.

    >The landlord could make more money parking 30 bikes instead of 2 cars.

    Maybe, but only if 30 bikes show up. Not a given when transalt pushes hard for free options, either on the street or in offices.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    It might be interesting to ask CBD Parking garages that do offer bike Parking.

    another argument for citibike

  • Jonathan R

    The City Council has already passed a regulation to cover that, back in 2009 or so. All garages over a certain number of spaces were supposed to offer paid bicycle parking as well.

    It would be a great thing for parking cargo bikes and tandems and other bikes that are too large to fit in an apartment. But you could get a longtail instead of a box bike, which does fit in an apartment (and would pay for itself over two years of parking).

    I believe that the larger reason why people don’t park their bikes at garages near work is that they value the convenience of stopping along the way to work or home, and locking the bike up on the street. If you have the big locks already and a beater bike, why not just park on the street in midtown as well and save the cash?

  • Alexander Vucelic

    Its a interesting subject, wonder why more cyclists do not use parking garages ? We might Simply Be too, er, frugal

  • djx

    In the case above, the freight elevator closes at 5pm.

    Do you truly think 5pm to, say, 5:45pm is a low-demand time for the passenger elevator?

  • BBnet3000

    Fair enough question, this depends on the direction. I read the original post a bit backward (as if he was bringing the bike from some other storage room up to an office at 5).

    That said, another plausible option would be to have a blackout window around the times you mention and then open the passenger elevator for bicycles. Call it the “get your bike before 5 or after 6” system.

  • Joe R.

    From my own personal standpoint, if I take a bike instead of public transit, it’s solely to save on carfare. Paying for parking negates some or all of that benefit. Sad to say, but the complete lack of safe bike parking near places I might go to means it’s just not practical for me to bike for errands. I used to be able to do it in high school and college when my brother could ride with me to watch my bike when I was in the store but those days are long gone. It’s a pity businesses don’t universally provide a small bike rack near the front door for their customers. I won’t feel secure locking my bike to any type of outdoor parking. Paying for indoor parking just rubs me the wrong way, especially given that prices don’t reflect the relative size of bikes versus cars. If it costs $2 an hour to park a car, it should cost 10 cents an hour for a bike. Paying a dime or a quarter for bike parking might be palatable to me. Paying a few dollars isn’t. At that point I might as well just take the subway or bus to save myself the hassle (and it is a hassle riding a bike on NYC streets during the times when things are usually open).

  • Alexander Vucelic

    what if you commuted to midtown and Secure, protected bike parking in a Garage in your building ( or next door ) was say $10 a month ? $20 a month

    BTW – I run all my errands on my used 3 speed Bought for $75. I lock it with a $15 u-lock from Target. I only lock to Frame. Yup, One Day my bike will be Stolen for certain, but no biggie. I’ll get another for $75 and not stress. or Maybe, by then I’ll Citibike for errands.

    If I am going to dinner or theater, then I’ll double lock bike and usual Protection stuff ( well lighted, next to Much nicer bikes, foot traffic ) but daytime errands – not worth stressing

  • Jonathan R

    Also worth mentioning is that bicyclists are habituated to doing the straightforward thing and locking up in front of their destination. Garage entrances are often located around the block from the front door and their ramped design blocks view of the parking spaces from the street.

    If you can’t see the garage, or the bike parking within the garage, why should you be expected to park there?

  • Joe R.

    $10 or $20 a month is palatable to me because it’s way less than taking the subway. Of course, the travel time by bike would need to be faster or similar to the subway travel time for me to even consider it. Hypothetically, if I worked in midtown I can usually be there in 35 to 45 minutes via the Q64 to Forest Hills, then the E/F. Bike would take probably over an hour most times of day. Given more favorable bike infrastructure, I could physically bike the distance in 35 to 40 minutes without killing myself. That would make biking my primary mode, with the subway only being used on rainy or snowy days.

    One way bikes could immediately be a lot more useful in my area would be either bike share along feeder bus routes to subways, or ample, safe bike parking near subway stations. The bus to the subway is the weakest link getting to Manhattan. Once I’m on the train, it’s only 18 minutes to Midtown. The bus however usually takes at least 15 minutes to go 2.5 miles. On bad days it can take over 30. I can easily bike that distance in 10 minutes or less. So for me a hybrid approach might work even better than bike only. Bike to subway station in 10 minutes, wait a few minutes for the train, 18 minutes to midtown when it comes. I’ll probably reliable get to Manhattan door-to-door in not much over 30 minutes most of the time.

    I have a few beater bikes I could use for errands but it’s still a hassle to replace them if they’re stolen. My “beater” bikes tend to be a bit nicer than the usual beater bike, hence more likely to get stolen. For example, I have an old Huffy but I upgraded the drivetrain with an 8-speed rear cog and indexed shifting, along with alloy rims.

  • Right. As I mentioned, I understand banning bikes from the regular elevators during business hours. And I can also understand extending this ban up to 6pm.

    This would mean that bicyclists who failed to get on the freight elevator before its closure at 5:00 would effectively be trapped in the building until 6:00. If I had free use of the regular elevators after that hour, then this is a compromise which I could easily make.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    all good Points

  • Alexander Vucelic


    always the Engineer tinketing and improving. I must say I have been direkt Tempted to ‘upgrade’ my 3 speed hub to a 7 or 8 internal, but then I realize this Is a Sub-optimal Since the 3 speed is perfectly Suited for the Mission profile.

  • AlexWithAK

    I feel like many in building management have a heavy windshield perspective and probably still think the subway is sketchy.

  • Joe R.

    Terrain has quite a bit to do with it. If I rode on flat terrain all the time, I could probably get by with 4 or 5 speeds. The lower speeds would be mostly used solely to get me back up to cruising speed faster after a stop, with the top two gears mostly used for actual cruising. Queens is a bit more hilly than Manhattan. As such, I find I’m using all ten cogs on my titanium Airborne on just about every ride (I might not always use the low 25 tooth gear unless I hit the steeper hills but I use the other 9 cogs all the time). I rarely need to go to the big chainring though. That effectively gives me three gears above my 42-11 gear (53-13, 53-12, 53-11). I find I only use these very tall gears in long descents, or riding with strong tailwinds, basically only when I’m sustaining speeds above about 50 to 55 kph. So really I have 13 gears at my disposal, but mainly use only 9 of them. I like a lot of ratios simply because it lets me fine tune my cadence. I’ll typically use the top 3 or 4 gears for most of my cruising. The lower three are strictly for climbing. The middle gears might be for either accelerating, or cruising against headwinds.

    The Huffy was a little different. I put 38 tooth and 50 tooth chainrings in front, with 11-12-14-16-18-21-26-32 in back. That gave me up to 50-11 for hauling a$$ but at the same time I also have a very low 38-32 gear which I reasoned would be good for pulling a trailer loaded with 100+ pounds of groceries up some of the hills here.

    Anyway, my take on this is even if you don’t go very fast most of the time, more gearing range is good on both ends. Higher gears let you take advantage of tailwinds. Lower gears are good if you have a lot of cargo going uphill. The closer ratios are always good in that they make for more comfortable pedaling.

  • ahwr

    The parking lot next to the forest hills barnes and noble takes bikes, just a couple blocks from the subway/lirr. I don’t know what they charge though. (At least some) parkfast garage still charge a dollar a day.

  • BBnet3000
  • Alexander Vucelic


    from your link ;

    in Manhattan rates range from $25 per month (8th & fourth ave ) to $16 per HOUR in midtown.


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