How Can DSNY Fix Its Process for Removing Abandoned Bikes?

The city’s process for removing abandoned bikes from public property is broken, advocates say, but a bill proposed by Council Member Brad Lander to deal with the problem needs some adjustments in order to be effective.

This abandoned bike on Nostrand Avenue won’t be removed by DSNY unless someone complains, and even then it’s no sure thing. Photo: David Meyer

Abandoned bikes on the sidewalk are an eyesore and make it harder for people using their bikes to find an open spot to lock up. Since 2010, the Department of Sanitation has had the authority to remove “derelict” bikes, but the conditions required for a removal still leave too many abandoned bikes cluttering the street.

The city’s rules currently state that a bike is derelict if it is attached to public property and meets at least three of the following criteria:

  • It is “crushed or not usable”
  • It’s missing parts
  • It has flat or missing tires
  • It has damaged handlebars or pedal, or is at least 75 percent rusted

So, if a bike has flat tires and bent wheels and hasn’t been moved from a rack for months, DSNY won’t remove it. The bike has to be in worse shape, and even then the department probably won’t do anything unless someone complains to 311. There is no proactive process for abandoned bike removal.

Testifying before the City Council transportation committee yesterday, DSNY Director of Cleaning and Collection Steven Costas said that two-thirds of the derelict bikes removed by the department this year were in four community districts in Manhattan and Brooklyn. In the past two years, DSNY has impounded over 2,400 derelict bikes, according to 311 data made public by the city. But those stats don’t measure how many abandoned bikes are left in place.

Lander’s bill, Intro 787, authorizes a new protocol, in which DSNY would tag bicycles that look abandoned and bike owners would have 36 hours to remove the tag before DSNY impounds the bike. To get a bike back, owners would have to pay a fine between $25 and $100 or appeal to the Environmental Control Board.

Costas said that DSNY opposes the proposal as it is written because the agency lacks the personnel and storage space to tag, monitor, and collect the bikes.

Transportation Alternatives said it supported the spirit of the proposal, but that the bill doesn’t address the core problem — DSNY’s failure to act on its authority to clear abandoned bikes. “We believe the reason for bikes not being removed is in large part due to the extremely high degree of disrepair a bike must show before the Department of Sanitation will remove it,” said TA director Paul Steely White.

Lander said at the hearing that his bill is a work in progress and committed to working with DSNY and others to “amend the bill and the system so we can address the abandoned bike issues.”

Speaking today over the phone, Lander said one aspect of the bill that’s in line for revision is the complicated impoundment system and civil penalties. Once a bike is tagged by DSNY, he said, owners should have a longer period than 36 hours — weeks or perhaps months — to claim their bike and remove the tag. But once that period has passed, the bike would not be recoverable. This could make the administration of the program more feasible for DSNY while giving bike owners a more reasonable period of time to claim a bike they leave in one place.

Instead of impounding the bikes, Lander said, “My hope would be that they can be donated.”

Residents who want to report a derelict bike can do so by filing a report online with 311.

  • I have a great standard: If a senior citizen complains to Gale Brewer, the bike is removed. As I understand it, based on yesterday’s hearing, that’s how we set street policy these days.

  • Ari_F_S

    I am very familiar with this issue through my job.

    The problem could easily be fixed by DSNY changing their own rule (and lowering the threshold for what constitutes “derelict”). But they are afraid that ONE bike will be erroneously removed and it will make the front page of the Post. So they do nothing. It’s pathetic.

    Now a City Council Member wants to pass a law forcing their hand. I don’t agree with the law, as written. It’s ridiculous.

    DSNY: just lower the threshold!

  • BBnet3000

    Please add a provision to donate the bikes that are in the best shape.

  • r

    It might be helpful to look at how Amsterdam does it. (Dutch people, feel free to chime in.)

    There, the condition of a bike is just one of a few factors, which makes a ton of sense. Some people buy cheap bikes for extended stays but then abandon them when they leave. Or they leave an inexpensive bike at a train station for part of their commute, but then abandon it if their job and commute change. There’s good reason to sometimes remove bikes that wouldn’t come close to meeting DSNY’s standards here. Obviously a sea of bikes sitting around for two weeks near Centraal Station is more of a problem than a few bikes sitting around for a month in a more residential area.

    Depending on the neighborhood, bikes of any condition can only be parked in one place for 7, 14 or 28 days. If your bike isn’t moved according to the posted rules, a sticker is attached to it with a date. (Not sure how long it is, but I believe you’re given more than 36 hours, which also makes sense. What if you go away for a weekend?) If sticker isn’t removed by that date, the bike is clipped and taken away. You have something like 6 weeks to go claim it – for a fee – at a storage facility before it’s given away.

    The requires far more resources than DSNY and DOT currently have, but it’s something to consider as bike parking becomes more of an issue in NYC.

  • Rabi

    I’m not sure how Lander got this one so wrong. His heart is in the right place, but 36 hours is insane. I say tag bikes more freely, but then wait several weeks or even a month before removing them. The problem isn’t bikes that are parked someplace for days or evens weeks; we should be focused on bikes that are left for months.

  • Sabina

    While there is a lot of room for improvement in the current system, I gotta say that DSNY has responded to every call I have made to 311 about derelict bicycles. Heck, DSNY even calls my phone to tell me they have put notices on the bikes. This is way more responsive than my other calls to 311 about disappeared bike lane markings, burned out lights, etc.

  • Wilfried84

    Forgive me if I’m naive. I store my bikes indoors (and I live in a dinky studio, so, no, I don’t have a lot of space), so maybe I’m missing something. Sure, 36 hours is too short. But you’re talking people storing bikes on the street for weeks on end without so much as going by to have a look at it, never mind actually riding it, taking up space that could be used by someone who actually uses their bike. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that you at least go by, say, once a week to check on your bike, and pull off any sticker that it’s tagged with. It’s your property, so you should take at least that much responsibility for it. Streetblog decries parking as free storage for private property on public streets. Shouldn’t the same apply to bikes?

  • qrt145

    I agree. Also, if you are going on a trip, it’s a good idea to store your bike indoors anyway even if you normally store it outdoors.

    Also remember that they would only tag bikes that “look abandoned” anyway.

    But yes, 36 hours is too short. I think a week would be more than generous enough. “Weeks or perhaps months” is ridiculously long. I doubt that the tags would last that long!

  • Joe R.

    I don’t understand this myself. Given the rampant bike theft in NYC, the fact the climate ruins bikes stored outdoors, plus the potential for vandalism, I don’t understand why anyone would store their bike outside. It’s not like bikes take up a huge amount of space. If you’re really short of space, storage systems exist which take up zero floor space. Most buildings more than a few floors have elevators. Some buildings have cellars where you can keep bikes or carriages. I’m just not seeing a whole lot of reasons why people would choose to store bikes on the street, especially for weeks at a time without using or checking them. I actually opted to keep my newest bike in the basement instead of the garage, even though this means carrying it up a flight of stairs each time I use it. The garage can and has been broken into in the past.

  • Wilfried84

    Right. If you store your bike on the street, you don’t care that much about it in the first place, and if it’s not stolen, it’s a crappy beater bike no one wants to steal. In which case, it’s just rude to store a bike on the street for weeks on end without using it, especially in the busier parts of Manhattan or Brooklyn.

  • Nate Briggs

    The worst derelict problem I’ve ever seen was in the UK — in Cambridge — where it seemed like every vertical object had at least one abandoned bicycle attached. Before Cambridge decided to toughen up, I think the mindset was the same: just one person complaining that their bicycle had been “stolen” by the city would mean a week of embarrassment for city government.

  • red_greenlight1

    I can’t tell you how much this irritates me. I have no problem removing the bikes in 36 hours. Heck it should be 24 hours. The city bike racks weren’t designed to be long term storage for bikes. They were meant to be parking stops for people at work, shopping or otherwise using them.

    It’s your bike is your property put it in your apartment.

  • SteveVaccaro

    I have a different take, based on the discussion between Brad Lander and the DSNY official at the hearing.

    It appears that in certain neighborhoods (such as park Slope), there is considerable pressure being put on elected officials to deal with the blight of abandoned bikes, both from cyclists who want the spaces and residents who don’t like the streets clogged with unused derelict bikes.

    DSNY is devoting almost no resources to clearing the bikes even under their present protocol. There are no dedicated personnel for this task. At the hearing, it was stated that the DSNY staff assigned to this work are supervisors who had derelict bike responsibilities added on top of their other responsibilities. Less than 1,000 bikes were cleared last year.

    They should have two or three dedicated staff to do this work, collect the recovered derelict frames, and auction them off. Or outsource to a vendor who will be permitted to keep the salvaged frames and parts. I believe either of these approaches will enable sufficient resources to deal with the problem.

    I do agree that the regulations are too detailed, but removing an reference to the condition of the bikes subject to impound is too far in the other direction. I recommend stating that only abandoned bikes are to be impounded, and leave it to the discretion of the DSNY to determine which look abandoned. That, along with a reasonable notice period (I recommend one month from tagging to removal, but that is not a magic number), is enough to ensure that there would be very few impoundments of bicycles that are not abandoned.

  • Eric McClure

    We should apply this same standard to cars, as well.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    you want to start by removing all abandoned cars in front of precint house sidewalks ? ?

  • Alexander Vucelic

    japan has worst

  • Charles

    My old landlady got very huffy about me bringing my bike into the building. In her mind it was a step shy of bringing a motorcycle inside. This is a pretty common mentality.

  • TBW

    So I was right! LOL!

    You are a deadbeat yankee atheist that rents a closet in NY and rides a bike for transport! No wonder you look up to Marxist terds like Sorros and have such a craven urge to make money in any underhanded fashion.

    You made me so happy I’m going to take my boat to The Bahamas for a few days of fishing and diving! Enjoy your cesspool, yankee…

  • Charles

    Ha. I live in the suburbs now and probably pay more in taxes each month than you earn in a year. But I do ride a bike for transportation a lot of the time. You should see how good my ass looks in lycra despite being middle aged.

    Enjoy succumbing to rage, hypertension and type 2 diabetes. You’ve earned it.

  • TBW

    Leave it to a Marxist to be proud about how much he pays in taxes…

  • Charles

    No, it was more a reference point to the fact that I cover your disability and WIC which you resent so much.

  • Kevin Love

    In Utrecht it is 28 days, then the bicycle is removed. See:

    https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/utrecht-removes-illegaly-parked-bicycles/

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