Meet the Oonee Pod, Secure Bike Parking Designed to Be Flexible Enough for NYC

Co-founders Shabazz Stuart and Manuel Mansylla hope the Oonee Pod will become a fixture of New York City's public spaces. They unveiled their prototype Tuesday night.

Oonee Pod CEO Shabazz Stuart speaking at a launch event for his secure bike parking prototype in April. The pod is coming next month to Lower Manhattan. Photo: Ben Fried
Oonee Pod CEO Shabazz Stuart speaking at a launch event for his secure bike parking prototype in April. The pod is coming next month to Lower Manhattan. Photo: Ben Fried

If circumstances compel you to lock up your bike outside in NYC, before long you might give up on the idea of owning a bicycle.

Shabazz Stuart knows the feeling of losing a bike to theft all too well. In one five-year span, three of his bikes were stolen. But he wasn’t about to resign himself to bikelessness.

At the time his third bike got nicked, in 2015, Stuart was working at the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. He started talking to local businesses, property owners, and people who bike in the neighborhood about how to provide publicly accessible, secure bike parking.

“I realized that there wasn’t anything on the market that could accommodate the needs of all these groups,” he told Streetsblog. “Cyclists wanted affordable bicycle parking, property owners wanted a public space activator, and no one wanted to pay to build and operate the solution. We realized that we had to invent a new one.”

Fast forward to this past Tuesday. After three years of legwork and sweat equity, Stuart and his business partner, Manuel Mansylla (a.k.a. Manman), unveiled the prototype for what they hope will become a new fixture of New York City’s public spaces: the Oonee Pod.

The prototype pod, currently in use for bike parking at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, is a 14-foot cube that can hold 20 bikes in less square footage than it takes to park two cars. A single 7-by-14-foot module (the Navy Yard installation is two modules) doesn’t occupy much more real estate than a bus stop shelter, and would have a smaller footprint than a standard parking space.

Any bike storage solution will have a spatial advantage over cars, though. What sets the Oonee Pod apart, say Stuart and Mansylla, is its flexibility.

oonee_racks
The prototype racks. Future iterations will have self-locking racks. Photo: Ben Fried

The ideal among people who obsess over urban bike storage tends to be something like Japan’s underground, automated bike parking systems. It’s brilliant and functional, but rigid. Stuart thinks importing that model won’t fly in New York. It would never clear the thicket of approvals and bureaucracy that must be dealt with to build permanent structures here, not to mention the tangle of underground utilities.

Instead, the Oonee Pod circumvents all the red tape, because it’s not a permanent structure.

Each module consists of 270 standardized parts. It can be assembled or taken apart in a day.

The key to the structure, said Mansylla, is the footing. Each module is anchored by two plastic Jersey barriers filled with water or sand. “That gives us the ballast we need,” he said. “It can’t be tipped over.” But the Jersey barriers can be emptied and the components stored easily when disassembled. Mansylla likened it to a Lego kit.

The Navy Yard Oonee Pod under construction last week. Photo: Shabazz Stuart
The Navy Yard Oonee Pod under construction last week. Photo: Shabazz Stuart

Mansylla, the creative director for Oonee, drew inspiration from his work designing small, modular platforms for DOT’s Street Seats program. “That led me to understand the need for readily available public infrastructure,” he said. “I realized there was a big need and a lot of potential.”

While secure bike parking was the impetus for the Oonee Pod, Stuart and Mansylla see it as a flexible structure that can support other functions, like seating, vending, or storage. Hence the brand name, Stuart explained, a homophone for uni, the “famously malleable” sea urchin that “can be found in a variety of underwater environments.”

“If we want to get [to scale] across New York City, we need a viable business model that makes people happy, not just cyclists,” said Stuart. “A hundred people may use it every day — what about the 100,000 who are walking by?”

The prototype — a colorful, brightly lit cube with vertical bike racks on two walls, drawing power from the grid — is “the minimum viable product,” he said.

The next layer of functionality is the app. Subscribers would pay a monthly fee, say $10, for access to Oonee bike storage. An active subscription would be required to unlock an Oonee Pod. Stuart expects the app and a solar-powered version of the pod to go live in the next few months. Another iteration in the works would replace the standard vertical racks, which cyclists lock up to themselves, with self-locking racks that would function like bike-share docks.

Eventually, Stuart sees the app as “a gateway to a much better experience” for cyclists, with other bike-related services on offer. If you catch a flat, for instance, you should be able to drop your bike off at the nearest Oonee and order up a new tube while you go about your day.

The bike shops Stuart has spoken to are intrigued. “If real estate is available for maintenance services, there’s an appetite” to provide them, he said.

There’s a long way to go before reaching their goal of 20,000 secure bike racks in NYC, but Stuart and Mansylla are drawing interest from property owners and expect to expand beyond the Navy Yard in short order.

Keep your eyes peeled for more Oonee Pods popping up before the summer is out.

  • JarekFA

    We should have secured and covered public bike parking in NYC. Full stop. Not, get your YMCA to promote a fucking bike corral and commit to cleaning it, and such a corral would be exposed to the elements 100%.

    I’m sick of this fucking where every day, I’ve got big ass trucks and SUVs, with plates from Minnesota and elsewhere, parked in front of my house. I live in a 3 family house. None of our families own a car. We can not avail ourselves of the extremely valuable public roadside space.

    That is bullshit. We’ve got spaces for like 60+! cars on my street. We probably have 150 households on my street. In the space of like 5 parking spots, we could have bikes for everyone. The city can talk all day about what little shit they do to facilitate biking as a transportation option — we all know that’s bullshit. They hand over this extremely valuable curbspace for NOTHING that only a minority (that tend to be affluent) are able to avail themselves of. This is a failed public policy. So don’t call me selfish when I’m trying to be fair and given people options. Oh how I’d love to be able to park a big heavy cargo ebike on the street in front of my house.

    If it can’t be in the street because of ASP purposes, then we should extend the sidewalk and build them on reclaimed sidewalk space. This shit would absolutely get people to give up their cars.

  • The thing is that if something like this is enclosed, then street cleaning and ASP is barely an issue. It’s only a concern with the current on-street bike corrals because trash and debris can collect between the racks or behind the planters. Same with snow. That’s why the current DOT bike corral program requires maintenance partners.

    Not that these wouldn’t have to be cleaned every now and then, but it wouldn’t be a big deal and certainly wouldn’t have to be every week. And you wouldn’t have to do much shoveling to clear out the entrance to a covered bike parking facility.

    DOT should get on this, especially with the looming L train shutdown. This or something like it should be in every affected neighborhood and then expand from there.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The ideal among people who obsess over urban bike storage tends to be something like Japan’s underground, automated bike parking systems. It’s brilliant and functional, but rigid. Stuart thinks importing that model won’t fly in New York. It would never clear the thicket of approvals and bureaucracy that must be dealt with to build permanent structures here.”

    That says it all. An improvised, non-governmental, half outlaw solution to a public problem because the government is captured by special interests demanding tribute.
    It’s what will have to happen for education and health care too, as Generation Greed causes the government and other institutions to collapse. It’s happening before our eyes if they are open. Pretty soon it will be too obvious to cover up.

    The IND stations tend to be way overbuilt for their level of ridership. Were it not for the “thicket of approvals and bureaucracy” ramps could be installed for handicapped access, rather than having NYCT fail to provide and maintain elevators, and bicycles could use those same ramps to access scores of these pods in the mostly-empty mezzanines.

  • Greg

    I don’t exactly understand the security model.

    Are the locks secure against standard bike thief tools? I’m sure they’re thick and rigid, but aren’t today’s thick and rigid bike locks still compromisable?

    As for access to the unit, I can’t imagine it would be hard for a thief to loiter around then sneak their way inside just as someone leaves. Even more directly they could just get their own membership, go into a unit, then clean up. Even if their membership gets canceled they’d be out $10 for who knows how many hundreds or thousands of dollars profit.

    I’m not saying this to criticize: I don’t have experience with these sorts of units and I’m generally curious how they handle scenarios like these.

  • JarekFA

    This is a great idea but it really needs to be sized such that it can fit in car parking spaces. “Ugh, they’re removing 3! parking spots” But you’re getting 30 bike spots in which you really can actually store your bike and keep it there like you would for a car commute.

    The fact that you’d have to (understandably) pay to use this makes me think you’d have to change the law to address it.

    Shame this never went anywhere: https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2008/03/12/details-of-the-mayors-residential-parking-permit-proposal/

    And we have an utterly incurious mayor. I asked the Bike Corral program if it was possible for them to be covered and they said no.

    I can’t just leave my bike outside completely uncovered. My current configuration only partially protects it from the weather.

  • I want one of these on my block. Would certainly help disarm the “but it doesn’t fit with the rest of the block” argument. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/37b9c1f4660c19f5681389e656cf779b1c61c40152e4bbfefdb69f4a10c18957.jpg

  • thoughtfulcitizen89

    Functionally it’s a bike cage– those exist all over the world. I think the article is just saying that it’s modular, and nice looking. I used bike cages in Boston and LA, never got broken into or cleaned out.

    Also, I think you use your own lock for this version.

  • Shabazz Stuart

    Greg,

    Shabazz here, the founder of Oonee mentioned in the post. I’m happy to have a dialogue around this issue; it’s a great question. We’ve thought long and hard about security

    a) The bicycles inside are all insured. If something is damaged or stolen, we will cover the cost.

    b) In terms of security, there are three layers, the first is access control, the interior is locked. The second is a locking mechanism on the bicycle itself, currently it’s your own lock, but in the future the racks will self lock. The third is a video camera that’s inside.

    In designing the structure we took a look at existing bicycle enclosures that were located around the world– especially at the ones that are often found in commuter stations– they’re typically very safe with non-existent rates of theft.

    c) Lastly, bike theft is often a crime of opportunity. Yes, a thief could find a way to break into a Pod (just like someone can probably find a way to break into your home, even with the best security system); the security features are meant to function as a strong deterrent– much much more so than just leaving a bike on the street.

    In addition to security, the Pods also weather protection.

    Hope this helps clear things up. Happy to continue the conversation.

  • lindsaybanks

    I have talked to a lot of families that would bike with kids, but they have nowhere to store a cargo bike. I’m not sure that these pods could fit cargo bikes, but that would be awesome. It’s why we had to move from our last apartment. I hope there’s a thought to non-traditional bikes!

  • vnm

    This looks like an awesome idea! Nicely done. Having had one bike stolen in broad daylight even though it was securely locked to a seemingly secure sidewalk bike rack, I strongly support this.

  • Jeff

    File this under “Things We Could Do If Curbside Parking Were Not Sacrosanct.”

  • Greg

    Hey Shabazz!

    Thanks so much for the thoughtful answer – I really appreciate it.

    While a video camera definitely makes sense, I think part of my concern is the blase attitude New York authorities seem to take toward bike theft. There are demonstration videos of people just walking up to bikes in the city with blow torches, blowing through the locks, then riding away without anyone giving a second look. And my rough understanding is that NYPD aren’t very inspired to investigate these cases.

    I’d like to think that clear, high quality video from multiple vantage points would be enough to change that story. And even though the thickest portable bike locks are still vulnerable, maybe you have better opportunity for even thicker and sturdier locks in a big stationary unit.

    I’d love to see this all work out!

  • Shabazz Stuart

    Greg,

    No problem.

    You’re right with respect to the video camera. The best we can do is build a structure with multiple layers of security and provide insurance. I don’t think it’s we can get to 100% full proof– we can just make it very, very unlikely.

  • MB

    If the city actually cracked down on the number of people committing insurance fraud and avoiding registering their car to NY, pretty much every street would only need one side for car parking. A little game I sometimes play while riding around is counting the number of out-of-state license plates per block. It’s regularly around 50% of the cars parked on the block. These cars stay here year round. Definitely not just visiting from Oklahoma and New Mexico. And how many assholes from North Carolina in their giant trucks could be visiting family in a three block radius in Brooklyn at the same time? Probably not 50.

    My bike is super heavy and regularly has panniers on it. I have to go through a tiring process of unloading bits of it into my vestibule, then grabbing my bike, and taking bags and then bike up to a steep third-floor walk-up. It sucks. Being able to safely leave it outside would save me so much trouble and make my bike easier to use for short trips.

  • qrt145

    I hate these fraudsters as much as you do but I don’t think that cracking down on the fraud would make their vehicles go away. Some might legalize it, others might get the NY registration but no insurance, who knows… my guess is that only a small fraction would get rid of their cars (and if they got rid of it by selling it to a city resident, the car would still be here!)

  • You make an excellent point about the automobile owners committing insurance fraud. Wouldn’t it be something if those people were expected to follow the law, in all respects?

    However, speaking as someone who also has saddle bags on his bike, I will mention that you’d have to take the bags off even if this Oonee structure were available, because you’d have to lift the bike and lock it to a rack on the wall.

    (Side note: Does anyone who has experience with the NYC Ferry know whether this sort of on-wall rack is the norm on these boats?)

  • JarekFA

    Why can’t we park cargo bikes on the street like a car? Would they be ticketed? I saw over a half dozen in use this past Sunday in Brooklyn — carrying kids and goods and sometimes both.

  • lindsaybanks

    They’re too easy to steal. Even with the wheel lock, someone (2 ppl) could load it into a van and take it away, where they would deal with the lock. As a cargo bike owner, I would never leave mine on the street. I know someone who had theirs stolen while they were dropping kids off at the daycare. It was out front, only locked at the wheel. Someone noticed that it was regularly there, and made a move.

  • Samuelitooooo

    With regards to Japan’s underground, automated bike parking systems, there’s a company that’s making an above-ground version of that. Basically, Japan’s system in reverse. No need for underground construction. Google EcoCycle UK

  • JarekFA

    I’ve got trees outside my apt with pretty sturdy metal tree guards around it. So I’d lock up to those. I just don’t know if it’s legal to park it on the street though, like it were a motorcycle.

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