Oonee, a Safe Bike Parking Pod, Coming Soon to Lower Manhattan

Downtown Alliance partnering with Brooklyn company to create modular lockboxes.

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

Would you pay $100 a year for the ultimate bike insurance policy?

Lower Manhattan workers and residents will get to decide next month when the Oonee — a secure, rain-protected and thief-proof bike-parking module — lands at Water-Whitehall Plaza near the Staten Island Ferry terminal.

For $7.99 a month, cyclists can park, lock and walk away — safe in the knowledge that their bike is behind four steel-secured walls.

“And if your bike is somehow stolen, we’ll replace it,” said Shabazz Stuart, the 29-year-old founder and CEO of the company, which has been testing its first station in the Brooklyn Navy Yard since April.

Here's what an Oonee Pod could look like once deployed. Photo Oonee Pod.
Here’s what an Oonee could look like once deployed. Photo: Oonee.

The concept behind Oonee — the name is a play off of uni, the Japanese word for sea urchin, which, the Oonee’s website reminds, has “safety features to protect its valuable interior cargo” — is simple: Roughly 200 parts can be quickly assembled into a 14-foot cube that houses 20 bike racks. The door is unlocked with a card key or smartphone. Users then simply lock their bike vertically to the racks and close the metal door behind them as they leave.

Stuart knows that most cyclists just park wherever they find a pole, but in Lower Manhattan, even such minuscule real estate is a prime commodity (even Staten Islanders are seeing the need for more bike parking). And even if parking is available, it comes with a persistent nagging feeling.

“Fifty percent of New Yorkers experience bike theft,” said Stuart, a former deputy director of operations for the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “People feel comfortable parking their on the street — until they come back and the bike is missing and they have to make that long walk home with my helmet.”

Bike theft is not just a personal trauma but a national tragedy. And it’s a particularly vicious cycle: When bikes are stolen, people are less likely to ride — or they’ll ride an old “beater” or a Citi Bike, and not really enjoy cycling all that much. If people don’t enjoy cycling, they’ll do it less, possibly encouraging city officials to slow down their cycling safety initiatives, which will make cycling less safe, prompting fewer and fewer to do it.

“When the Department of City Planning asks people why they don’t bike to work, one of the leading reasons is lack of secure parking,” Stuart said. “The status quo isn’t working. The status quo is depressing cycling.”

(Full disclosure: During my time as editor of The Brooklyn Paper, my bike was stolen so often that we referred to bike theft as “getting gershed.” I am no longer at that newspaper, but my bike was gershed again last month on the Lower East Side. Stuart’s bikes have been gershed three times. And Jessica Lappin of the Downtown Alliance, which is partnering with Stuart for his first real-world test of the Oonee pod, has also been gershed once, her spokesperson told Streetsblog.)

A spokesperson for the Downtown Alliance said the business group got involved to see if Oonee is an amenity local workers want — there are about 40,000 of them in a four-block radius of the Oonee pod site.

“It offers a unique service to residents and workers,” said Jane Wolterding, the director of planning/operations with the Alliance. “It would be great to have them all over Downtown if we could find the space for them.”

Stuart has a larger vision of app-enabled pods connected via the Internet to a variety of bike service providers. With a touch of the app, a bike owner could, for example, unlock the two-wheeler so that it can be picked up by a repair shop for a tune up — then returned to its spot before the rider needs it to get home. Some pods could even have a bike repair station inside them.

But the bottom line is parking. And current modes are not working. In 2009, the city passed what was billed as a landmark “bikes in buildings” law, which many supporters believed would force landlords to open up space for secure parking. It has not worked out that way, with some landlords putting the bike parking in an area accessible only with a freight elevator that goes out of service long before most workers are done for the day. Other landlords force tenants to file a complaint with the city to get the bike parking (which, if you know anything about landlord-tenant relations, is not a great situation for a tenant to be in).

Stuart believes the Oonee pod is the game-changer because its attractive, easy to take apart, is exempt from city red tape because it’s not a permanent structure and, best of all, can activate public space.

“It enhances the surrounding area,” he said. “It’s an amenity that can attract people.”

 

  • Joe R.

    This seems like a good idea to solve a pressing problem but I have several concerns:

    1) Would it be scaleable, especially around subway stations in the outer boroughs where you might eventually have demand for hundreds of bikes?
    2) The cost seems reasonable but can the company make money charging that amount, or is this a “low introductory price” which will rise dramatically in a year or two?
    3) Is the pod physically anchored to the sidewalk? The photo makes it look like the only thing keeping it in place is jersey barriers. This is NYC. I wouldn’t put it past someone to steal the entire pod and its contents.
    4) Similarly, vandalism concerns me. Can the pod easily be damaged enough to either allow the bikes to get stolen or to make the card entry non-functional.
    5) Is there a backup power source to ensure people can get their bikes in the event of a power outage.

    Despite my concerns, it’s still a good idea, but I honestly think this is something the MTA should have been doing for years, even decades. I recall mentioning to people in the 1980s that I wanted bike lockers at the Forest Hills station so I could avoid a double fare and waiting for the slow, infrequent bus to the subway. The Metrocard fixed the double fare problem but cycling is still a viable alternative to crappy bus-to-subway service in much of the city.

  • BrandonWC

    The 2016 Amendments to the Bikes in Buildings law require that buildings allow bikes to be brought in and out through a passenger elevator during hours when freight elevators are not in service (and at all times for folding bikes).

  • Fool

    Seems like a robotic solution would be:
    -More secure
    -Higher Density parking.

  • Shabazz Stuart

    Joe,

    I wanted to respond directly to several of the great questions you raised regarding this pilot.

    (a) On scale: Each Oonee is modular, and can be built to larger or smaller sizes to accommodate varying demand. We generally believe in the scale over concentration approach, have lots of small and medium sized pods every few blocks rather than just have a few big garages. Our goal is to get to 20k+ spaces

    (b) On pricing: We generate the vast majority of our revenue from other sources, including working with sponsors to brand the pods. We do not expect to raise the price, and may even lower it further to align with demand at certain locations.

    (c) On weight: Each water barrier (the Water-Whitehall unit will have 4) weights 750 lbs when filled. Combined that with the fact that the structure itself without the water is already heavier than a vehicle, and it would be fairly difficult for someone to move on their own. Much of the pop-up infrastructure that you see in NYC (holiday markets, shipping containers etc) are not anchored to the ground.

    (d) On vandalism: The pods are designed to be resistant to vandalism, and we’ll be working to aggressively respond & repair any instances of damage.

    (e) On power: Yes, the pod is powered through solar panels and batteries (similar to Citibike).

    I hope this additional information helps answer some of your questions. I’m happy to continue the dialogue here if helpful. Also please feel free to visit our website ooneepod.com for more information.

  • Jesse

    Since we have you here, I have a question: will these things primarily be on the street or the sidewalk? Obviously I prefer they not take up pedestrian space. Related, I assume you’re renting the space. Does the price vary by location? For example, does the price vary by neighborhood but also does it vary by property type? e.g., if you put one of these in a park vs in on-street parking?

  • Shabazz Stuart

    Jesse,

    Great question– these are going to be located in public space, not sidewalks. Very similar to a kiosk that sells coffee or food in, the intention is not to have them obstruct walkways.

    On price, we don’t expect a ton of variation, our goal is to have the infrastructure be as heavily used as possible, which means we do not want pricing to be a barrier. Our business model is based on sponsorship of the kiosks (similar to Citibike) and providing additional services (bike repair etc) to members. Membership fees are used to help maintain and clean the pod.

    Hope this information helps.

  • HamTech87

    These should be at EVERY subway terminus.

  • i feel like this lives in the same psychological space as dumpsters here in the city, and i DO NOT mean that as an insult at all. merely–you are offering an obvious public good that to me feels like a no brainer. no one needs to have their bikes randomly affixed to whatever they can find any more than anyone needs to just dump their trash bags on the street. and yet…that’s what happens in large swaths of the city. i hope you can overcome the resistance to such obvious goods by the NIMBYism of this city Shabazz, and wish you great good fortune!

  • Joe R.

    Thank you for the detailed answers. I just thought of another question. Is there any provision for those who might very occasionally want to use these? For example, I might have the need for something like this when running errands on my bike if one was located near my destination AND the pricing was reasonable (i.e. perhaps $1 or less).

    One model I can think for this to happen is perhaps you sell entry cards for a nominal fee (i.e. enough to cover the costs of the card and postage). If the card isn’t used, there is obviously no charge. If the card gets used, you charge perhaps $1 or $0.75 per use BUT the total in any calender month can’t exceed $7.99 no matter how many times the card is used.

    I really hope this venture is successful. I stopped taking my bike for errands years ago once my brother was no longer able to ride with me so he could watch it. Bike theft is too rampant in NYC to risk chaining it up in the street. We’ve needed secure bike parking for ages. I think that’s a bigger show stopper to widespread bike usage than lack of bike lanes. I hope perhaps NYC or the MTA will step up and put protected bike parking in obvious places like subway stations once your stations demonstrate that it wil be heavily used.

  • JarekFA

    They really need to make a version that can fit in one (or maybe two) road side car parking spots.

  • Shabazz Stuart

    Joe,

    Thanks so much for the kind words.

    This is a great suggestion. We’re going to open up per-registration to folks interested in long term parking, and then we’re going to see where the demand is. If there is capacity, we’re going to have a day pass system that works similar to the manner that you suggested.

    I would expect this to be useful especially in colder months and off-peak times (weekends) when there are less commuters.

    Eventually, folks will be able to use our app and self-locking racks to reserve spots for short stays, since we will be able to monitor capacity in real time.

  • Shabazz Stuart

    This is feedback that we get often– and we have smaller designs in the works. Using parking spaces was an early iteration of the project, but the process for securing such spaces in any city tends to be much, much longer and harder than securing public or private spaces that aren’t public right-of-way.

  • cjstephens

    While I’m not sure I’ll ever use one of these, I really hope they’re a success. Mr. Stuart’s responses to the comments give me a great deal of hope.

  • Zed381

    It’s a decent idea. If it were in my neighborhood, I’d try it, since being able to keep my bike on the street is attractive. But I don’t know about having to haul it up to a vertical rack every time. Might be a deal breaker. And I assume there would be some kind of security camera inside? Otherwise a ring of bike thieves could join, and have nice secure access to some pretty nice bikes.

  • Jeff

    Kudos to Mr. Stuart – I hope this is a huge success.

  • TR

    This is such a great idea. Who are your sponsors? I want to make sure to support them and let them know this is a great idea.

  • zach

    I’d be concerned about someone coming in as someone else leaves, like in an apartment building or ATM kiosk, without swiping the card. In the apt building I used to live in we’d get constant reminders not to let people in as we leave, but it feels impolite, or worse racist, to try to stop someone who might be picking up their bike.

    Do people get individual parking spaces, or is there another place to store a lock? If someone can leave their lock in there permanently (and not have it rust in the rain), then they could have a wildly heavy lock.

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