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Bike Theft

DOT to Cyclists: Use Your Bike Regularly … Or Lose It

Alert: Your neighbors and the Department of Transportation are coming for your bike ... if you don't use it regularly.

12:00 AM EDT on July 6, 2023

We spotted this bike abandoned for weeks in Brooklyn, but the DSNY only removed it after a neighbor completely vandalized it so that it met agency standards.

Alert: Your neighbors and the Department of Transportation are coming for your bike ... if you don't use it regularly.

A tweet by the DOT last week sent alarm bells ringing that the city had created a new policy to seize bikes that their owners would hardly consider abandoned:

This was the tweet.

Relax: The DOT is not planning on taking your bike unless you've "abandoned" it at a city rack. But don't relax completely: The agency has a very narrow view of what "abandoned" means: If your bike gets reported as "abandoned" by someone on the DOT complaint page (select "other"), it will be tagged by the DOT. If you don't remove the tag within seven days, the agency and the NYPD "have the authority" to remove the bike and deliver it to the stationhouse in the precinct where the rack was located.

It'll remain at the stationhouse for 30 days. From there, it will be taken to the NYPD Property Clerk, according to DOT.

The DOT did not provide any information about the police logistics of this, but the NYPD gave some details. According to a police spokesperson, the picking up of bikes will be done in monthly sweeps by business improvement districts, which will make appointments with local precinct officials to deliver bikes, where they will be vouchered.

The NYPD did not explain how cyclists will be able to prove to cops that a given "abandoned" bike is theirs, referring Streetsblog to section 212-73 of the patrol guide, which urges cyclists to register their bikes in advance with the NYPD.

Still, to avoid descending into concentric circles of hell, cyclists need only remove the tag with seven days of it appearing. (So much for that eight-day getaway in the country.)

Outrage over the policy was swift.

"This policy should be retracted," said Elizabeth Adams of Transportation Alternatives. "New Yorkers need safe, accessible, universal bike parking, not counterproductive policies."

She called the policy "misguided for so many reasons," not the least of which is because tagging bikes will merely flag them for bike thieves as less likely to be closely watched. It would also force people into "unnecessary contact with the police."

"Ultimately, this policy punishes New Yorkers who are not able to keep their bike in their apartment," she added, pressing the city to address "the real issue: the city's lack of bicycle parking."

And social media erupted, too.

"What a fun new way to punish people who live in small and overcrowded apartments," tweeted Jessie Singer of Transportation Alternatives.

Others demanded that the DOT start employing the same strategy for cars that do not move for more than a week, but the agency declined to comment on that. Instead, the agency boasted that its effort will improve cycling in the city, as abandoned bikes crowd out bikes that are being regularly used.

“Cycling in New York is more popular than ever, and DOT strives to make bike parking accessible to all through a comprehensive approach that includes installing a record number of new racks," said agency spokesperson Mona Bruno. "This effort is complaint-driven, rather than proactive, and is a right-sized approach to addressing a common problem cyclists encounter in their commute.”

The new policy also does not change the city's policy against derelict bikes — which differ from bikes that have been merely left unused for seven days. A derelict bike can be reported to the Department of Sanitation, which will remove it only it has met two of the following conditions:

  • 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 50 percent rusted

The DSNY very rarely removes derelict bikes because most of the people who report derelict bikes to 311 are really reporting a seemingly abandoned bikes that actually do not meet the above criteria.

That prompted a gibe from Bike New York Advocacy Director Jon Orcutt, a former DOT official himself who has complained about how difficult it is to get truly derelict bikes off the street.

“There has to be some middle ground between Sanitation’s Catch-22 ‘derelict’ rules that almost never result in removal of bike junk, and DOT and NYPD’s new hurry-up offense," he said.

Meanwhile, neither agency has a good record of dealing with abandoned cars, as Streetsblog has reported. Once, we spotted a car that was left in spot for at least four months that prevented the DOT from finishing painting a bike lane.

And who could forget the infamous Abandoned Auto of Ocean Parkway — which didn't move for almost two years, yet was never towed away?

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