For City Commuters, Same Old Story for Another Vehicle: Parking Is Scarce
A bicycle parking shelter, on 17th Street across from Union Square Park, is one of four in the city.
When Carlos Martinez bicycles to work in Manhattan from his home in Jackson Heights, Queens, he must ride along Northern Boulevard, a broad and busy thoroughfare, before crossing the Queensboro Bridge and heading south on Second Avenue toward the East Village.
It is a commute that few bicyclists would relish.
But when Mr. Martinez gets to his office on East Fourth Street, where he works as the Latin American liaison for an environmental group called Green Map System, he becomes the envy of riders across the city. That is because the office building allows him to bring his bike upstairs and stash it in a walk-in closet alongside bikes belonging to three or four co-workers.
“It’s one less problem for me,” Mr. Martinez said. “At least I know my vehicle is O.K., so I’m pretty sure I can get back home safely.”
It may seem like a simple sentiment, but having a safe place to store a bike at work is an urban amenity that ranks somewhere with having unfettered roof access or a key to a community garden. While people are generally free to wheel their bikes in and out of residential buildings, commercial buildings often ban them.
At a time when, city officials say, the number of people cycling in New York is soaring and the city has been implementing a plan to create 200 miles of new bike lanes, one glaring problem for those who want to cycle to work is the shortage of parking, particularly in areas like Midtown Manhattan.
“It’s one of the biggest missing links preventing New York from being a world-class bicycling city,” said Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group that promotes bicycling. “It’s the No. 1 reason that serious, savvy cyclists don’t use their bikes to get to work.”
In a city inhabited by bike thieves so crafty and notorious that the bicycle lock company Kryptonite calls one of its locks the New York Fahgettaboudit, many people are loath to leave a bike chained outside, where it can be stolen or quickly stripped of parts. So riders who are not as fortunate as Mr. Martinez end up improvising.
Some commuters, who park on the street, try to throw off thieves by choosing a different spot each day or by moving their bike during lunch. Others depend on the good will of local business owners who might be willing to squeeze a bike into a shop corner at no charge.
Even for those willing to park outdoors, space is limited. Although it is common for people to secure bicycles to signposts or parking meters, Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the city’s Transportation Department, said that it is a violation of a city ordinance to lock a bike to anything other than a bicycle rack. In addition, many businesses and buildings post signs warning cyclists not to chain their bikes to fences or railings.
Transportation Alternatives estimated that 131,000 people ride bicycles daily in New York City.
Mr. Solomonow said there were about 5,000 bike racks in New York City. In addition, he said, the city has recently installed four special bike sheds — one each in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens — that resemble bus shelters and provide covered space for up to eight or nine bikes. The city expects to have 37 shelters installed at transit hubs by the end of the year.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan for a sustainable future, which he introduced 15 months ago, included provisions to install 1,200 new bike racks by 2009 and to require large commercial buildings to provide bike storage.
Similar measures have been advocated by David Yassky, a city councilman from Brooklyn, who wrote a bill calling for every commercial building in the city to provide bike parking on or near the premises. So far the proposal has not received a hearing.
“The clear majority of office buildings do not permit bicycles,” Mr. Yassky said. “If a company is willing to make room for people to bring bikes in, it makes no sense for the commercial landlord to prohibit it.”
A few people who work in office buildings have successfully negotiated with landlords or managers to allow bicycles inside; others have had less luck. April Greene, a program assistant at a nonprofit art foundation that used to be housed at Rockefeller Center, said that when she worked there, she sent letters to the complex’s management, Tishman Speyer, broaching the subject of allowing bikes inside.
“I rallied about a dozen other bike commuters,” she said. “They refused to meet with us.”
But management companies often say that office buildings were not designed to accommodate bicycles.
“Bicycle racks are available outside for the convenience of bike riders,” said Maya Israel, a spokeswoman for Tishman Speyer. “Bicycles are not permitted inside, for the safety of all our tenants and visitors.”
Some commuters, like Jamie Fisher, a futures broker in Midtown who bicycles 25 miles from Glen Rock, N.J., have relied on creativity to keep their bikes secure. For a time, the manager of a parking garage kept Mr. Fisher’s bike inside the garage office for free. Now, a newspaper vendor with a storefront allows him to store his bike in the shop’s basement.
Robert Kotch, who regularly commutes from New Jersey with Mr. Fisher, has found himself playing host to four or five of what he calls “bike refugees” — friends who ride to work but have no place to park. Mr. Kotch, who owns a courier service and trucking company, provides a haven for several fellow cyclists at his Midtown office.
“They work inside these fancy buildings where there’s this inexplicable hostile attitude towards bicycles,” he said. “It’s an arcane policy that says bikes are like the bubonic plague.”