A Parks department truck filled with bikes. Photo by: Lauren Philson:
By Harry Bruinius
In the decades since Robert Moses smashed an expressway through the Bronx (and nearly Soho) and made Manhattan’s island waterfronts a congested loop of tailpipes and blaring horns, New York has not been the easiest place to ride a bike.
And even as the Bloomberg administration offers its vision of a greener New York, encouraging bicycling during May’s Bike Month NYC, funding 42 more miles of bike-friendly “greenways,” and even painting a few bright green sidepaths on Brooklyn Heights streets, the ongoing dearth of bike lanes and convenient places to lock up has led to more clashes between cyclists and the city.
This week in Forest Hills, Queens, witnesses observed the Parks Enforcement Patrol cutting chains and hauling off bikes illegally locked to city trees near Continental Ave. and Austin St.
Throughout the past few months, police officers from Brooklyn’s 94th precinct clipped and seized dozens of bikes along Bedford Ave. near the L train stop in Williamsburg, where riders attach their bikes to anything stiff and straight. And in May, the NYPD used circular saws to cut through the chains of nearly 50 bikes locked up on 6th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues.
One of the witnesses, Lauren Philson, a photographer at Capella Arts in Forest Hills, snapped a photo of a Parks and Recreation truck after officers hacked through locks and threw dozens confiscated bikes on the truck’s back bed. One officer later told her and a friend that there was a city-wide campaign to remove bikes chained to city trees or to the metal fencing around them.
The Department of Parks and Recreation, however, said there was no such campaign, but that officers are always to remove any personal property left unattended, including bikes chained to city property. According to Abby Lootens, a spokesperson for the Department, Parks Patrol officers must then leave behind notes, explaining to bewildered owners what has happened and where they can claim their property.
Bicycles are usually taken first to the nearest Parks Enforcement Command Center, stored for about 3 days, and then moved to a storage center in Flushing Meadows. After a week here, all bikes are turned over to the NYPD, Lootens said.
“Most owners of seized bicycles may come back to an empty post without explanation as to why the bike was seized or how to retrieve it,” said Philson. The Parks officers only tacked up DPR business cards to the trees, she said. “There were no actual notes telling anyone where to go to retrieve their bikes, or what had happened.”
In Williamsburg, where the number of bicyclists has exploded over the last few years, the area near the L train stop on Bedford Avenue is often packed with bikes locked to sign posts, utility poles, and even the subway railings. But as the number of tire-less and handle-less frames locked to sidewalk posts began to increase, leaders from Community Board 1 asked the local precincts to establish an abandoned bike tagging and removal program. Cops would slap on a warning sticker, and remove the abandoned bikes a few days later. Instead, according to CB1 Transportation Chair Teresa Toro in a posting on Streetsblog, cops randomly and indiscriminately clip and confiscate bikes in mass sweeps.
Even so, for the first time ever in the city, says the NYC Department of Transportation, street parking spots at the Bedford stop have been converted into a bike hub, with nine new racks anchored into a 76-foot extension of the sidewalk. The new bike area opened yesterday, and can accommodate up to 30 bikes.