New York City Ate My Bicycle

Streetsblog reader Stephen Kling submits the following:

I pedal my little folding bike to the Metro North station every morning, fold it up, and ride the train from Larchmont to Grand Central, nearly every morning, then glide downtown to Union Square. My fellow commuters eye me warily over their Wall Street Journals. Clearly, I'm a nut.

I'm a freelance graphic designer, with a few clients downtown, and none is more than ten minutes away from another on my bike. My thirty minutes of pedaling each day beats going to a sweaty gym.

Over a beer and barbecued pork shoulder at Hill Country on 26th St., my friend John tells me I'm eccentric. I had insisted we sit at a tiny table near the front of the restaurant, so I could could keep an eye on my bicycle, chained to a pole outside, dangling like bait.

"You're becoming one of those weird bicycle people," he says. Then he accidentally knocks my beer off the crowded table onto the floor. The foam curdles around my shoes. "See?" he says.

Maybe I am a nut. So the next day I decide to reform my odd ways. I sit at a table in the back at an oyster bar on 21st St., and don't worry about thieves with bolt-cutters for a minute.

I come out after an hour, and the bike is gone. They even took the lock with them after they cut it.

I ask a nearby parking lot attendant if he's seen anything. "Oh yeah," he says. "Police came with a truck and clipped off three or four bicycles. Threw them in the back of the truck. Just like yesterday."

"The police? Just like yesterday?"

"Oh yeah. Yesterday, 22nd Street. Today, 21st. White shirts, blue patches, big truck. I seen 'em," he says, pocketing the creased bills I offer.

At least it wasn't stolen. I head for the auto tow pound at 12th and 39th. This is the parking attendant's idea.

Along the way, I call the bicycle advocacy group of which I'm a member, Transportation Alternatives. "Yeah, they do that all the time. You have to go to the local precinct," says the helpful woman. "Don't go to the pound, they won't know anything." The cab bangs a huey.

I arrive at the precinct house. "Did you take my bicycle?" I ask a lady at the desk.

"We don't do that. It's illegal. Speak to the Sergeant."

The world-weary sergeant listens to my plight. "We don't take bikes. The Department of Transportation might do that. Or Sanitation. Did you call them?"

So I call. "No, we don't do that," says a Brooklyn-sounding guy. "We never take bikes. Was it near a tree? Call the Parks Department."

"Parks Department. Was it in a park? No, we never do that. Try Sanitation."

"Hello, Sanitation. No, we never take bikes. D.O.T. does that, not us. Did you call them?"

"Morning, Department of Transportation. No, it wasn't us. Try Parking Violations and Finance. They're the ones who tow bikes."

"This is Parking Violations. We don't take bicycles. Plate number? No plate number? I can't help you without a plate number. Try Traffic Enforcement, call 311. Did I provide superior service to you today?"

"Hello, City of New York. Traffic Enforcement is not a separate division. They report to your local precinct."

"Hello, 13th Precinct. No, Traffic Enforcement doesn't report to us, I dunno who they report to. Call 212-NEWYORK."

"Hello, City of New York. No, we have no listing for Traffic Enforcement. Did you try the Buildings Department?"

"You have reached a non-working number at the New York City Buildings Department, code 16."

"Hello, City of New York. Who told you Buildings Department? That's crazy. The local police are the ones who control that."

"Thirteenth Precinct. Did you call Agency Resources? Try them."

""You have reached this number in error."

"Hello, City of New York. Try Community Board No. 2."

"This is Community Board No. 2. No, that isn't us, try Community Board No. 3."

"Community Board No. 3. No, you need Community Board No. 4.

"Community Board No. 4. Sorry, try Community Board No. 5."

"Hello, Community Board No. 5. Did you try NYPD Manhattan South?"

"Hello, Manhattan South. No, we don't do that. You should contact Borough Command.

"Hello, Manattan Borough Command. Did you try the Thirteenth Precinct? We're in the same building."

"Hello, Thirteenth Precinct. Call Central Command."

"NYPD Central Command. Please hold for Traffic Enforcement."

"Traffic Enforcement. No, we don't take bikes. That's D.O.T. Did you speak to the tow pound? Maybe it got stolen? Did you think of that?"

"No, I've never seen a bicycle here. You can speak to a supervisor."

"No, we don't take bicycles. You sure you don't mean a motorcycle? Do you have a plate number?"

As I leave the tow pound, one of the workers says, "The police take bicycles in my neighborhood, too. I seen 'em."

Maybe stolen is better.