Paco Abraham Turns Duane Reade on to Bike Racks

duane_reade.jpg Yesterday DOT announced it is seeking submissions for the first ever bike-friendly business awards. This being the week of Earth Day, a few bike-positive firms have come to our attention recently -- Macy's, W Hotels, J Crew -- but the most substantial business-led effort to improve the city's cycling environment this year may have come from Duane Reade. The omnipresent drugstore chain has asked the city to install bike racks at all its New York locations -- 150 in Manhattan plus dozens more in the outer boroughs.

Okay, this doesn't quite match the awards criteria, which are more about providing a welcome environment for employees who commute by bike, but it is a very public-spirited step that deserves major kudos. The request is the largest ever received by the CityRacks program -- "by a comfortable margin" -- said DOT spokesman Ted Timbers. And the story behind the Duane Reade bike racks suggests another award -- one for individual activism.

Duane Reade's request was prompted by none other than Streetsblog reader and frequent commenter Dave "Paco" Abraham.

paco abrahamPaco (right), a television producer for Sharp Entertainment, describes himself as the kind of person who asks everyone in the office to use the other side of the printer paper. About a year and a half ago, he started commuting by bike on a regular basis, from his apartment in Cobble Hill to his workplace in Chelsea. The experience gave him a new perspective on the city. "That got me thinking about all the little details that help a biker out," he said.

He had already been in touch with Duane Reade about waste-reducing measures like providing cloth totes instead of plastic bags, and the idea for bike racks seemed like a natural progression. About six months ago, he made his pitch.

"Every corner has a Duane Reade or Starbucks," he said. "If every one of them had a bike rack, then that’s more for everyone to use. Cyclists and Duane Reade would benefit. A messenger can just run in for chapstick or bottle of water or whatever they need. Or a guy in a suit can get his deodorant right before going to work. No one has to hunt for a place to park their bike." (See the full text of his email pitch below.)

His contact at Duane Reade was very receptive to the idea. "When we heard Dave’s proposal we thought it was a great idea to give our customers easier access to an environmentally friendly means of transportation," said Lauren Purdo, marketing manager at Duane Reade. "Adding the convenience of bike racks, if that helps cyclists gain better access to our store, then we’re happy to provide that."

While the racks will come at no cost to Duane Reade -- DOT's CityRacks program handles the installation -- the company could easily have made an excuse about "sidewalk clutter" or some other perceived risk, and dismissed the idea. Instead, they embraced the notion of a rack in front of every location.

Duane Reade's bulk request now gets mixed in with CityRacks' general installation list. Each store site will be evaluated, and DOT will install the racks over the course of the next six to nine months, according to their press office.

Asked whether he had any advice for other bike advocates who want to float a proposition to the private sector, Paco said a well-thought-out phone call can be enough to get the ball rolling. "If people have good ideas, it never hurts to reach out to a company," he said. "Definitely be persistent about it... It's not like I had a brilliant idea, it's just a little thing that could make a bigger difference."

"If you think out both sides of it, try to see it from their eyes," he added. "Either they may want to do good, or they may see a business opportunity." Here's how Paco made his case in an email to Duane Reade:

a. the Cityracks program of the NYC department of Transportation provides free sidewalk bike racks upon request.  Just as Duane Reade is known for having a Chase ATM at every location, perhaps wherever street logistics allow, there could also be a bike rack.
b. a bike rack in front of every Duane Reade means a commitment to the growing community of urban cyclists in NYC
c. a bike rack in front of each location also implies more pedestrian traffic and therefore is likely to bring more customers. If you have to stand in front of a Duane Reade just to lock up your bike, you'll be more inclined to run in and grab whatever quick items needed, or perhaps do a substantial shopping and throw purchases in the duane reade tote bag which goes in your bike basket. it appeals to the messenger who needs chapstick for his windburned lips, or the business suit biker who needs deodorant before heading into a shareholders meeting. 

Photos: Bikes - Paco Abraham; Paco - Jenny Wiese