Bikes in Buildings: So Easy, So Effective

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Front row l-r: Tish James, Paul Steely White, John Liu, David Yassky. Photo: Mike Infranco.

With the fallout from Wall Street taking a toll on city coffers, Mayor Bloomberg has a lot of tough calls to make. The "Bikes in Buildings" bill [PDF] is not one of them. It's a lay-up -- a simple rule change that promises big gains for bike commuting. The bill, also known as Intro 38, would require commercial landlords to allow tenants to bring bikes inside buildings. No storage requirements attached.

On the steps of City Hall this morning, City Council members David Yassky, Tish James, and John Liu joined Transportation Alternatives' Paul Steely White and a band of advocates to urge passage of the bill. In total, 30 members of the City Council have already signed on to the measure, a majority of the chamber.

A similar pledge to promote bike storage in commercial buildings is enshrined in the transportation plank of Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC. As the speakers were quick to point out, "Bikes in Buildings" is an even easier lift.

"It's simply to mandate that you have to allow access to bicycles, and then you let the landlords figure out, case by case, what's the most efficient way to do it," said Yassky. The way things stand now, he noted, even if businesses encourage employees to bring bikes to work, most building managers won't let it happen. "You can bring a dolly or a stroller, but not a bike."

Reversing this widespread policy would address one of the major obstacles to bike commuting, especially among people who already ride: the lack of a secure place to keep bikes at work. Rigorous projections of the bill's effect are not available, but, drawing from his decades of experience analyzing bike traffic, former TA president Charles Komanoff gave a rough estimate that "universal bike commuter access to buildings would cause at least a 25 percent increase and perhaps as much as a 50 percent increase in bike commuting."

Deb Shapiro, a lawyer who works near Madison Square Park, testified to the senselessness of landlords' current policies. When she asked her building manager why she couldn't bring a bike inside, she was told it came down to concerns about liability and property damage. "I know a little bit about liability issues, and this just didn't make sense to me," she said. "What damage is a bike going to do to a freight elevator? You see all these other things that can go in and out of an office building, like dumpsters and cleaning carts. What more could a bicycle do?"

Yassky had a theory about where that baseless fear of bikes comes from. "There's this feeling that it isn't the proper decorum for an office building to have people bringing their bicycles in," he said. "How outdated can you get? I think any building owner should be proud that the tenants in his or her building are biking to work. That should be a badge of honor."

Some commercial landlords are a step ahead of the curve, White noted: "Hundreds of buildings are doing this with no problem -- Class A office buildings with marble floors."

Advocates are pushing for City Council to consider the bill this fall. "We need a hearing in City Council and we really need Bloomberg to voice support for this," said White.