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New York Just Getting Into Gear on Road to Transit-Biking Tandem

The MTA plans to install a bicycle storage pod at Grand Central Terminal and City Hall is pedaling toward bringing 10,000 new bike racks to local streets by next year.

Still, that’s not nearly enough to put New York in the fast lane alongside other major cities and transit systems, advocates say.

“Molecules in the drop of the bucket,” Jon Orcutt, director of advocacy for Bike New York, told THE CITY. “These are good things, but they are very tiny things.”

MTA officials recently acknowledged as much last week while announcing the launch later this year of a pilot program at Grand Central Terminal. The agency and bike-parking startup Oonee will add a six-bicycle storage pod at 43rd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue as part of an effort to better incorporate cycling into the regional transportation network.

“Six bikes ain’t going to change the world, we all know,” said Janno Lieber, the MTA Chairperson and CEO, said at the time.

Other cities and transit agencies are increasingly making room for cyclists to stash their wheels, particularly at mass transit hubs.

But in New York — where more than 1.7 million people ride bicycles, according to the Department of Transportation’s “Cycling in the City” report — a bike parking shortage has remained a persistent problem, advocates and cyclists say. And it’s only gotten worse with the pandemic bike boom.

The city currently has over 28,000 publicly accessible bike racks, according to DOT, enough room for about 56,000 bikes. While DOT has set a goal of adding 10,000 racks by 2022, spokesperson Alana Morales said the city has so far installed 3,150 this year.

“Sometimes, I will just go to one of those street sign poles and chain my bike there,” said Jonathan Hernandez, 18, a Queens cyclist.

A report by the cycling-advocacy nonprofit Transportation Alternatives flagged the city in January for repeatedly falling short on plans to improve bicycle parking.

Being Lapped by Other Cities

Lieber acknowledged the MTA is also short of what other transit systems offer.

“When you go to Europe, when you go to Amsterdam and right next to the train terminal, there’s storage for hundreds of bikes, obviously, you see a different scale,” he said at the MTA’s October board meeting.

London boasts nearly 150,000 on-street bicycle parking spaces across the city, a Transport for London spokesperson said, including close to 20,000 free spots near station entrances. Some feature “cycle hubs” with hundreds of covered and secure parking spaces for paying members.

In Paris, as part of a commitment to becoming “100% cyclable,” officials have recently vowed to add tens of thousands of parking spaces for bicycles, which would more than triple the current total of 60,000.

Those include more than 2,000 spaces at secure cycle parking hubs near transit stations and hundreds of covered bike spaces and open-air bike racks.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, most Bay Area Rapid Transit stations have secure bike lockers. Others have “BART Bike stations,” where cyclists pay from three to five cents an hour to store bicycles in controlled-access spots for up to 10 days. Some trains even have designated bike areas.

Transit systems in Boston, Los Angeles and Washington also offer bike lockers and secure bike hubs near stations.

And just across the river, Jersey City is in the process of establishing a public bike parking system, with 30 stations where cyclists can securely store their two-wheelers for free.

Meanwhile, on this side of the Hudson, cyclists say space is at a premium.

“The bike racks are awesome, until there’s like 50 bikes there,” said Ivoire Foreman, 38, who was parking his bike on a rack outside the Atlantic Terminal mall in Brooklyn. “And you’re just not necessarily sure how safe they are.”

“There’s no real system for bikes to park anywhere and that’s why a lot of people get mad,” said Tyrnel High, 31, of Queensbridge, as he exited the Court Square subway station with a foldable bike. “People just park them wherever.”

‘Journey Has to Start Somewhere’

The DOT’s planned changes to the streetscape follow a cycling surge during the pandemic and the Transportation Alternatives report earlier this year.

Orcutt, of Bike New York, said the city and the transit system could use “more of a systems approach” for bike parking, observing that bike-and-ride strategies are vital to expanding transportation options.

“In places that have really made strides in giving people alternative options to driving, combining bikes and trains is a huge part of it,” he said.

Lieber called the bike storage program at Grand Central “a good start” and said the MTA will “keep integrating [cycling] into our thinking process.” To access the pod, cyclists will need a smartphone app or a key card.

Outside of the five boroughs, the agency has bike lockers at six Metro-North stations and some at Long Island Rail Road stations. And the MTA recently lifted a rule that required cyclists to obtain a permit before carrying a full-size bike on commuter railroad trains.

The MTA also has bike racks on 65 buses serving four routes, a spokesperson said — two that run between Staten Island and Brooklyn, one that traverses Queens and The Bronx, and one that operates in The Bronx.

Shabazz Stuart, a Brooklyn native and founder of Oonee, said his storage pods are a more secure way to combat bike theft. Street-level racks “aren’t going to cut it,” he said.

“Any cyclist will tell you that a space that is on a rack is not the same as an access-controlled covered space,” he told THE CITY. “It’s really a question of how long you can leave your bike there.”

The company has installed a pod near an entrance to the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center hub in Brooklyn and by the Journal Square PATH station in Jersey City.

“Every journey has to start somewhere,” Stuart said. “I think the MTA is starting to take this very seriously and it should be commended.”

This article was originally posted on New York Just Getting Into Gear on Road to Transit-Biking Tandem

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