Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mudder's Day and Bike Parking, Ha Ha Ha

It's Bike Month! Yeah, you know already. May always brings the cyclists out in droves, and that was true on May 1st, when family and I proved to be contrarians: we walked the Great Saunter up Manhattan while cyclists of all sizes, ages and abilities whizzed past us.

While the walk is supposed to be 32 miles around the island, none of us were doing that because it was BBB's birthday, and we were going to make a stop off after 10 miles at the Green Leaf cafe on Fort Tryon Park for some b-day fare.

Soooo, it was about 1,000 degrees outside, and I have to say as a pedestrian on a crowded walk, many cyclists acted atrociously. It was "ME first," never "you first" out there. Oh, and the "Frustration" on their faces when they had to slow down to go around us, especially those road bikers in lycra. Yuck, it made me want to hate myself! Never forget, what cars are to us, we are to pedestrians.

Okay on to more important topics.

May 1st it was about 93 degrees at the peak of the day. I had to carry Ana Banana 5.5 miles because she gave up half way. Smart dog.

Then comes today, Mudder's Day. A nippy 50 degrees or less with wind chill. Yikes! What does this mean dear Gods?

It's May, dear weather-conspiracy theorists, that's what happens at this time of year. I remember one year May 1st we had a sleeting rain storm that left all the streets in sheets of ice. Nice.

Back to Mudder's day. Somewhere here is a conjunction. Note the GORGEOUS flowers that must be seen at Fort Tryon Park, which always bloom around this time. Here we have captured them for you as well as a picture of BBB with family. If you can identify the other family members in the pic, you get ten stars. (pictures coming, technology lag).

So Happy Mudder's Day, even to those of you that are mudder's to hairy monsters, new business ideas, your friends, and your significant other, willingly or unwillingly.

Along with announcing May as Bike Month, the League of American Bicyclists has designated May 17th through the 21st Bike to Work Week.

For most of the month, Transportation Alternatives has set up strategic tables for bike commuters along major pathways, such as the Hudson River Greenway, with coffee, bagels and coffee. What a deal! The bicycle advocacy group has also planned several bike to work parties at strategic locations in other boros, making May a happy cycling month indeed.

Too bad I was moving too fast last Friday on my way back from a ride, and headed downtown towards 23rd St., or I certainly would have stopped.

All of you should be riding to work this month--and any month that you can. But many of you will come across this nasty little problem--no secure bike parking, and possibly an office environment that does not encourage cycling.

I am currently working in a building that had no previous experience with offering bike parking until I asked.

I was first told, "NO". Then I was told yes, because it's the law, and told to bring my bike to the service elevator. But the service elevator is closed when I leave work, so how would I leave?

"Okay, bring it to the security office when you get here," said the guard on duty on Friday night. On Saturday I arrived and was told, "NO BIKES!" The guard motioned towards two pipes where I could lock my bike. Ha ha ha.

"Hmm, I am not leaving my baby outside,"I said, and explained the earlier conversation. You can't go into the security office, she said. Okay, so what do I do? I used the main elevators. But if the building manager should see me on the video, boy would I be in trouble!

Come Monday, I come back on my bike. "NO BIKES," said now a third guard at the door. I again explained the situation, and what had taken place. "Yeah, but take the service elevator, he said." I went to the side of the block, and found the service elevator. We rode up to my office floor. The guard called the building manager, who called my office. They came to the back door and had to turn off the alarm system to let me in: but the alarm went off anyway.

What a production! Everyone on the office was staring at me. And here I was, now late, and standing in my sweaty lycra.

Since then it's gotten a lot smoother. On off hours, I use the main elevators, being very careful not to touch the elevator walls. On weekdays, I use the service elevator, and ring the back door bell to let them know I am there. I change in the bathroom and then I am ready for work!

But it's not always so easy. I had to go to another building for a week. It was a Federal building downtown. No bike racks, and how to bring a bike indoors? No signs posted, no nothing, Bike Parking Ha Ha Ha.

Then another time I thought, maybe I will go shopping after work. But where will I park my bike? No retail stores that I know of have indoor bike parking. Bike parking Ha Ha Ha.

But what is the reality of bike parking in New York? Last year the City's Department of Transportation proposed that new indoor bike parking spaces be added for every new building that met certain size minimums, a proposal which was later passed into law by the City Council.

The amendments to the city's zoning requirements require 15 square feet of indoor space for every bicycle, allowing for about 3 % of a building's population (in the case of workers say) who might ride their bike to work.

But those changes only apply to new buildings, enlargements of 50% or more, or conversions of buildings to residential use.  So that means no current buildings undergoing no changes are required to offer secure, indoor bike parking.

Because of the development loophole, the DOT also proposed and passed the Bicycle Access to Office Buildings Law in December 2009. That law requires commercial office buildings to offer bike access if they have a freight elevator, and meet certain size minimums.

The law was clearly the reason that my workplace made adjustments to allow my bike in the building. However, they didn't have to be so nice about it. The law clearly states that a tenant or subtenant need request the bike access, but allows the commercial owner 30 days to respond, and that owner can refuse bike access under certain conditions. In my case, the response was in less than 24 hours and was addressed by the guards on duty.

Some cyclists aren't so lucky. Catherine (whose last name is being witheld to protect her identity) said she asked her office manager if she could bring her bike to work, even sending him an email about the issue.

Her employer owns the small building they work in, and there is space under the indoor stairwell for at least three bikes. But she says her request has not been answered, and it's been well over a month. Since there are no freight elevators in the building, her boss is not required to allow entry for the bicycles.

Ironically, the boss's wife brings her bike to work and parks it at the receptionist's desk.

But let's just say hypothetically our bike parking issues were 50% or even 75% resolved. That leads me to the next point. Transportation Alternatives has insisted in study after study that the single biggest barrier to cyclists traveling to work by bicycle is the lack of bike parking. But I think they need to redesign their questionnaires or whom they are interviewing.

For a seasoned rider like myself, the single biggest obstacle to cycling in the city is DANGER. Now that May is here and I am riding to work, I find drivers the be completely oblivious to me and my safety, roads so gutted and damaged that I am lucky in some places to stay upright, pedestrians that step out in front of me over and over and over again when I have the green light, and roads that have absolutely no safe spaces for cyclists anywhere: that includes, about 99% of the length of Broadway, Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, 10th Avenue, 11th Avenue, Park, 3rd Ave., 2nd Ave., 1st Ave., 8th Ave., and even most of 9th Avenue. Even gosh darn West End Ave is a freaking death trap, as is Riverside Drive.

So what in carnation is Transalt talking about? Not one of these avenues is safe, with the exception of a small portion of 9th Ave. where separated green bikeways have been made, a small portion leading off 6th Ave. from 33rd St., and a handful of other disparate and widely disjuncted pathways scattered around the city.

Given that riding in the city is like playing Russian Roulette, I fail to see how the city has become such a cyclist's paradise. Add to paucity of safe road space, we have a police force that refuses to enforce clear bike lanes, and routinely blocks cyclists attempts to file accident reports when they have bike accidents.

So although we have a wonderfully sympathetic mayor in Michael Bloomberg, a very qualified and sympathetic commissioner at the DOT in Jeannette Sadik Kahn, a flowering detente with their previous protagonists at Transportation Alternatives, and a wonderful Hudson River Greenway, we still have extremely dangerous traveling conditions for cyclists on inner city streets.  

So Happy Bike Month, good luck with your bike parking, Ha Ha Ha, and while you are at it, enjoy your game of Russian Roulette on your way to work. 

PS: River Road on the Jersey side has been cleared of all the fallen trees, thanks to the hard work of the Palisades Park Commission.

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