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Park It and Forget It

November 8, 2010

After dropping my daughter off at daycare in the morning, I walk down Park Slope’s 5th Avenue to my favorite coffee spot, Gorilla Coffee, my favorite spot for getting a little writing done each morning.  There may be stronger coffee in the world, but you’d have to fly to Colombia and suck on fresh-picked coffee beans to find it.

Daycare drop-off is at 8 AM, during a transitional time in the neighborhood.  Street cleaning vehicles run the length of 5th Avenue.  Most of the businesses are closed, except for the delis, dry cleaners, and other coffee shops in the neighborhood.  School kids roam the sidewalks, looking for places to kill time before classes start.  Delivery trucks line up in front of the grocery stores, where drivers unload milk crates and other supplies.

My walk from daycare to Gorilla takes roughly ten minutes, and lately I’ve taken to doing a mini survey of the bikes I see parked outside as I make my way down 5th.

There are a few bike commuters on the road, but the big wave of biking starts later, as the nine o’clock hour approaches.  Lots of the bikes you see, then, are locked up around the neighborhood.  And most of these are the rusty clunkers that belong to the delivery guys from area restaurants and delis.

I have lots of barometers for measuring the health of a neighborhood’s cycling culture, and the number and types of bikes locked up outside overnight is one of them.  Delivery bicycles alone would not be something the average New Yorker would notice very much.  These are the invisible cyclists that have ridden the streets for decades, hardly something that registers on anyone’s radar, at least not when measuring the state of city cycling.  So forgive me if I don’t include these road warrior bikes in my assessment.

Lately I’ve noticed a larger number of commuter bikes chained to racks, iron fences, and parking meters.  There are lots of vintage Schwinns and one lovingly restored Peugeot that I see near Sackett Street every day.  Not surprisingly there are more than a few beater bikes, the kind that basically scream out, “Go ahead, steal me. My owner doesn’t care.  But every so often I’ll see a more expensive bike chained up outside, left to the chance of New York city vandals, thieves, and Mother Nature.  This one has been parked at 2nd Street for at least a few months, sometimes with a blue Basil Bag attached.  It’s a Batavus Fryslan and costs about $950.

To me, this bike is a leading indicator that when it comes to biking as transportation in Brooklyn we’re getting there.  Now, one could argue that perhaps the owner of this bike is simply so cavalier with her money that getting a new one if it gets stolen would be no big deal.  (It’s a step-through, leading me to believe the bike belongs to a woman, but you can never be sure.  It could belong to a suit-wearing man for all I know.)

A better, and more hopeful bet, is that this person is so confident in her lock and the relative safety of her block that she can leave this all-weather bike out overnight, never doubting that it will be there when she needs to ride out in the morning.  Not only that, the bike has so far not fallen victim to the simple, aggressive vandalism–bent rim, stolen seat, slashed tires–that New Yorkers may have expected in years past.

I don’t necessarily advise leaving a $4,000 titanium road bike outside, and I am certainly happy that my building offers indoor bike parking, but give credit to the owner of this bike for leading the way.  There’s a (proven) theory that more bike riders on the road leads to an exponential uptick in the number of people who ride bikes  The same could probably be said of parked bikes.  The more people see nice bikes like this left outside, the safer they’ll feel leaving their nice bikes outside.  I have a lot of predictions for what will happen with biking in New York in 2011, but one of them is that you’ll see more bikes like this parked in more neighborhoods throughout the city.  And that will be a very good sign.

  1. ACS permalink
    November 17, 2010 11:06 am

    just stumbled on your blog. think I live in the same neighborhood (along 5th Ave in north PS). parking on the streets is a great sign, I’ve keep mine out on our fence since last spring. What I’ve noticed is that with a good lock and cable I don’t worry about it getting stolen… but I can’t leave ANYTHING on it. I’ve had a small saddle bag and a $2 front light & rear light stolen. When I got detachable lights someone decided to steal the $0.50 plastic bracket for it from my front handle bar. I don’t have anything on the bike now. I’ve put off adding a rack to it because that would mean having to lug it into the basement every night. It’s unfortunate.

  2. November 17, 2010 11:09 am

    Same has happened to me while parked in front of a grocery store. Ran in to do some shopping, came out to find a rear light removed. Not a huge deal, but a reminder to not leave anything on the bike.

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