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A Different Kind of Barclays Bikes

June 9, 2013

Customers check their bikes in to the T.A. Bike Valet at the Barclays Center

I live not too far from the Barclays Center and on occasion have ridden by the arena’s bike parking while an event was in progress.  And on most of those occasions the arena’s many bike racks were empty.

There are a mix of reasons why the bike parking hasn’t be utilized to its fullest, but foremost among them would be the fact that it’s not secure or guarded.  Leaving one’s bike locked up outside while attending a basketball game or concert is pretty much an advertisement that tells a thief, “No one will try to stop you, so have fun trying to saw through my u-lock for the next two hours.”

[UPDATE: A rep from the Barclays Center tells me that the bike parking is monitored 24 hours a day by the arena’s security team.]

Wednesday night was the first attempt to change that with the debut of a secure bicycle valet service for people attending the National concert at the Barclays Center.  Operated by Transportation Alternatives, the bike valet was free of charge.  It also attracted a fair amount of press, with Mayor Bloomberg and DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan on hand to give interviews.  To top it all off, two members of the National rode their bikes to the arena and checked them at the valet.

But the real test is how many people use it.  So how did it go?  I checked in with the bike valet at about 10:30, a little before The National show wrapped up and snapped a few pictures.

A secure valet meant people could leave helmets with their bikes instead of carrying them inside.

TA tells me that around 100 people checked bikes on Wednesday, and while that’s a drop in the bucket when compared with approximately 18,000 seats inside the Barclays Center, it’s a start.  I have a feeling that the location of the bike parking doesn’t help drive traffic, since it’s behind the arena on the corner of Dean and 6th and largely invisible to the majority of people who get off of the subway and head straight into the center’s main entrance.  More signage is one way to help let people know that this service exists, as is heavy promotion inside the arena itself.

I spotted more than a few child seats among the checked bikes last week.

But even though the bike valet received a fair amount of press before and after the concert, it won’t be press that drives its growth.  Only by offering it as a regular service will it become more popular.  Dean Street gets a lot of bike traffic, so offering a regular bike valet may create a positive feedback loop; as more people see the bike valet in use, more people will use it.  I hope the Barclays Center figures out which events are most likely to attract bicycle riders and offers the service when appropriate.  If it does it enough times, it may find that there’s demand year round.

As I poked around the bike valet toward the end of the evening, one bike stood out for me as indicative of what happens when an organization or company offers secure bicycle parking.

A WorkCycles Fr8

Above is a fully loaded WorkCycles Fr8, set up to transport two children.  It’s also a somewhat expensive bike.  This just isn’t the kind of bicycle you leave on an unsupervised Brooklyn bike rack for two or three hours while you attend a concert.  To me, this bike showed what a difference offering secure bicycle parking can make.  You want slow and considerate cyclists to ride on city streets?  Offer them a safe place to park.

Of course, this being Brooklyn there has been some griping about the attention paid in the media to the bike valet. Here’s writer Ellen Freudenheim:

Imagine my surprise at reading in the hyper local news outlet DNA that  Mayor Mike will show up tonight in Brooklyn to tout urban biking….but where? At Barclays Center to make a fuss over the mega-million dollar stadium’s embrace of valet bike parking.

Well, how about Mayor Mike on a bike showing up at some of other Brooklyn cultural institutions that have had valet biking for years— before, say Barclays even broke ground?

Look, I get it.  The wounds from the “Battle for Brooklyn” are still fresh.  But it is, in fact, remarkable that a mega-million dollar stadium is attempting to embrace valet bicycle parking, even if you think their motivations are suspect or count as little more than greenwashing.  But here we are in 2013, after years of angry tabloid columns, lawsuits about bike lanes, and last-gasp hysteria about the danger of bicycles, and our billionaire mayor thought it was worth his while to come out to Brooklyn to stand behind a giant arena to answer questions for the press… about bike parking.

I’ll take it.

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6 Comments
  1. June 10, 2013 6:33 am

    Doug, your points are well taken, but it’s not merely that the wounds from the battle are still fresh. It’s that the big picture remains obscured, and the developer and allies in government are happy to keep it that way.

    Consider the Mayor Bloomberg is more than willing to come to Barclays for a press conference to promote bike valet, but his administration won’t answer questions about the significant value of free (or discount) city land Forest City Ratner got:
    http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2013/02/uncounted-savings-on-barclays-center.html

    Also note that the original promise was for a “secure, manned facility,” which presumably would have given confidence to all to lock their bikes:
    http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2013/05/now-valet-parking-for-bikes-at-barclays.html

  2. June 10, 2013 10:40 am

    Norman, I don’t disagree with your points, but I was responding specifically to Ellen’s complaint that the mayor doesn’t go to events like Celebrate Brooklyn, which has had a successful bike valet program for years.

    The point wasn’t merely to congratulate the Barlays Center for doing this, as Ellen suggests, but to generate press and awareness so that more people might learn about it and choose to ride to an event the next time the Barclays Center offers the valet. Is there a better way to accomplish this than to ask the mayor to come kick it off? I don’t think so.

    And, yes, there are still lingering issues and questions, but the fact is that events are happening and people need to get there. Given the initial fears about crushing traffic, it’s a good thing that a mega-million-dollar arena is encouraging alternate forms of transportation. I was trying to think of other arenas that offer this service and all I could think of was San Francisco’s AT&T ballpark.

    This is a positive development for bicycling in NYC and, I would argue, for helping the Barclays Center make more of a positive impact on the local community.

    I do think City Hall and FCR deserve a fair amount of praise for offering this service.

  3. kielij permalink
    June 11, 2013 10:31 am

    I run the Portland bike valet. We operate daily and average 130 bike everyday throughout the year. Our highest is 205 bikes in one day. We have electronic check in for fast service as well as bike repairs. Gobybikepdx.org
    I wonder if they offered free minor adjustments while at event or free lube it would make the service better.

    • June 11, 2013 12:33 pm

      That’s a great idea. I know the TA valet at other events typically has some tools and pumps available, but I don’t know if they had any last week.

      • kielij permalink
        June 11, 2013 12:43 pm

        I wonder if they could use people’s event/concert tickets to sign in. Just scan those, have it assign a parking number, and use the ticket to sign out. They might even be able to pull people’s contact info so if they leave there bike after the valet closes they could lock it up with a combo u lock or remind people to come get it.

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