The City Finally Has a Real Secure Bike Parking Pilot But Why Does It Need a Pilot?

Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez standing in front of an Oonee mini bike parking pod. Photo: Dave Colon
Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez standing in front of an Oonee mini bike parking pod. Photo: Dave Colon

Are we piloting around red tape or piloting into a ditch?

On Friday afternoon, Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez and various city cycling luminaries gathered in the Meatpacking District to announce that the city’s torturously slow embrace of bike parking was taking another step forward in the form of a partnership with Oonee, the Brooklyn company that’s placed a handful of secure bike parking stations around New York City and Jersey City.

“I know you have been challenged in the past to find a way to work within New York City’s complex dynamics,” Rodriguez told Oonee founder Shabazz Stuart at Friday’s unveiling. “Last year, the now-mayor said we need to get past the culture of ‘Oh I can’t,’ and now we have found a way to make a secure parking pilot work for New York City.”

The way? A loophole of sorts in the city’s franchising laws. By leaving a curbside Oonee pod, which will have six bike parking spaces, around different locations in the city for 29 days at a time, the DOT will be able to provide secure bike parking without bumping up against a city law that would otherwise require review and approval by the Franchises & Concessions Review Committee, which oversees deals that are longer than 29 days.

By coming in just under the franchise review rules, the city will do a kind of “Oonee on Tour” pilot, with which it hopes to confirm what we’ve known since at least 2016: a lot of New Yorkers want a safe place to store their bikes when they’re out in the world. For the pilot, the city will move a curbside mini-Oonee to five locations in three boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens) from March through July, giving people the brief chance to lock their bike in a way that’s safe from the elements and bike thieves.

On the one hand, the pilot is a breath of fresh air after the de Blasio administration spent years trying and failing to get a secured bike parking program off the ground. Stymied by a four-year search to find someone to run an affordable — but also human-staffed and also labor-law-following — vendor, the city threw in the towel in 2020, making the failure another part of the administration’s overall struggle to build any bike parking at all.

On the other hand, that word “pilot” has the possibility to conjure up a graveyard of worthy but neglected ideas like the less than revolutionary cargo bike pilot program, the forgettable initial rollout of the open streets program or the microscopic digital placard rollout that was supposed to start taking care of placard abuse. Advocates have run out of patience for this badly needed city amenity.

“Enough with the pilots,” said Bike New York Director of Advocacy Jon Orcutt. “We love Oonee, but if it doesn’t scale, it doesn’t matter.”

Orcutt did, though, say that if the city government embraces Oonee, it could have the kind of impact that another once-novel but now-essential public-private bike system has had on the city.

“A broad secure bike parking network can be transformative for New York City cycling on the order of the Citi Bike system,” he said.

For its part, the DOT said that it could still stand to learn how people interact with the bike pods and that the tour will be a way to share the bike parking resources it can get a hold of right now.

“I think Oonee only has a few of these pods, so we want to make sure that the larger city is getting to experience experience it and the model of how the program looks in the world,” said Assistant Commissioner of Street Improvement Programs Sean Quinn.

Any other, larger program would also have to go through the city’s competitive Request for Proposals process according to a DOT spokesperson.

Stuart himself didn’t sound worried about the pilot getting buried in the city’s graveyard of undercooked ideas, given the kind of support that’s seen the mayor himself show up at a pod unveiling this year.

“We already know we have a really strong forward-thinking set of leaders in City Hall that are excited about this,” he said. “They have spoken really forcefully about this. So we’re hopeful and optimistic that this is not going to be some hypothetical pilot that kind of dies a quiet death.”

The Ooonee Grand Tour will be stopping at the following locations:

  • March – Meatpacking BID, 400 W. 14th Street, Manhattan
  • April – Lower East Side BID, Broome /Essex near Essex Street Market, Manhattan
  • May – Union Square BID, SE Corner 14th Street & 5th Ave near New School, Manhattan
  • June – Prospect Heights NDC, Vanderbilt Ave Open Street near 577 Vanderbilt Ave, Brooklyn
  • July – 31st Avenue Open Street, near 34-02 31st Ave, Astoria, Queens