After Successful Bike Parking Demo, DOT is Rightfully Being Asked, ‘What Now?’

One and done: An Oonee mini being removed from Astoria after this year's successful test.
One and done: An Oonee mini being removed from Astoria after this year's successful test.

Bike parking is, alas, stuck in park.

The city Department of Transportation has no immediate plan to expedite secure bike parking, despite the conclusion of a successful six-month demonstration project with Oonee — which itself followed a failed effort by the de Blasio administration and another bike-parking company, successful deployments of Oonee equipment in individual buildings, a pilot installation near the Staten Island Ferry terminal in Whitehall, installation of secure bike parking at Grand Central Terminal and all over Jersey City.

And, most important (one would assume), a ringing endorsement of then-Mayor-elect Adams at the launch of the Oonee pilot, when he cited secure bike parking as central to his effort to “stop the culture of no” in New York City.

But not saying “no” is a big difference from saying definitely saying yes. And advocates are getting impatient.

“What are we piloting at this point?” asked Jon Orcutt, the former Bloomberg administration DOT upper staffer who now runs advocacy for Bike New York. “The promise of Oonee is you can build a network of them. If there were 1,000 of them, you could leave your house and park in many many places. You don’t even realize how bad we need this until you see it working on the street. So where is the RFP for a network of a few thousand bike parking spots? What’s the policy?

Officially? There is none. We asked the DOT when the successful pilot will become a permanent, expanded program and got back only a statement from agency spokesman Vin Barone: “DOT stands by its commitment in the Streets Plan to continue exploring secure bike parking, and looks forward to reviewing the data from the Oonee demonstration.”

There’s already ample data on Oonee’s efficacy. Last year, the company posted on Medium usage data from its previous pilots in the city and New Jersey in 2020. Now, granted this is a user survey, but the results were impressive:

  • 56 percent of users identify as non-White
  • 30 percent of users earn below $50,000 per year, and 14 percent earn below $24,000
  • 99 percent of users said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their Oonee experience.

The data from the Oonee “grand tour” will likely be less conclusive for a simple reason: in order to get around city procurement rules, Oonee was only allowed to deploy its “Mini” pod for 29 days at a time in a rotating group of locations: the Meatpacking district, the Lower East Side, Union Square, the Vanderbilt Avenue Open Street in Brooklyn and, finally, the 31st Avenue Open Street in Astoria.

By the time locals figured out what the device was and how to use it, it was gone. Nonetheless, those who encountered or used the Oonee mini were enthused.

“It was a great pilot and I loved the location,” said Council Member Crystal Hudson, whose Fort Greene district includes the Vanderbilt Avenue open street. “It showed what I have been saying for years dating back to when I was a Council staffer: this is a proven product that people need and people want. DOT, should, in my opinion, be doing everything in their power to make this happen.”

One of the organizers of the massive volunteer effort on Vanderbilt Avenue that props up the city’s open streets program agreed that the “response was positive.”

“It was well used and received an enthusiastic response from the community,” said Gib Veconi. “Whenever you do progressive transportation initiatives, you worry about pushback from people who object to the loss of parking spaces, but we didn’t get that at all. We actually got some of the most-positive feedback from residents of the building it was deployed at” between Pacific and Dean streets.

And the Union Square Partnership, which placed the mini in front of the New School on 14th Street, tweeted its support — and a less-than-subtle demand for the return of secure bike parking:

“The Partnership enjoyed having the Oonee Mini,” said Ed Janoff of the BID. “Not only was it popular with cyclists, it added an attractive element to the streetscape with sleek graphics and green plantings. Utilizing the public realm to provide more mobility options including secure bike parking is a key feature of our Union Square-14th Street District Vision Plan. We hope that bike pods like Oonee can soon be permanent fixtures at other local high-demand destinations such as the Greenmarket and the Zero Irving Tech Center opening later this year.”

Chart: Cornell University ILR School
Chart: Cornell University ILR School

The need, and the public demand, for secure bike parking has long been documented, most recently in a Transportation Alternatives report that documented that a lack of safe places for bike parking not only reduces cycling, but reduces safety, increases theft (particularly to working cyclists) and hurts local businesses.

Earlier this year, a study on climate change mitigation by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations recommended the conversion of 5 percent of street parking spaces into 150,000 sheltered bike parking spaces by 2025. One of the authors of the study, Anita Raman, subsequently wrote in the Daily News, that “enclosed, lockable bike shelters” would “expand cycling access to up to 900,000 New Yorkers [or] nearly half of all cyclists who rode a bike in 2020.

And she ought to know: Her own bike was stolen on its fourth day in New York City.

And secure bike parking is a central equity issue: A national survey from 2017 showed that only 32 percent of White cyclists think secure bicycle parking would increase their riding, but 47 percent of people of color said it would. In the same study, 45 percent of respondents who earned less than $30,000 per year said that access to bicycle parking would increase how often they ride, while just 30 percent of those earning more than $75,000 per year said the same.

Clearly, low-income people are reluctant to choose a sustainable, cheap form of transportation when the threat of theft is so high.

For his part, Oonee CEO Shabazz Stuart didn’t want to dive into the politics of what comes next, but merely said that he is “extremely grateful” that DOT partnered with his company during the demonstration project.

“We’re receiving really positive feedback from community members and pilot users and we hope to have the opportunity to provide this crucial service to New Yorkers both at scale and on a more permanent basis,” he said.