Testimony by Paul Steely White, Executive Director, Transportation Alternatives
Tuesday, October 13th, 2015
Thank you, Chair Williams and the members of the Committee on Housing and Buildings, for convening this hearing.
I am Paul Steely White, the Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives. We are a 42-year old non-profit, with more than 100,000 activists in our network, dedicated to improving the safety of New York City’s streets. In 2009, we secured passage of the Bike Access to Office Buildings Law, which gives employees who work in buildings with a freight elevator a formal process for requesting bicycle access in their workplace. This was a victory, but it came with limitations. We want to go further to remove restrictions that stop cyclists being able to travel unimpeded. Therefore, we support all three of today’s bills, which go further to expand and clarify the rights of New Yorkers to take their bicycles into their homes and workplaces. However, we feel some of the bills should be strengthened to make them even more powerful. By bolstering them now, we can avoid having to revise them again in the future.
Knowing that many New Yorkers are reluctant to become cyclists because they fear bicycle theft and lack secure bicycle parking options where they live or work, we believe these pieces of legislation will help expand cycling by making it easier and more inviting to own a bike. And the more people who cycle, the safer it will be for everybody on our streets. These bills also will help eliminate the confusion and inconvenience that we hear about all too often from our members who are arbitrarily denied bicycle access by landlords.
Security and Peace of Mind
The benefits of cycling are well-known and proven: improved health for the rider, less congested and polluted streets for the city. Thanks in large part to the expansion of the bike lane network and Vision Zero, more New Yorkers are cycling than ever before. A recent study we completed showed that 10% of traffic on 5th and 6th Avenues in Manhattan was made up of bicycles, and we expect that figure to increase. Unfortunately, bike thefts are also on the rise, according to NYPD statistics. Bikes are more than mere possessions. For many cyclists, they represent their sole means of commuting, or their way to earn a living. When a bicycle is stolen, the thief takes a vital tool for everyday living, and discourages cyclists from continuing to ride. Secure outdoor bike parking is not always available, and harsh New York City weather can take its toll on intricate mechanical parts. Being able to bring a bicycle into a building helps the owner protect this valuable asset with minimal inconvenience to others. Therefore, we are especially pleased with Intro 695’s provisions to protect tenants’ rights by making it unlawful for owners to restrict their access. We strongly suggest adding enforcement mechanisms to Intros 405 and 795 to ensure compliance with the legislation, making it unlawful for an owner or building manager to restrict the rights provided to a tenant or subtenant.
As you know, this is a city where space is always at a premium. Folding bikes have become popular in recent years because they easily assume a compact size for transporting in and out of buildings, buses, and trains. When fully folded, these bikes are often no bigger than a large backpack, and they pose no fire hazard or risk to other people. Therefore, it is simple common sense that, as stated in Intro 405, if a passenger elevator is available for carrying passengers, it is available for carrying folded bicycles. Similarly, standard bicycles, which typically take up not much more room than an average children’s stroller, should always be allowed to travel in freight elevators, which are a completely safe place for items of that size and weight. Bikes do not affect standard wear and tear of high trafficked lobbies and bring in no more dirt than the occasional dirty shoes, baby carriage or wet umbrella. Furthermore, we are not aware of a single person being injured by somebody walking a bike through a building. These bicycles are neither a danger nor a nuisance. So, while we support Intro 795, we would like it to be strengthened so that it is clear than if no freight elevator is present, standard bicycles should always be allowed in passenger elevators. In addition, the text of Intro No. 795 currently states, “Bicycle access shall be granted to the requesting tenant or subtenant and its employees.” We believe this grant should be automatic, with no prior request needed, because bicycles pose no undue risks to other tenants or building owners. There is no need for a formal request so long as the other conditions are satisfied.
On behalf of our members and our network of supporters, we thank you for taking these steps to protect bicycle access, which will make New York City a more inviting and safe place to ride.