The pandemic set off an extraordinary surge in biking in New York City as people sought to avoid public transit and embrace new ways to exercise.
But now the spike has run headlong into a familiar problem on the city’s congested streets: no parking.
Cyclists have rolled up to apartment buildings, offices, stores and restaurants only to find nowhere to leave their bikes. Many lug them inside, or improvise makeshift parking by locking them to street signs — breaking a city law that is rarely enforced — or trees, gates and fences.
The lack of parking, cyclists and advocates complain, has even helped fuel a jump in bike thefts.
Tasha Rose said she gets stressed trying to find a safe place to park her bike while riding around Brooklyn and Queens picking up food donations from local residents and groups to stock free community refrigerators. She had two bikes stolen last year after locking them to fences.
“I’m like, ‘I’ve got to go, I’ve got to get back to my bike,’” said Ms. Rose, 35, a freelance tour manager and merchandise vendor for musicians who is out of work and has also used her bike to get to temporary gigs walking dogs. “Since my bike is my No. 1 go-to for transportation, obviously keeping it safe and secure is my main priority when I’m out and about.”
Even as New York has created the largest urban bike network in the nation with 1,375 miles of bike lanes and a thriving bike-share program, Citi Bike, it has lagged well behind other cities in making bike parking spots widely available, transportation experts and advocates say.
New York has roughly 56,000 bike parking spots on its streets, sidewalks and plazas. Most are part of bike racks, though there are 83 corrals — car parking spots converted to hold bikes — and 20 shelters that shield bikes from snow and rain. (The 56,000 does not include Citi Bike, which has 38,000 spaces in about 1,100 docking stations.)
By comparison, London has three times as much bike parking, with more than 150,000 cycling spaces on its streets and an additional 20,000-plus spaces at Underground and rail stations. There are also more than 1,500 spaces in curbside cycle hangers, where residents leave their bikes inside a small metal dome.
London transit officials also recently awarded funding to create up to 2,000 more bike parking spaces across the city, including outside schools and transit stations.
Some American cities have also stepped up efforts to create more bike parking during the pandemic. Chicago installed nearly 2,000 new bike parking spaces last year on racks and in corrals and plans to add 900 more this spring for a total of roughly 34,260.
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In New York, cycling had boomed even before the pandemic, with 490,000 daily bike trips in 2017, up from 150,000 in 2000, according to a 2019 city report. Nearly 1.6 million New Yorkers are bike riders, the report said, with almost half getting on a bike at least several times a month.
Then came the pandemic, and cycling really took off. Citi Bike saw demand more than double to a record 2,520,045 trips in September from 1,086,410 trips in March. And crossings at the city’s four East River bridges into Manhattan also jumped significantly, by 55 percent in November compared with the same month in 2019, according to an analysis by the city comptroller
“It’s the single greatest most ignored issue in the transportation landscape,” Shabazz Stuart said of the lack of bike parking. He started a company that offers parking inside pods.
Of course, adding bike parking can be a challenge in New York, where there is already stiff competition for limited space among pedestrians, drivers and cyclists.
But the dearth of bike parking in New York, transportation experts say, discourages bike riding — a sustainable form of travel — and disproportionately hurts the poor and people of color who rely on bikes to get around and tend to live and work in neighborhoods with fewer bike resources and infrastructure, including buildings with indoor storage.
“We need to ensure that New Yorkers have more — not less — options to get around in a safe and equitable manner,” said Danny Harris, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group, which recently released a report calling on city officials to make bike parking a priority.
The report cited repeated instances in which city officials had failed to carry out promises to increase bike parking, including building more parking near transit hubs and adding 1,500 bike racks annually.
City officials said they took bike parking “very seriously” and were working to expand it. Despite the pandemic, 1,150 new bike parking spaces were installed last year, including around hospitals and schools to serve health workers, teachers and students and in commercial corridors and business districts. Officials also plan to add 200 more parking spaces in 13 new corrals beginning this winter.
“We’re committed to accommodating the cycling boom with more accessible parking,” said Mitch Schwartz, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio. “It wasn’t easy to play offense in 2020, but we focused last year’s efforts on adding capacity near hospitals and schools.”
“There’s a lot more to do,’’ Mr. Schwartz added.
Bike parking has become an increasingly crucial part of urban transportation systems. In the Netherlands, where biking has become a way of life, the city of Utrecht finished the world’s largest bike parking garage in 2019 with room for more than 12,650 bikes under a train station. In doing so, it surpassed Tokyo, which has an automated underground parking garage for 9,400 bikes at the Kasai metro train.
In this country, Seattle and Portland, Ore., two cities with well-established biking cultures, have accommodated cyclists by significantly expanding parking. In Seattle, parking for bikes and scooters has increased by more than a third since 2015, while Portland has added more than 1,800 bike parking spots since 2018 for a total of 8,888.
Portland’s zoning code was also updated in 2019 to require private residential developments to include more bike parking.
In New York, cyclists complain that bike parking often seems like an afterthought. When the Moynihan Train Hall opened in Midtown Manhattan earlier this month, they pointed out the gleaming new station did not include any dedicated bike parking.
Matthew Gorton, a spokesman for Empire State Development, which oversaw the Moynihan project, said temporary bike racks were being installed, and permanent racks would eventually be added.
Yolanda Gonzalez, 33, an urban agriculture consultant in Chelsea, said that she has had to carry her bike upstairs when she visits a friend’s apartment because there is no street parking. These days she leaves her bike at home and walks if she knows there will be no bike parking where she is going.
“It’s not just a matter of convenience and theft, it’s also a question of protecting your bike against exposure to the elements,” said Ms. Gonzalez, who spent part of her pandemic stimulus check to replace a stolen bike.
The need for more bike parking prompted Shabazz Stuart, 31, a Brooklyn cyclist, to found a start-up company, Oonee, which builds a modular pod where at least 20 bikes can be securely parked inside for free. It opens with a key card or access code. Each pod costs about $100,000, and is paid for through advertising and sponsorships.
Oonee’s pods can be found across from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and in front of the PATH train station at Journal Square in New Jersey. But the company had to dismantle a third pod in Lower Manhattan in 2019 after a disagreement with the city over advertising and financing issues.
Still, Mr. Stuart said he will continue to push for more bike parking.
“It’s the single greatest most ignored issue in the transportation landscape,” he said.