DOT May Shut Down Bike Racks in Municipal Parking Garages, Including Essex Street

Posted on: September 3rd, 2020 at 5:02 am by

July 12, Photo: Gideon Grudo

The following guest post was written by Gideon Grudo, a writer and editor based in the Lower East Side.

Six months after shutting it down for no reason, Department of Transportation says it’s planning to reopen a public bicycle space on the Lower East Side.

The Essex Street Municipal Parking Garage — the only public parking garage in Manhattan with a space devoted to bicycles — unceremoniously deactivated its bike space in early March, pulling all the racks out of the ground, posting “under construction” on the wall and rendering useless a once safe home for dozens of bicycles. Why did the city cut the lot down — and will it ever be reopened?

I spent the past few months trying to find out. DOT answered that simple question several different ways — first it was a planned renovation, then it was a needed upgrade, and later it was overall safety, finally followed by mercurial hand wringing — it could be that no one really knows.

I first learned about the closure after someone stole my bike in May from outside my apartment at the corner of Orchard and Stanton Streets, spurring me to finally take a second look into the suddenly-forbidden space in the parking garage, as well as the garage itself.

With entrances on both Essex and Ludlow, the car-park is home to 359 vehicular spots — the garage has been open virtually all summer long, allowing you to pay $8 an hour or $500 a month to keep your car there. These rates were much lower last year, before New York parking garages raised their rates across the board, with the Essex Street location yielding the steepest hike: 66 percent.

On the garage’s DOT listing, it boasts 12 available bicycle racks, allowing for 24 bicycles, which were freely available all through last summer. Back then, I locked my bike up there regularly among a litany of other bikes, among them the electric variety you see all over the neighborhood, hoisting around delivery workers or, as we used to celebrate them each evening: Essential workers.

August 24, Photo: Gideon Grudo

What made that space so great as opposed to the outdoor bike racks littering the Lower East Side? It’s well lit. It’s 20 feet away from the parking garage attendant. While signs tell me the city isn’t liable for my bike, knowing there’s a human nearby makes it much more comforting to leave my bike there (for someone else, their work vehicle). There are cameras all around. And, finally, it’s covered. Rain isn’t great for bicycles. That space, the only free part of the garage, is still closed to the public as of this writing.

Why did DOT shut down bike racks for six months?

Since late May, I’ve been trying to figure out why the space was shut down and, while I’ve been in contact with DOT on the matter through months of back-and-forth emails, have learned absolutely nothing about why the agency decided to remove the racks.

Even after connecting with Senior Borough Planner Jennifer Leung, who was assigned to the matter, all I got were general responses, noting that most maintenance and renovation projects “continue to be placed on hold and will be able to resume as soon as personnel are allowed to return at a greater capacity.” DOT did re-install the corrals the week of August 17 but, within days, the racks were closed off again for no reason, yellow police tape cordoning off the space. Leung subsequently told me the garage had “some issues” with the newly opened racks, which created “unsafe conditions,” adding “it was overcrowded and there [was] no compliance.”

I still don’t know why the racks were out of commission for six months, other than a boiler-plate reason that could mean anything about anything at any time since COVID-19 struck. I also don’t know what led to their reopening nor to their subsequent re-closing. Most importantly, perhaps, no one else knows, either — the city hasn’t communicated about any of these closures, though it did remove the “under construction” signs without undertaking any construction.

August 29, Photo: Gideon Grudo

Municipal parking garages and bike racks in New York City

There are 36 municipal parking garages and fields in New York City.

  • Of those, six offer “bike racks” with varying numbers of racks, according to their DOT listings.
  • Of those, just one is in Manhattan.

On September 1, I called each of the six to find out if their bike racks are open. Only two parking garage phone calls (as listed on Google given the DOT site doesn’t list phone numbers) were answered (Bronx), the other four either leading to a strange, static whistle (Essex) or answering machines (Staten Island and both Queens locations).

While I know the state of the Essex garage, here’s what I learned about the others, along with the bike rack information DOT lists for each:

Jerome – 190th Street Municipal Parking Garage
Open for public use
BIKE RACK: 1 Bicycle rack for 9 Bicycles

Jerome-Gun Hill Road Municipal Parking Garage
Open for public use but, apparently, not for long: The “city decided they want to remove them … I don’t know when.”
BIKE RACK: 1 Bicycle rack for 9 Bicycles

Delancey and Essex Municipal Parking Garage
BIKE RACK: 12 Bicycle racks for 24 Bicycles

Court Square Municipal Parking Garage
BIKE RACK: 2 bicycle rack for 11 bicycles

Queensboro Hall Municipal Parking Field
BIKE RACK: 11 bicycle racks for 22 bicycles

Staten Island Courthouse Garage and Parking Lot
BIKE RACK: 3 Bicycle racks for 45 Bicycles

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