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Transportation Nation

Year in Review New York: Sandy, Buses, Tappan Zee -- and Abandoned Bikes

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 tested New York's transportation infrastructure like no other year in recent memory.

Sandy

Sandy's storm surge flooded hundred-year-old tunnels, drowned power stations, and inflicted a commuting nightmare on millions of Northeast residents for weeks. It also caused a mini-boom in bike ridership -- and elevated climate change to a hot topic in transportation planning.

New York and New Jersey were both hit hard, but each state planned --and responded --  differently. NJ Transit took heavy damage with major routes offline for weeks after parking trains in a flood plain, because, as one executive said, "we thought we had 20 years to respond to climate change." That decision cost the agency $100 million. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was also hit by unprecedented flooding. While in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo is saying the next generation of infrastructure must take climate change into consideration, we learned that across the river, Governor Chris Christie had deep-sixed his state's climate change research department.

The NYC subway was known to be vulnerable to a powerful storm surge, and flooded as predicted. In the storm's aftermath, the agency furiously tweeted updates and churned out service maps with lightning speed - .gif -- impressing even traditionally harsh critics. But while much of the damage was dealt with quickly, other assets -- like the South Ferry subway station, and the A train out to the Rockaways -- remain unrestored. Also unclear: how the agency will cover the $5 billion in damages. So far, the plan is to take on debt rather than pile on to an already scheduled fare hike.

Our complete Sandy coverage is here.

The entrance to the downtown 1 train at Broadway and 79th Street, pre-storm (photo by Kate Hinds)

A New Tappan Zee Bridge Moves from Idea to Design Plan

The aging Tappan Zee Bridge is being replaced at the cost of several billion dollars -- making it the largest contract ever awarded in New York State. After a lengthy debate about adding transit, which some argued should at least include a plan for bus rapid transit, Cuomo said speed and cost outweighed the merits of adding a rail line.  Transit advocates howled, and some key county officials held up a vote -- but the governor's vision ultimately prevailed: the bridge will be 'transit-ready' -- meaning plans for a rail link or a fully iterated BRT line have been tabled for a future date.

Meanwhile, the issue of how to pay for the bridge has yet to be resolved. The bridge wasn't included in the first round of federal TIFIA loans; the state has since re-applied. The governor said the brunt of the cost would come from tolls -- but the backlash to the idea of a $14 crossing was swift.  A builder was chosen this month (see pics) and work will begin after the state comptroller okays the contract. The new bridge is scheduled to open in 2018.

And no, the old bridge won't be preserved as a greenway. The NY State Thruway Authority -- the agency in charge of the project -- will demolish it.

The winning Tappan Zee design

Street Safety Investigations

We'll have more on this in the new year, but our work on monitoring safe streets in NYC continued with two investigative reports. In our report "Walking While Poor" we found that, in New Jersey, it is more dangerous to be a pedestrian in low income neighborhoods.

And in New York City, our report Killed While Cycling, uncovered why so few fatal bike crashes lead to arrest. The laws just aren't written to punish vehicle crashes with a criminal response and the NYPD has just 19 detectives assigned to investigate criminality when a car or truck hits someone or something. The department argues more lives can be saved by preventative methods, like speed traps. The result, families of those killed on NYC streets rarely feel justice is done.

After deadly crashes, Chinatown buses wane -- and Bolt and Megabus move in.

New York was the original nexus of a curbside bus network that became known as Chinatown buses because they picked up passengers from unofficial bus stops in Chinatowns up and down the Northeast corridor. But the busy corner under the Manhattan Bridge that was once the nexus of this travel network is now mostly empty.

After a deadly year of crashes in 2011, many said the industry was unsafe. While confused travelers tried to figure out just who regulates Chinatown buses, the government took notice. In June, the U.S. DOT shut down 26 bus companies that operate along the most popular routes: the I-95 corridor from New York to Florida. The DOT called it the “largest single safety crackdown in the agency’s history." 

And while some Chinatown buses are still discreetly operating, they're losing market share: mainstream bus companies like Greyhound are expanding their curbside businesses, actively meeting with community boards to add stops in Chinatown itself.

The driver of the bus crash that killed 15 in 2011, Ophadell Williams, was acquitted of manslaughter charges in December.

Abandoned Bikes

This is one story that became way bigger than we expected. It started out simply enough: Transportation Nation asked readers to help map all of the abandoned bikes in New York City. (For those unfamiliar with NYC: abandoned bikes are strewn about our sidewalks like cigarette butts after a party, the detritus of modern mobility.) We wanted to know how many of these bike carcasses there were, and why they stayed so long encumbering walkways, taking up prime bike parking without being removed by authorities.

The response was overwhelming, both for our humble project and for the city. We found more than 500 busted bikes, cataloged in photos sent in from WNYC listeners. We mapped them through an online civic action platform (SeeClickFix )that anyone could update.

When we began to get inquiries from artists and abandoned bike fans (yes, they exist), we picked out our favorite bike photos from the stack and shared them with each other. WNYC listeners called in to confess and explained why they left cycles to rust away. The project spread to Washington, D.C. A nonprofit offered to recycle them. Several photographers sent in links to their own portfolios of abandoned bike art. And so we collected authentic abandoned bikes and turned them into an art exhibit. Meanwhile, the city also promised to collect more of them as they streamlined the process for reporting and removal.

See the full project here.

Ragged rusty bikes hide within the sleek and modern Jerome L. Greene Performance Space

Lost Subways of New York

We kicked off 2012 with a look at the subway system that never was: dozens of tunnels and platforms that were either abandoned or were built but never used. They form a kind of ghost system that reveals how the city’s transit ambitions have been both realized and thwarted.

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Transportation Nation

Abandoned Bike Project: What Makes a Busted Bike into Art?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bent frame, creeping rust, sun bleached belly. Pretty abandoned at Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

As we wrap up our abandoned bike art exhibit, WNYC's arts and culture talk radio program, The Leonard Lopate Show, picks up the topic of busted bikes as beautiful objects.

Listen to TN's Alex Goldmark and host Leonard Lopate discuss the Abandoned Bike Project and why  some derelict bikes and user bike photos rise to the level of art.

Alex argues rusting cycles are alluring because they are ready vessels for poignant stories; it is easy to imagine a hundred woeful tales of city life gone wrong to explain each left-behind bike, from rider remorse, to the pilfering thief who succumbs to opportunity.

Or maybe you have a different answer, or disagree all together.

That's OK.

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Transportation Nation

Last Week to See Our Abandoned Bike Art Exhibit (w/VIDEO)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Passersby view the Transportation Nation abandoned bike art exhibit at WNYC's Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in Manhattan.

If you are in NYC this week, you can swing by WNYC's Jerome L. Greene Performance Space  in Manhattan to see the final week of our abandoned bike art exhibit.

As we reported earlier this year, New York City has far more abandoned bikes left to decay on city streets than other cities do. That's caused by a mix of NYC's density, the strict wording of city rules, and a clunky 311 reporting process that can take 7 minutes per bike. The effect: bikes are left to rot, and over time, neighbors come to form attachments to the crumpled metal as it lingers, waiting for resolution.

We collected hundreds of photos from readers and radio listeners and put them on a map. Then we compiled the best into a digital slideshow for you. Finally, we  placed some actual abandoned bikes on display side by side for your in-person viewing and pondering pleasure. Bikes generously provided by the NY Dept. of Sanitation and Recycle-a-Bicycle, a youth service organization.

Listen to an audio report of TN negotiating with the City of NY to accept our hundreds of bikes via map and spreadsheet. Full reporting and everything you'd want to know about abandoned bikes here.

And here's a video explaining how the art project came to be:

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Transportation Nation

See Our Abandoned Bike Art Exhibit. Yeah, We Said Art.

Monday, August 13, 2012

What started as journalistic curiosity is now art.

Our Abandoned Bike Project has been transformed into a humble art exhibit in the windows of the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, WNYC's street-level studio venue.

For those of you in New York City, offering up a chance to see abandoned bikes live and in person might seem like trying selling snow cones to Santa Claus. But these bikes are a captivating catalog of plodding decay, each a different shade of rust and crumble. Display them in windows facing a busy downtown sidewalk and, voilà!, you've got art. For proof, see the slide show above, which we recommend you take in as a collection of diverse short stories--all with the same ending.

We've "curated" a collection of the best pictures submitted to our abandoned bike tracker, chosen a broken bike as muse and and added poetry: Bike-Kus, anyone?

Ragged rusty bikes hide within the sleek and modern Jerome L. Greene Performance Space.

The pièce de résistance? We convinced the Department of Sanitation to provide us with several authentically claimed derelict abandoned bikes. (That's different from regular abandoned bikes, as you'll recall from this story). Although we found hundreds of abandoned bikes, there have been just 62 officially removed derelict bikes in NYC this year. Four of them now sit in the The Greene Space along with several others donated by Recycle-A-Bicycle, a youth service charity that refurbishes old bikes.

As a refresher, the evolution of our abandoned bike reporting project began with a simple question: why do busted-up old bikes stay chained to street signs for so long on NYC's crowded sidewalks. We hunted down the answer -- complicated mix of bureaucracy, city law, NYC's density -- and found something else. New Yorkers just love to look at abandoned bikes. And to photograph them.

In chasing what we thought would be a simple answer, we asked for help. That help came in the form of hundreds of geocoded photographs we used to map the phenomenon. Those photographs are what you seen in this post, and in our exhibit.

Come on by Varick Street and Charlton Street in Manhattan. Photos are behind the glass, bikes are inside it!

 

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Transportation Nation

Philadelphia Aggressively Removes Abandoned Bikes

Friday, August 03, 2012

Abandoned bike removal in Philadelphia. (Photo by Emma Lee for WHYY's NewsWorks)

In stark contrast to bike removal tactics in New York City, Philadelphia just completed an annual proactive sweep of abandoned bicycles this week. As WHYY's Peter Crimmins reports from his bike snipping ride-along with city authorities:

"A power grinder can slide through a bike lock like a hot knife through butter. It takes about 30 seconds to liberate an abandoned bike and throw it in the back of a truck."

The sweep netted 65 bikes that were donated to local charities. New York City, despite its larger size and cycling population, has removed just 62 bicycles in 2012. Those bikes are recycled as scrap metal generally. TN readers photographed and mapped more than 500 allegedly abandoned bikes in NYC.

Maybe the difference is a champion in city hall. Aaron Ritz of the Philadelphia Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities just happens to be a bike lover who knows how to wield his power tools. He tells WHYY:

"When there's a wheel stolen, or it's vandalized, that ticks me off," said Ritz, an amateur bike racer and former mechanic. "But when it's abandoned, it's good to get them off the street. It's pleasing to have tidy space. Like cleaning up your room."

Read the full piece about Philadelphia's removal program at WHYY's NewsWorks including a short slideshow of great pics and follow up on how bikes are recycled then sold. There's even one pic of Crimmins taking a turn at the grinder, sparks flying and all.

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Transportation Nation

SLIDESHOW: How We Rounded Up NYC's Abandoned Bikes and Wrangled Them Back to WNYC

Thursday, August 02, 2012

TN has been reporting on New York City's abandoned bikes  -- and, with your help, mapping their locations. (Full coverage.)

Now the project is becoming art: it's evolving into an abandoned bike exhibit, hosted in WNYC's Greene Space in Manhattan.

WNYC's Greene Space (photo by Kate Hinds)

Listener-submitted photos are the foundation of the exhibit. But we also rounded up discarded bike parts and recycled bikes -- generously donated from both Recycle-A-Bicycle and the New York City Department of Sanitation.

We're putting the finishing touches on the show now, and hope you'll be able to experience it in person. In the meantime, check out some pictures of how -- and where -- we got the bikes, a trip which took us from the muraled walls of a Long Island City nonprofit to a city garage with a majestic view on the Hudson River.

For more on the exhibit, visit the Greene Space website. For more on our abandoned bikes project, check out this page.

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Transportation Nation

MAP: Most Abandoned Bikes Won't Be Removed

Monday, June 11, 2012

Click around the map above to see the photos of the bikes and the latest updates on their status. You can update the map yourself, so please let us know if one of these gets removed, or tagged.

Listen to the radio version of this story:

WNYC listeners submitted over 500 pictures of abandoned bicycles in New York. But most of them will not be removed by the city. Here's what happened when we tried to bring the issue to the city's attention with what we thought were all the modern tools necessary: a stack of pictures, a spreadsheet of geocodes, and a veritable army of crowd-contributors.

The life cycle of a bike left to rot on NYC streets is long, and intentionally so.  The complaint process is as clunky as the cast off bikes themselves and the criteria for removal is stiffer than the U-lock holding this pilfered cruiser to a bike rack on Bleecker Street.

The first obstacle is that what you consider an abandoned nuisance taking up your prime bike parking is property to someone else. Most bikes reported to the city as abandoned aren't abandoned enough to be removed (see definition below).

Before we started collecting abandoned bike photos, the City received 429 official complaints since July, the start of the fiscal year. Of those, just 60 bikes were removed, less than 15 percent.

That's because a bike has to be more than abandoned to be claimed by the city. It has to also be officially derelict, as Henry Ehrhardt, director of customer relations at the NY Sanitation Department patiently explained to me while I showed him my stack of hundreds of bikes in various states of decay.

“I think it’s important to remember that the Department of Sanitation’s job is to, essentially, remove junk and garbage from the city’s streets,” he told me.

Like these two, which were tagged and removed after we submitted them.

After a bike complaint is called into 311, a sanitation inspector heads out to the scene to determine if the bike is junked enough.  Most bikes just don't make the cut.

There are many obstacles that prevent the Sanitation Dept from removing a seemingly abandoned bike. First the regulations:

The bike must be affixed to public property (not your front gate or a privately-owned bike rack).

To be derelict a bike must meet three of the following five criteria:

  • The appearance is crushed or not usable;
  • Have parts missing from bicycle other than seat and front wheel;
  • Have flat tires or missing both tires;
  • Handlebars and pedals are damaged, or the fork, frame or rims are bent;
  • 75 percent of bicycle is rusted.

These bikes, while seemingly derelict were not removed -- possibly because the Sanitation Department inspected a different nearby bike instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course, many people call in bikes that just aren't abandoned or derelict at all.

“When we’re taking it we’re essentially recycling it, it’s going to be taken away and put in the recycling truck and processed as scrap metal,” Ehrhardt said.

That's a shame to some bike advocates who argue the city should be more proactive in claiming abandoned bikes for recycling or sale. A nonprofit, Bike Rescue Project, has proposed claiming the bikes while still salvageable to repair and sell for charity, but by the time they fall under the jurisdiction of the Sanitation Department, it's already too late. The city of Hoboken does a yearly sweep and collects about 50 bikes a year that get put up for sale at auction. That city's DOT tells Transportation Nation it gets no complaints about wrongfully removed bikes.

Vito Turso, a deputy commissioner at DSNY, says the criteria are strict to make sure no bike gets removed that is still someone's property. Changing that would mean changing the law. “That sounds to me like something a person who is interested in having these removed might want to bring to the attention of their local elected official and then have that local elected official take it the next step.”

He doesn't want to run the risk of claiming property. He deals in junk.

The green mountain bike below, for example, isn't derelict by the criteria. Though partially rusted, it’s in usable condition and the only parts missing are the seat and front wheel, possibly removed by the owner for security.

This green mountain bike didn’t meet the derelict criteria at 97th and Riverside.

However, this is an example of the tricky business of reporting abandoned bikes. Our submission was not intended to be this bike, but rather this insectile black former-road bike across the street and a bit into Riverside park. At this intersection there are actually two streets named Riverside Drive (see map) so an address and intersection weren't enough, and wasted a trip by a Sanitation worker, he wouldn't have seen a copy of a photo, just a written description because there is no official online or digital submissions process.

That's the other obstacle to action, and the main hurdle we encountered. Calling in a complaint takes about 14 minutes and involves speaking with two operators. 311 handles all the intake then forwards the information to the Sanitation Department.

That means a bulk submission of 500 bikes had nowhere to go. Neither agency had the staff to take a spreadsheet and enter it into the correct databases for action. 311 agreed to take two spreadsheets -- after Transportation Nation agreed to filter out the non-derelict looking bikes.

After two batches totaling 150 bikes (or bits of bike parts), 100 of them are being investigated this week. From the first batch of 50 bikes, 24 could not be found on location. Several weren't derelict despite my best vetting efforts, and in the end, 19 were tagged and removed, either by owners or the DSNY.

Of the 350 remaining bikes in our database, they have to be called in.

If you do so, please update the map above. Here's the full gallery of photo submissions.

 

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Transportation Nation

Your Top 12 Abandoned Bike Photos: Saran Wrapped, Crumpled, Stacked Six High and Sad Sad Sad

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The most conspicuous collection of forgotten bikes in one photo comes from the well-to-do Upper East Side at Lexington Ave and 67th st.

We've received more the 400 photos of bike blight around New York City in our mapping project. That's about 10 times the total number of abandoned bikes the city has removed in the past 18 months.

Tomorrow we submit them all to the city for inspection and potential removal. We'll ask you to you check back and see how many of these rusted frames (or saran wrapped beach cruisers) are eventually removed. For now, have a gander below at our favorite busted bikes chosen for photographic merit, level of "abandonedness," fun factor, and just because we liked them.

Pick your own favorites from the full gallery here. See the map, and read all about derelict bikes, the laws and stats here.

THE "MOST ABANDONED" BIKES:

Some parts remain, mild street trash tumbleweed factor. Park Slope, Brooklyn.

 

Bent frame, creeping rust, sun bleached belly. Pretty abandoned in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

 

BEST PILE OF KIDS BIKES:

We've found many piles of bikes -- which we fear tell sordid (or at least hoarding) stories. This was the most flagrant from Central Park North.

 

UNIQUE CASTOFFS:

Part art project, part bulletin board, this Williamsburg fixture hosts flyers, string, saran wrap and a teddy bear. Does that make it less abandoned or more?

 

That's a twofer. Photographer comment:  "I mean? This also has been here for over 6 years." From 9th Street and Ave C, Lower East Side.

 

More wheels does not always mean less abandoned. 10th street and 6th Ave, Brooklyn.

 

How long does it take to grow a few feet of vines? Tribeca.

 

 BEST PHOTOGRAPHY:

Deceptively unrideable in Midtown.

 

We call this one: arsty arcs. Downtown Brooklyn.

 

BEST COMMENT:

Though far less abandoned than other bikes, this one comes with a standout caption. "If NYC can also remove the dudes selling crack at this location, that would be great, too!" 167th Street, Manhattan

 

If the Department of Sanitation of NY finds a bike to be abandoned, it is tagged for seven days, then removed.

 

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Tracking Abandoned Bikes

Monday, May 07, 2012

WNYC reporter Alex Goldmark discusses the abandoned bicycles commonly found around NYC, and the Transportation Nation project to map them.

Comments [16]

Transportation Nation

Help Us Map All the Abandoned Bikes in NYC

Friday, April 27, 2012

UPDATE 06/11/2012: We have received over 500 submissions. We have submitted 151 locations of abandoned bikes to the City of New York. They won't accept more at this time unless we call each bike in, one by one. Here's that story, with a new map you can use to update or help us call those in.  

For now if you want a derelict bike removed, be sure it meets the criteria below, and then call it in to 311. 

ORIGINAL POST: Bike carcasses are a common site around New York City -- a dented frame chained to a street sign, wheels pilfered, seat long ago appropriated, rusted chain and remnants blighting even the swankiest of sidewalks like a broken window. What's a citizen to do?

Call 311.

We are no longer taking submissions. Or email a picture to bikes@wnyc.org and we'll add it to this map:

(See a gallery of all the bikes here)

In late 2010, the Department of Sanitation of NY was given jurisdiction to remove derelict bikes (they also remove derelict automobiles) from public property like street signs. In January of this year, that power was extended to bike racks too. In 18 months, 40 have been snipped free to make room for functioning bikes to park.

The process is clunky: you call 311, must answer a series of questions confirming the condition of the bike, and explain to what it is locked, then you are transferred to a Specialist who takes the claim. DSNY then tags the bike, and seven days later returns to claim it as abandoned, removes and recycles it.

Forgive us this quick bit of math to make a point. There are about 500,000 occasional bike riders in New York City (they ride several times a month according to an NYC estimate). The bicycle advocacy group Transportation Alternatives estimates 200,000 daily riders. There's no official daily estimate for bike ridership, but the DOT counts six busy locations once a year for a snapshot, and at those six hotspots alone there are almost 19,000 commuting bike riders a day. There are a bit over 13,000 official Department of Transportation bike racks in NYC.

Some racks hold more bikes than others (let's say around two to ten). Many buildings also have bike storage or private bike racks, and of course there's the more common street sign, railing or, unfortunately for at least one city initiative, a tree to chain a bike to. So there's space to lock up in New York, but not enough prime space. Especially near busy subway stations where racks fill up, abandoned bikes are in the way.

What counts as an abandoned bike? That is determined by these criteria set by the DSNY. Three of the five must be met to be removed:

  • appears to be crushed or unusable
  • parts are missing other than seat or front wheel
  • bicycle has a flat or missing tires
  • the handlebars or pedals are damaged, or existing forks, frames or rims are bent
  •  75 percent or more of the bicycle is rusted

The bike must be locked to public property including: light poles, bus stop signs, parking meters, trees, tree pit railings and bike racks.

DSNY says they receive many calls about possible abandoned bikes, "but upon inspection by our field supervisor a large percentage of the bicycles don’t meet the criteria to be classified as derelict."

ADD TO THE MAP

So if you spot an abandoned bike, snap a picture and send it to bikes@wnyc.org. If the location feature on your phone or camera is enabled for photos, we can pinpoint the exact location right away. Otherwise, include information in your email about where the bike is and what else you know about it, and we'll manually put it on the map.

We'll also add it to the open-source database maintained by SeeClickFix for non-emergency, civic issues. There, you can comment on and update information about abandoned bikes in your area in the days and weeks to come.

The map here is fully embeddable, too. Just use the link on the map itself.

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