Can SF Improve Upon New York’s Bicycle Access Bill?

774204496_c9d18fe63c.jpgFlickr photo: kate at yr own risk

Now that the New York City Council has approved a Bicycle Access Bill requiring commercial buildings to allow bicyclists entry, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is ready to push for a San Francisco version of the requirement "by the end of the year." New York’s bill, which is limited in its scope and contains some significant loopholes, passed 46-1 and is expected to be signed by Mayor Bloomberg.

Like New York’s, San Francisco’s zoning code already requires new and significantly renovated commercial buildings to provide a certain number of bicycle parking spaces, depending on the size of the building. Amendments proposed by the Bicycle Plan would strengthen those requirements slightly, removing a loophole that exempted multi-use buildings from the requirement. Marc Caswell of the SFBC said he hopes to further strengthen those codes by increasing the amount of bike parking required and reducing the expenditure threshold when a renovation triggers the requirement.

The requirements are not retroactive, however, so they do not serve almost all workers whose buildings were permitted before 2001. Nearly half, 42 percent, of the cyclists responding to a recent SFBC member survey said they did not have bicycle parking at work. The lack of secure bicycle parking is the "number one reason seasoned bicyclists do not bike to work" in New York, according to surveys by New York’s Transportation Alternatives.

San Francisco would surely see an increase in bicycle commuting if a version of New York’s law passes here. How might the San Francisco version — and the politics around it — be different?

New York’s law does not actually mandate indoor bicycle parking; it simply requires buildings to allow entry to bicycles if the tenant can store the bicycle in their rented space. It applies only to office buildings, not all commercial buildings, and only if the building has a freight elevator. Building owners may request an exemption if the freight elevator has peculiar issues that make it unsafe to carry bicycles or if there is sufficient, no-cost, indoor secure bicycle parking on the premises or nearby (and under control of the owner requesting an exemption).

These provisions probably mitigated some of the opposition from the Real Estate Board of New York, which opposed the mandate. Copying those same provisions in a San Francisco ordinance would result in fewer buildings being covered, because so many of San Francisco’s downtown office buildings provide garage bicycle parking in conformance with San Francisco’s strong garage parking requirements. But that’s no substitute, says Caswell, because such parking is open to the public, it’s next to impossible to make garage parking nearly as secure as
bringing your bike into your office. Having your bike
in your own view insures the safety of all of your components as well
as your entire bike.

A San Francisco building access law could prompt better enforcement of the garage parking requirement, which is strong. It is retroactive, applying to residential and commercial garages of ten spaces or more, and requiring bike parking spaces in relation to the number of car parking spaces. Some garages are out of compliance and so far no fines have been levied to force compliance. Also, no standards ensure that the parking is something better than a U-rack in the dingy corner of the garage, hidden from the public except for the enterprising bike commuters and bike thieves who know about it.

A San Francisco building access ordinance will have to navigate likely opposition from the Building Owners and Managers Association, which historically has opposed mandates on building owners.

"Obviously this is a property rights issue," said Ken Cleaveland, BOMA’s Director of Government and Public Affairs, "but I do believe that most owners want to work with their tenants in a way that keeps them happy, if it means accommodating bikes I can’t imagine they wouldn’t allow that. But they will want some level of assuredness that the building will be protected from damage, particularly in older buildings with historic elevators, like an additional deposit like you would pay with a pet."

Do they want a deposit "in case the bike pees on the carpet?" asked Noah Budnick, Deputy Director of Transportation Alternatives, who stressed the "grassroots and grasstops" organizing work the T.A. did to win passage of the law. "The difference between three years ago [when T.A. first introduced this bill] and today is marked. The time has come."

  • ZA

    San Francisco’s own bike parking requirements and law can be found here: http://www.sfmta.com/cms/bpark/3176.html

    The 2004 compliance report on bicycle parking facilities in publically-owned garages is here: http://www.sfmta.com/cms/uploadedfiles/dpt/bike/Bike_Parking/All_Garage_Compliance_Report_07_19_04(1).pdf

    In my experience, the public-parking garages offer little additional security than the open street. I think they may even be worse, because they’re more out of view.

    It seems to me, closing the gap on privately-run parking garages for bicycle facilities could achieve a lot of what riders need.

    Question is: should a fee system be allowed to ensure a minimum of property protection that is not necessarily extended to those publically-accessed garages?

  • gd

    dave snyder –
    I don’t know what you’re smoking. The city’s bike parking requirements for garages and commercial buildings are pathetic!

    First of all, the bike parking requirement is tied to the provision of car parking. How perverse and backwards! That means if no parking is provided, there doesn’t need to be any bike parking, and that the bike parking requirement goes up only relation to how much car parking there is rather than with demand for bike parking.

    Second, the requirements themselves are tiny. Essentially it’s one bike space for every 20 cars. Most garages are less than 500 spaces. 25 bikes spaces for a 500 car garage?! Spatially that means only 2 car spaces are being converted to bike parking. For office buildings, it’s also pathetic, as the maximum requirement is 12 bike spaces, regardless of the size of the building. So for a building with like 2,000 employees in it (typical 35 story office building), that means there only needs to be bike parking for about 6/10ths of one percent of employees!

  • Nick

    I’ve worked on a lot of different renovations in the downtown highrises and in the process I’ve had access to parts of the building that are closed off to the general public.

    What I’ve seen is that a lot of these office/commerical buildings will have an indoor area with secure bike parking. Typically it will be located in the basement in a separate space that was formerly reserved for building maintenace.

    One I was at recently was set up like this: A cyclist rides to the back service entrance of the building, flases their ID card to the guard, walks through a long corridor, scans their ID on a card reader, walks through another corridor to where the building engineer’s storage room is located, and in that room is a fenced off area (30 x 30 feet with a chain and padlock) where bike racks are mounted to the concrete.

    This might want to be a model we encourage voluntarily as I doubt that building owners want bicycles on the tenant elevators. The problem with allowing them on freight elevators is that for security reasons they don’t stop on every floor and when they do stop they drop you off in an area that frequently does not allow easy access to the tenant areas.

  • g

    I think the simplicity of just allowing general access is a good way to go and that such an ordinance would easily move through the Board of Supervisors. Having bike wheels on the floor is no different than delivery hand-trucks. Bikes don’t really cause damage to historic elevators in buildings I have see that have this policy.

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