With New Yorkers avoiding the subway and buses, landlords and building managers grapple with the expanding need for bike storage space.
The long bike rides that Carolann Martini takes from her Murray Hill co-op down to Battery Park are invigorating. Dragging her bike out of the storage room? Not so much.
The tight space is a maze of long-forgotten bikes and trikes tethered to elementary school-style racks. To retrieve her Eduardo Bianchi road bike, she has to untangle it from a web of handlebars, pedals and frames. “It’s just aggravation,” said Ms. Martini, a hospitality industry executive. Cycling in the city “is a pleasure. So why should I be aggravated?”
The pandemic has ushered in a golden age of cycling for New Yorkers who, like Ms. Martini, have discovered that riding a bike everyday is fun, and less confined than a trip on the bus or subway. But with daily biking comes a hitch that seasoned riders already knew about: storing a bike in the city is a grind.
New Yorkers lucky enough to live in buildings with basement storage often contend with cluttered, inconvenient subterranean spaces. Everyone else is left squeezing a large, cumbersome object into an elevator or hoofing it up flights of stairs. Get it into the apartment, and now it needs a place to go — and that usually means the ceiling, a wall, a closet, or, according to a few creative cyclists, in a bathtub (just remove it before you bathe, obviously).
Leave a bike locked on the street and you might as well consider it a charitable donation — thefts of bikes worth $1,000 or more were up 65 percent in June, and 64 percent in the first two weeks of July, from the same time periods in 2019, according to the New York Police Department.
“The main reason that people don’t bike is because of safety and the second reason that they state is where to actually put their bike,” said Danny Harris, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, a bike advocacy organization.
But with ridership up, some building owners are looking for ways to accommodate tenants who have been asking for better storage options. Bike rooms, long treated as an afterthought, are receiving newfound attention. This is especially true in full-service buildings where more desirable perks like gyms and children’s playrooms have been shut down indefinitely. Management may not be able to offer a golf simulator for the foreseeable future, but with a modest investment, it could spruce up the bike room.
The interest in bike storage is spreading into the real estate market too, according to brokers who say more clients are inquiring about storage, with some now considering it a must-have amenity. Henry Mullin, a salesman with Douglas Elliman, started giving out Citi Bike memberships as move-in gifts after clients started asking to tour storage rooms.
“The bike storage situation is exploding. Nobody knows what to do,” said Jacky Teplitzky, an associate broker at Douglas Elliman who drove to a Walmart in South Carolina in June to find a bike, waiting outside when the store opened to get a cruiser for herself and bring it back to the city. “Everyone is talking to the managing agent, the building, they are negotiating with the neighbors to hang two bikes with one rack.”
After battling the bike room, Ms. Martini asked building management in March to clear the storage room of unused bikes. But since many residents have moved away indefinitely to wait out the pandemic and are unable to respond to a notice about bike removals, the building couldn’t tag and toss unclaimed bikes as they might have in the past. Instead, the board came up with an alternative plan: It would build a new bike room in a space next to the existing one.
“We hit the Lotto,” Ms. Martini said. “It’s going to be amazing.”
The co-op, a pair of postwar buildings with 206 units, had been in an amenities race with new luxury condos for years, investing in costly improvements to the roof deck and courtyard. A new recreation room was next on the list. But with money tight and indoor amenity spaces shut, the board shelved plans for the rec room and took a fresh look at the bike room.
For $16,500, the board is sprucing up a 1,000-square-foot space, an unused mechanical room that’s twice the size of the current bike room, adding a fresh coat of paint and high-quality racks. Work will be complete in the middle of September. The old bike room may be used for storage or turned into new office space for the resident manager.
“Priorities have shifted,” said Aubrey C. Phillibert, a managing director at FirstService Residential New York, which manages the co-op. The board is now focused on “basic needs around clean air, maintaining social distance and sustaining a quality of life in the era of self isolation.”
Other building owners are looking for space wherever they can find it — not an easy feat in a city where few properties have any space to spare. Leanne Stella, a saleswoman at Halstead, which is now part of Brown Harris Stevens, who works primarily in Upper Manhattan, has been urging the landlords she represents to prioritize bike storage. She told the owner of a brownstone to clear out the space beneath the stoop to make room for bike storage before listing the garden floor apartment for rent. And she told the owner of a small rental building to scrap plans for a basement gym, and put in a bike room instead. “It’s simple and it makes living in the apartment that much nicer,” she said.
New developments are also looking at their bike rooms with fresh eyes. Rose Hill, a development on East 29th Street near Madison Square Park that will open in the fall, is trying to partner with a local bike shop to create a full-service bike room. The building’s bike room, large enough to store 69 bikes, will be located on the ground floor, with a street-level entrance next to the lobby. The developer, Rockefeller Group, envisions a local bike shop offering free bike assessments and maintenance classes to residents. “We don’t want it to be some random storage room,” said Meg Brod, a senior vice president at Rockefeller.
Other developers are wondering if this is a passing phase or if they should recalibrate for a new normal where New Yorkers avoid public transit as much as possible, and turn to their bikes as an everyday alternative. In July, subway ridership was down roughly 77 percent and bus ridership was down 45 percent from the same time a year ago.
“The question remains: will this trend continue after Covid subsides?” said John C. Tashjian, a principal of Centurion Real Estate Partners, the developer of 200 East 59th Street, a Midtown condo. For now, Centurion is betting on bikes and plans to expand the building’s bike room in the next few months, adding room for more bikes, and a station to pump tires and make minor repairs. “My expectation is that this remains on our collective psyches long into the future.”
Cycling advocates argue that the best long-term solution would be for the city to provide adequate and safe street parking. Absent that option, the safest spot to store your bike is in your apartment. “If there is a way that you can store it in your apartment and there is a way you can get it in and out, that’s the best way,” said Chantal Hardy, director of community outreach for WE Bike NYC, a biking organization for women. Despite her advice, Ms. Hardy, who lives in a fourth-floor walk-up, stores her own bike in her building’s storage room, double locking it for added security. Retrieving it is so cumbersome that she often rides a Citi Bike instead. “It’s frustrating because I am a daily rider,” she said.
Or, you could just ask your neighbor. Jane Torres-Lavoro, 40, and her husband Leo Lavoro, 45, who works for a record label, have been storing the bikes they bought this summer in an extra bedroom in their neighbor’s apartment in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens. They send him a text message when they want to use the bikes and he rolls them out. In exchange, Ms. Torres-Lavoro, a hospital administrator, picks up groceries for him and makes his favorite soup, a Senegalese chicken soup. “He’s like my adopted dad,” she said.
The neighbor, Michael Cohen, 70, a retired taxi driver, stores the bikes in the room that was once his daughter’s bedroom. He stores another neighbor’s bike there, too, making his apartment something of an unofficial building bike room. “It’s the least I could do. I have the free space,” he said. “I had other plans for the room, but they’re never going to materialize and with what’s going on in the world today, people are certainly doing more than me.”
Ms. Torres-Lavoro and Mr. Lavoro, who live in a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of the garden co-op complex, store their 9-year-old daughter’s bike in their own apartment. All summer, the family has been taking weekend rides to Cunningham Park and Flushing Meadow Park.
Owning bikes “has definitely given us another level of freedom during the pandemic,” Ms. Torres-Lavoro said. “It’s something to do where we don’t have to worry about crowds, the virus or hand sanitizer.” And with free storage next door, they don’t have to worry about where to park when they get back home, either.