New York’s healthy abandoned bike population

There are a lot of really sad bicycles in New York. Bikes chained up (and, in fact, most of them are chained, not U-locked) and seemingly forgotten about litter the sidewalks. Many are missing integral pieces — say, a wheel, or two, or a seat, or the handlebars. Many have flat tires. A fairly high percentage are dented, bent, and totally unrideable. Most are rusted beyond recognition.

New York abandoned bike(fairly typical: big old chain locking a bike with no rear wheel or handlebars)

When I was in New York last week to catch up with friends and go to a wedding, I was often unsure how to feel about these seemingly abandoned bicycles. My first thought was that no matter how we feel about bike theft in Portland these days, it is way sketchier in New York. With all these bikes in various stages of having their parts stripped off, at first glance it sure seems like if you leave a bike alone out there in those big scary streets, part of it is going to disappear.

New York abandoned frame(this one’s actually in fairly good shape, seeing as it still has the seat and handlebars…)

But on the other hand, most of those bikes, it seems, have been there a looooooooong time. I sort of suspect that the number of bikes vandalized per day is actually way lower than it seems — but if the pillaged bikes are just left there to rot, it gives the inflated perception that any bike will get ripped off. Pillaged bikes, after all, appear way faster than they are removed.

In fact, in some curiosity-inspired internet research, I read an interesting article about why most abandoned bikes in NY aren’t removed. It mostly has to to with how to decide whether a bike is actually abandoned or simply someone’s private property locked up until they can come back to get it — check out the article and play with the interactive map of abandoned bicycles here!

bikes and trash(another funny thing is how bike parking shares a place with trash on the sidewalks)

Does having stripped-down bikes left abandoned all over the streets lead to more pillaged bikes, in that broken-window sort of way? I don’t know. When most of the bikes you see are missing pieces, it certainly contributes to the perception, founded or not, that no bike is safe. And when abandoned bikes take up bike-parking real estate, it also leads to some pretty epic bike piles:

bike parking pile(bikes locked to bikes locked to bikes locked to racks)

Maybe it just makes people use the CitiBike Bike Share program instead of investing in their own bicycles:) As for me, it sure makes me appreciate Portland, where despite some thievery, I still feel safe leaving my bike locked to a pole. It can always be better here, of course, but we do have it pretty darn good.

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