Cops sawed through bike locks and removed two-wheelers from Williamsburg last week, spraying sparks across Bedford Avenue and sparking debate over the city’s derelict bicycle policy.
Officers from North Brooklyn’s 94th Precinct say the only bikes that they removed during their monthly patrol of Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg — the city’s cycling capital — were obviously abandoned.
But an onlooker who captured footage of the 8:30 pm removal on Oct. 1 claims at least two of the bikes targeted by cops were in fine shape.
“They didn’t look like beat-up bikes that had locked up there forever — they looked like they were being used,” said Ben Running, a Greenpoint resident and cyclist who filmed police removing the bikes from a street sign near the corner of North Eighth Street. “Bikes shouldn’t be removed without some kind of notice.”
So long as they do not alter or interfere with public traffic signals and signs, cyclists can legally lock their bike to street fixtures — but police retain the right to remove bikes that they deem “abandoned.”
And that was the case on Bedford Avenue last Thursday, according to Officer Cole Pletka, coordinator of the 94th Precinct’s auxiliary program.
“From a distance, they might have looked like they were rideable, but the bikes were on top of each and both wheels were bent,” said Pletka, who added that the bikes had been locked to the same no-parking sign for at least three months.
Pletka said that officers only remove bikes that exhibit numerous signs of abandonment including flat tires, missing handlebars and seats, and fully rusted chains.
“It clears up parking and makes the street look nicer,” he said.
The owners of bikes confiscated during the sweep can recover their two-wheelers at the 94th Precinct stationhouse on Meserole Avenue — provided they can prove ownership.
Bicycling activists agree that police should remove derelict bicycles because they occupy much-needed space on North Brooklyn bike racks, but they question the city’s no-notification policy.
“Removing abandoned bikes is certainly something the precincts should be actively involved in, but the way they are doing it now they turn out clipping the bad and the good,” said Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for Transportation Alternatives.
The bike advocacy group and North Brooklyn’s Community Board 1 transportation committee have pushed for a “tag and clip” policy in which city officials would place notifications on seemingly abandoned bikes informing owners that they must move their two-wheelers before a specified date. When the deadline comes, the city could remove any tagged bikes.
Proponents say that such a program would protect bicycle commuters and clear up space for additional bicycle parking throughout the borough.
This isn’t the first time that the removal of locked bicycles in Williamsburg has become a controversy.
Cyclists were enraged when officers removed bikes locked to the Bedford Avenue subway station in 2005.