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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Emerging from Residual Space - Bikes in Battery Park City

A couple recent lunchtime walks through the older corner of Battery Park City illustrated the rich interactions between residual space and emerging uses. Where bicycles were once tucked away into back corners, they are now poised to redefine the cityscape.

Battery Park City is an interesting neighborhood enclave for myriad reasons. Its character as an enclave results in part from its origins as a recent, master-planned community controlled by a State authority. Yet this character is due even more to its separation from the rest of Lower Manhattan and access to the subway system by the West Side Highway (aka West Street and Route 9A). Yet while this highway isolates or insulates (depending on perspective), it also adds another layer of transportation that helps to shape the character of Battery Park City. The Hudson River Greenway runs along the West Side Highway and connects directly into Battery Park City, providing residents and workers quick and easy bicycle access to much of Manhattan.

Gateway Plaza is the oldest apartment complex in Battery Park City. The brutalist architecture and organization around a parking garage and interior access street predate the reorientation toward more traditional urban form under the Cooper Eckstut design guidelines. A central space encircled by the access street provides a landscaped pedestrian area. As demand for bicycle parking has grown, this central feature has been preserved by maintaining it off-limits for bicycle parking, while the less significant scraps of space have overgrown.

Once you pass the giant parking garage and the vehicle check to come out from under the first buildings, there is a pleasant open space in the center of Gateway Plaza.

While the character of the landscaped plaza has been preserved by keeping it free of parked bicycles, motor vehicles continue to clutter the outer perimeter of the local access street. Some bicycle parking has found its way into the wider sidewalks and recesses around that perimeter as well, but it has not removed any of the parking spaces for motor vehicles.

The bike parking visible outside the building entrance on the access street is really just the tip of the iceberg. There is an enclosure next to a service vehicle area, as well as an entire wall outside the swimming pool covered in parking.

The bicycle enclosure near the entrance is jammed with bikes

The vertical bike parking along the fence by the swimming pool looks more like something out of Amsterdam

Yet this is not even the end of it. Beyond that fence, there is a pathway into a relatively dead back landscaped path to nowhere, which has been fully converted to additional bike parking.

Clearly the demand for bicycle parking is exceeding the space available inside Gateway Plaza, and this is solely for the needs of the residents. Elsewhere in the surrounding areas of Battery Park City, there is additional demand for bike parking for the employees in the World Financial Center as well as the retail establishments along South End Avenue. On top of that, there is demand from the many tourists who visit the area.

On South End Avenue, the handful of bike racks and almost all the sign posts are routinely filled with parked bicycles, some of which are delivery bikes for the restaurants. A Citi Bike station has also been installed at the corner of South End Avenue and Liberty Street.

The bicycle parking around back on the Esplanade does not reach the same overflow point on a typical day, most likely because it serves a different demand. It would be a considerably longer walk from these racks to the entrances to the residential buildings or offices. The relative lack of eyes overnight likely limits the attractiveness of these locations for residents as well. Of course, if the more proximate parking becomes fully exhausted, it would not be surprising to see more spill over onto the racks further out along the Esplanade too.
Bike parking outside the dog run out along the Esplanade

Bike parking along South End Avenue serves delivery bikes, office workers, and any residential demand that spills over from Gateway Plaza. The entrance to the public parking garage is in the background in the photo on the bottom right

More bikes parked along South End Avenue
The public parking garage is in the background in the photo on the bottom right

With such abundant demand for bicycle parking, the lack of use of the public parking garage stands out. In 2009, the City of New York passed legislation requiring garages to set aside spaces for parking bicycles (the legislation was updated in 2011 to reinforce the requirements). Yet despite the required capacity of 25 bicycle parking spaces, there isn't a single bicycle parked in the garage. The location for parking bicycles in the garage (down a ramp and far behind a row of valet parking) is inconvenient, but the clear problem is the excessive rate of $250 per month. As garages throughout the city have shown, there are bicycle owners willing to pay for added convenience and security of garage parking, but the rates need to be reasonable. It appears clear that Central Parking has made a decision to effectively exclude bicycles, rather than serving the public and managing an additional minor revenue source. This appearance is reinforced by the fact that the bicycle rates are not included on the company's website.

Despite the hostile and rather backward current management, it seems like a mere matter of time before bicycles eventually begin using the garage. Either a new management approach focused on tapping new sources of revenue or pressure from the tenants via the landlord will eventually align the price with demand to make use of the spaces in the garage.
With or without the garage, though, further bicycle demand will require a more complete reorientation of the public space. In fact, this has already started with the introduction of the Citi Bike station. There are other possibilities that could be considered, such as bike corrals that would replace other uses in the curb lane, as well as programming some poorly designed and underutilized plaza space outside the World Financial Center.

As construction wraps up and the temporary walkway is removed from the street, some of this curb lane could become a site for bike corrals

This desolate plaza space could make space for bike parking that would help inject some activity

To whatever extent bicycles continue to reshape the future cityscape of Battery Park City, it is clear the existing activity already far surpasses most of the rest of the continent. In fact, most people would probably be surprised to see images like these from an American city, instead of some foreign place like Amsterdam. It was in the small, residual spaces in Battery Park City where bicycle activity was able to gradually take root and flourish.

1 comment:

  1. The price that garages such as this charge for bike parking is absolutely ridiculous. Like you suggest, it can only mean that they really don't want bikes and are willing to pay the opportunity cost of not having them.

    The price can't reflect cost, because you can fit maybe 10 bikes in a car space, and yet they price it at more than half the price of a car space.

    And the price obviously isn't reflecting demand either, because nobody is buying. I suspect the real market price is not even 1/10 of the current price.