Is the city finally trying to make it big with bikes?
The Department of Citywide Administrative Services on Thursday quietly dropped a doorstop of a “request for expressions of interest” from budding entrepreneurs who can make New Amsterdam a whole lot more like the original Amsterdam by setting up bike repair and rental facilities. Freight bike rentals, secure bike parking, and even traffic safety “gardens” on the agency’s portfolio of city lots — in short, to “support New York City’s bicycle ecosystem,” the agency said.
The 52-page RFEI, at its mildest, only seeks to “gather information and feedback from interested parties on commercially and technologically viable solutions for the provision of bicycle-related goods and services on New York City-owned properties,” but other portions of the Documents become much more poetic about the kind of transformation the city wants.
“DCAS is seeking … solutions that would result in the provision of bicycles—whether new or reclaimed— for most or all city dwellers‘ it says in the section ‘supply, salvage and repair of bicycles’. [emphasis added].
In its eight-part solicitation, the agency says it wants:
- “Wide availability of bike hire at reasonable cost” (in the section on bike retail and hire).
- “Establishing and operating facilities for the refurbishment, repair and maintenance of large numbers of bicycles” (Bike Supply, Recovery, and Repair).
- “Self-Service and Full-Service Small-Scale Bike Repair Facilities.”
- “Facilities on municipal lots where customers can rent cargo bikes” (Cargo Bike Rental).
- “Facilities where customers can safely park bicycles, e-bikes, cargo bikes and other bicycle-based cargo vehicles” (Secure Bike Parking).
- “the creation and operation of … last-mile bicycle rental facilities where a user rents a bicycle (or possibly an e-bike) for a round trip between (a) a public transport stop and (b) a destination ( or trailhead) point) up to a few miles away” (Last-Mile Bike Rental).
- “a car-free place where children up to about early middle school age can become accustomed to navigating the streets by riding or riding in child-friendly vehicles, often including bicycles” (Traffic Gardens and Amusements)
- “a system or network of facilities containing containers suitable for transport by cargo bike.” (Last-Mile Cargo Bike Container Relay Facilities)
“A safe, accessible and thriving cycling ecosystem is critical to the future of our city,” DCAS Commissioner Dawn Pinnock said in a statement leaked to Streetsblog on Thursday. “We want to use the ideas and creativity of New Yorkers to turn unused urban real estate into resources to support cycling in the five boroughs.”
The goal, Pinnock added, is to “find ways to make cycling in New York City safer, easier and more convenient and to reduce congestion on city streets.”
How this would work – how it would be “commercially viable”, as the RFEI keeps repeating – would be up to the various companies and entrepreneurs, who might end up submitting a formal proposal. For now, the city is only seeking initial interest, but apparently existing businesses are expected to have off-the-shelf solutions as final responses to this RFEI are due Oct. 21, a month after the document was released Thursday.
Don’t worry – there are companies like that.
“It’s really exciting to see city officials like DCAS recognizing that secure parking is absolutely fundamental to bike transportation,” said Shabazz Stuart, the CEO of Oonee, the bike parking company. “One in four households in New York has experienced at least one bicycle stolen. Solving this challenge will make cycling more attractive to millions of New Yorkers. We look forward to sharing our comprehensive vision for a city-wide bike parking and charging system with DCAS in our response to the RFEI.”
And a spokesman for Lyft-owned Citi Bike System said the company also saw the RFEI.
“We’re checking it out,” Jordan Levine said.
The DCAS request, which several city transit insiders said they didn’t see coming, appears to consolidate several existing city initiatives and pilot programs into one place. For example, Citi Bike already operates bike rental stations on city lots in Manhattan and parts of the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn. Oonee recently completed another pilot program with the DOT to create on-street bike parking. The DOT recently issued its own call for expressions of interest for freight companies to consider what the city’s future micro-distribution centers should look like.
And it’s not like New York is revolutionary with these calls. Solutions to all the problems outlined in the REFI have existed worldwide for many years.
“At some petrol stations in Copenhagen, you’ll find a ‘Cykelpleje’ (bicycle maintenance) installation several feet wide, attached to an outside wall,” the RFEI said in the section on minor bicycle repairs. “In some countries, notably Denmark and the Netherlands, people are more likely to use a cargo bike to “carry a sizable item (perhaps electronics, furniture, or a household appliance).
“In some parts of the world … a public transport traveler can rent a bike for the ‘last mile’ from the station to the destination and back,” the RFEI adds. “These are referred to as ‘BiTiBi’ (bike-train-bike) services when the train is the public transport used by the customer. Well developed examples are OV-Fiets in the Netherlands and Blue-Bike in Belgium.”
Written to express genuine wonder at a world where cycling is fully integrated into urban life and culture, the city RFEI laments that “New York City’s bicycle ownership rate is significantly lower than many other cities.”
One can only guess what happens next. The Department of Citywide Administrative Services declined to comment on the story. The RFEI clarifies that it is only “preliminary in nature” and is said to be a brainstorming session with the private sector. In the end, the city conceded that it might not even lead to the issuance of a formal “tender” to actually implement any of the proposed ideas.
“DCAS fully reserves the right to withdraw the RFEI at any time [and] not issue an RFP or other solicitation,” the statement said.
Such language dampened the enthusiasm of some transport insiders.
“Who knows what that is — it’s not coming through DOT, it’s not getting widespread distribution, nobody saw it coming,” said an insider, who asked not to be known because he often gets city contracts. “Is that a real thing, or is that something you testify to say, ‘See? We do something?’”
But DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez was optimistic about his brother’s efforts.
“This RFEI is the next natural step for us to find ways for urban real estate to both accommodate the bicycle boom and support its continued growth,” he told Streetsblog in a statement. “We thank Commissioner Pinnock and our partners at DCAS for this creative effort – and we look forward to seeing how stakeholders will unlock this market and how their responses may inform our future work.”
NYC DCAS Bike Request for Interest on Scribd