Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Park Slope Food Co-op Introduced Valet Bike Parking

“Hey, would you like me to park your bike for you?”

Ever fantasized about hearing these words as you wander around looking for a dependable utility pole you can entrust your bike to? Well, members of the Park Slope Food Co-op on Union Street may be able to kiss those heavy chain locks and removable front wheels goodbye, at least while they’re grocery shopping.

On Saturday, Oct. 18 the co-op held a one-day trial for free valet bike parking. The trial, which ran from noon to 5 p.m., was devised by an exploratory committee of the co-op set up to encourage people to ride their bikes.

“We feel there are a lot of people who would ride their bikes here but don’t because of theft and the difficulty of finding a spot to park your bike,” said Ken Coughlin, a member of the co-op for 20 years and a member of the board of directors at Transportation Alternatives, a biking advocacy group.

So, the Shop and Cycle Committee is looking to remove any obstacles keeping members from pedaling their way to this members-only organic market, which is now in its fourth decade and has close to 14,000 members.

“To properly lock a bike in New York City, it can take four or five minutes,” noted Coughlin.
The committee is also trying to increase the number of bike racks on the street. “We think it’s an ‘if you build it, they will come’ sort of thing,” he says.

Transportation Alternatives, which does valet bike parking at many of its events, provided “tech support” for Saturday’s trial. They lent the co-op a tent for the informational booth and the temporary bike rack, which is the same type used at triathlons.

For “valet tickets,” the committee re-used plastic yogurt lids and wrote the names of fruits or vegetables on them. So if a member was handed “watercress,” the valet hooked an identical one on the bike so the right person could reclaim it.

As of about 3:30 p.m., 40 bikes had used the service, and at one point the rack was at capacity, according to co-op member Lloyd Hicks, pictured above.

“It is a bit of a pain to find a spot,” said member Amy Wolfe after handing off her bike to the valet. “This is a very good service,” added her companion, Bennett Baumer.

The hope of the committee is that the co-op will adopt this as a shift. Part of being a member means that you have to work a shift at the co-op once every four weeks—and with so many members, the co-op has quite a work force and can explore offering such a seemingly luxurious service— for free, no less.

“If we succeed in shifting some co-op members from cars or shopping on foot to bikes, this will also make the streets safer for cyclists in general because studies show that the more cyclists on the streets, the safer it is for all of them,” said Coughlin.

“It’s a form of transportation that is better for our city and our world than driving a car, for a host of reasons, including cleaner air, less reliance on oil and safer, human-scale streets,” he added.

Photo and story by
Phoebe Neidl

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