26 August 2010

PSA: Bike parking at NY Ave. Station is not safe—avoid if possible

Three bikes: two vandalized, one attempted.
Examine the photograph at the right. Is it an art installation, or is it vandalized private property? If you guessed the latter, you're right.

These are the bike racks near the northern entrance to the New York Avenue/Florida Avenue/Gallaudet University metro station. I've written before about bicycle parking at this station, and I've noted that bicycles get stolen (or at least have parts stolen off them) with alarming frequency here.

On my way home from work Tuesday, I found that someone had attempted to steal my bicycle. I had a rear wheel stolen here in the spring, and since then I've taken the time to make sure that my front and rear wheels are locked, in addition to the bicycle frame. This time, they got far enough to remove the rear axle before realizing they weren't going to be able to get anything of value. The axle was left on the ground, and the the wheel had been pulled from the frame, but the U-lock prevented its removal.

Previously, I had asked the station manager how to get abandoned bicycle frames removed. I also asked whether there was any regular patrol of this area, which is somewhat hidden from sight. To say that he was unhelpful would be too kind and diplomatic. My experience with metro station managers leads me to believe that many of them serve little more purpose than filling the empty space inside a reflective vest.

Earlier this month, when parts were stolen from the bike on the left, I reported it to the Metro Transit Police. Nothing happened. This time, I called again and complained about the lack of action, noted a clear pattern, and asked that something be done. I finally saw some action on Wednesday morning.

First two images: removal notice from MTPD. The third is from DDOT.

The Metro Transit Police placed the orange notice on the latest vandalized bike. It is now considered abandoned property and will be removed by the end of next week. The other bike has a removal notice from DDOT. I'm not sure why there are two different agencies responding to the same situation, but I'll be happy to see these bikes removed. Leaving them there is a prime example of broken windows theory. Thieves can see that the area is not cared for, which does nothing to discourage criminal behavior.

Metro vehicles serve as a virtual wall,
shielding criminals from the eyes of the public.
The fact remains that this is currently a dangerous place to park a bicycle. To the best of my knowledge, there are no regular patrols here. The bike racks are out of the sight of most foot traffic—you can't really see them from the cafe and coffee shop around the corner. The biggest problem is that Metro employees still park their cars on the sidewalk, creating a wall that hides criminal activity.

Until Metro gets on the ball and actually enforces common-sense rules, like requiring its employees to park cars in real parking spaces, this isn't a smart place to park a bicycle. If you are going to park here, ABSOLUTELY make sure you use both a cable lock and a U-lock AT THE MINIMUM to secure your bike. Lock up your seat and remove any accessories. There is a professional bike thief at work here, and he knows that he can act with impunity (the thefts I've seen have all happened sometime between noon and 6 pm—broad daylight).


  1. Time for a good sting operation.

  2. Time to start beating bike theives.

  3. frustrated metro riderAugust 26, 2010 at 10:04 AM

    I think you need to continue the thread about absolutely worthless metro station managers in a separate post. Has anyone EVER had an encounter with one who was helpful or even remotely respectful of your concerns? This is obviously an exaggeration as I'm sure there are good station managers out there as well, but I've never met one but have had many unpleasant encounters.

    The metro system is terribly underfunded - why are these people employed to do nothing but sit around and piss off the customers when these resources could go toward much more productive investments?

  4. I used to park my bike at the rack on the southern side of the station, near the M St. entrance. The thieves slowly chipped away at it. First, they stole the bolt that connects the handlebars to the frame, completely detaching them from the bike and making for a fun 10 block walk home with a disabled bike in tow. Next they stole my padded seat cover, which, arguably I should not have left with the bike in the first place, but I didn't think I'd have to bolt it down. Then they swiped the $3 velcro-on flashing lights attached to the frame. And, for the final act - I got off the metro one day to find the whole damn bike had been stolen. Hardly surprising considering the chain of events over the previous few months, but still infuriating. I talked to the station manager - who sits in a booth that is no more than 25 feet from the bike racks and has an unobstructed view - and he was completely unhelpful.
    I haven't bothered to replace the bike since I used it primarily for riding to the Metro and back and assumed a new bike would just suffer a similar fate.

  5. Both people I know who parked bikes at this Metro, myself and a friend, have had things stolen and no longer use the racks. I had a seat stolen and friend lost the unsecured rear wheel (not a clip release). I reported to MTPD, nothing happened. First and only thing the manager said was "you know we can't see over there [so don't blame me]." Transit cop suggested that a friend was playing a prank on me by stealing my seat. Clearly not a bike rider.

  6. Please make sure you have provided feedback regarding unsatisfactory customer service so we can endeavor to address any training issues regarding with our personnel. Thank you for riding Metro!

  7. I rent one of the bike lockers at that station. Used to be well worth it at $70 a year. However I just got a notice that the rate is almost tripling to $200 per year. I had figured when I was up for renewal I'd just start using the free racks. After this post I'm thinking maybe I'll just walk.

  8. NoMa BID ambassadors patrol the Metro plaza and public space throughout the BID on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Our ambassadors are aware of this issue and will be giving extra attention to bike racks near the station. NoMa BID staff and ambassadors also report stolen/vandalized bikes to MPD and DDOT for removal; bikes are removed 10 days after they are reported and tagged. The best way to report bikes on WMATA property is on their Web site.

  9. some good responsiveness from noma bid and metro here. shows the power of blogging. everyone commenting here should follow up with ms. davis. hopefully metro will have a rep re-post a comment with a name attached (anonymous replies feel like automated responses, btw, metro)

  10. Yeah, I definitely had not only my bike seat but the back tire stolen off my bike in broad f-ing daylight last week. I wish I would have read this article before then. I'd like to be positive and think that we could do something proactive about this, but let's not kid ourselves. Metro employees are apathetic at best and bikes are easy targets. Thanks again, Metro. 'preciate ya.

  11. Bike theft in DC is the number one determent to me using a bike for pretty much anything. My bike is secured at my house and at my office and those are the only places I will park it. I would like to use it for going shopping, the museums on the weekends, etc but there is no question of "if" it will be stolen again, only "when" will it be stolen/vandalized again.

    It's a tough nut and I am curious how other cities have tackled this problem.


You can be curmudgeonly too, but let's try to be civil and constructive here, ok?