New York Times
August 21, 2007
By Colin Moynihan
Emily Allen, 19, a sophomore at New York University, was surveying the rows of bicycle racks in a courtyard behind Tisch Hall over the weekend. Expensive road bikes and mountain bikes were parked there, but Ms. Allen focused on an old gold-colored bicycle with a rusted chain.
â€œThis bike has flat tires, which is usually a pretty good sign,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™m going to keep an eye on it.â€
At any given time, hundreds of bicycles are likely to be locked up in buildings or outdoor areas belonging to N.Y.U., and some of them will never be reclaimed. Instead, they will disintegrate in the elements or create obstructions in indoor areas until they are removed and thrown out by maintenance workers.
Now, the abandoned bikes have a rejuvenated future. A few months ago the university approved a plan for students to work with an environmental group to recycle those bikes in an effort to encourage cycling and also lessen the waste created by discarding them.
Last winter Ms. Allen and others submitted a grant proposal to an N.Y.U. sustainability task force of students, faculty members and administrators. She said the impetus for the idea came from her love of bikes and the dismay she felt last winter as she saw the deterioration of an abandoned bike chained up near the residence hall where she was living.
â€œThere wasnâ€™t anything I could do about it,â€ she said. â€œIt was an eyesore, and it was pretty sad watching this beautiful machine falling apart.â€
In the spring, the school approved a $5,000 grant for the bike reclamation project. A few weeks ago students began visiting outdoor courtyards and indoor storerooms and corridors belonging to the university where bikes are locked up. They attached fliers to bicycle frames reading â€œIf this bike belongs to you and is not abandoned, please tear off this flier, and it will not be removed.â€ They returned after a two-week deadline identified on the flier to take away bikes. If bicycles are removed in error, owners can notify the group by e-mail and retrieve their property.
The collected bicycles are taken to a storefront on East Houston Street used by Times Up!, an environmental organization that advocates on behalf of nonpolluting transportation. There, volunteer mechanics repair the bikes, using new parts purchased with the $5,000 grant. Times Up! will keep half of the recovered bikes and the other half will be donated in the fall to N.Y.U. freshmen who attend a workshop on how to care for and fix bikes and how to ride safely in New York.
So far, the group has collected 39 derelict bikes and expects to collect more in the coming weeks.
â€œThis one project is very successful,â€ said Jeremy Friedman, a recent graduate and the administrator for the N.Y.U. sustainability task force. â€œItâ€™s going to have a lot of good outcomes, I think, for the campus.â€
Ms. Allen was among several people who gathered recently in the Times Up! storefront, where dozens of salvaged bikes of all shapes and colors filled a courtyard in back.
Mark Simpson, 22, a bike store manager from Park Slope, Brooklyn, who helped organize the bike recovery project before he graduated from N.Y.U. this year, pointed out the cracked sidewalls, rusted chains and other mechanical problems that would be fixed. He said the group would also advise the school on creating a policy to deal with abandoned bikes, analyze patterns of bike use among students and suggest ideas to increase that use.
Inside the storefront, Bill DiPaola, the executive director of Times Up!, said the project was a natural fit for his group, which has held bike repair workshops for several years.
â€œWeâ€™re excited that N.Y.U. is looking at the increase of nonpolluting transportation as a positive,â€ he said.
In the basement, a row of recycled front wheel forks hung from a wall and plastic crates of bike parts sat near a five-foot metal cabinet with drawers holding metric wrenches, tire levers and bearings. James Brown songs blared through speakers.
Marisa McCormick, 28, of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, was laboring over a tricky caliper brake on the rear wheel of a white Peugeot bicycle, when Curtis Anderson, 28, from Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, stepped over to help.
â€œAll these bikes have been sitting out in the weather,â€ he said. â€œTheyâ€™re corroded, sticky, frozen.â€ Three mechanics gathered around the Peugeot, handing one another tools.
â€œItâ€™s like surgery,â€ Ms. McCormick said.
After a few more minutes of adjustments, Ms. McCormick spun the rear wheel of the bike and it hummed smoothly. Mr. Anderson gently squeezed the brake lever and the wheel came to a quick, sharp stop.