Plethora of Abandoned Bikes Creates Eyesore for City Streetscape

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Thursday, June 6, 2019, 10:18 am
Andrew Graham

Racks on Grand River Avenue with bicycles that appear to have been left behind. (Photos courtesy of Tim Potter)

In response to a recent complaint from a bicycling advocate, the City’s Parking and Code Enforcement (PACE) department addressed the large number of abandoned bikes scattered among streetside racks.

Tim Potter filed his complaint on May 22, noting in his email to ELi that “Simply checking the box that the City has bike racks isn’t the mark of a truly bike friendly community. They need to maintain what little they’ve got in place for the public to use.”

Potter also included several photos of racks littered with apparently abandoned bikes, which he also sent to City officials.

In the wake of Potter’s complaint PACE has closely monitored Grand River Avenue, an area Potter specifically cited in his message.

According to PACE supervisor Eldon Evans, the policy for dealing with abandoned bikes is to tag them, then check again in 48 hours. If the tag has been removed, that signals to PACE that the bike is being attended to. If the tag remains, the bike will be impounded, even if it is locked. (PACE can cut regular padlocks but calls the Department of Public Works to cut through the stronger U-locks, Evans said.)

Potter questions the effectiveness of this policy because a tag can be removed from a bike without tires or a chain, with rust from tip to tail, and PACE will deem that bike to not be abandoned.

“If the bike is usable, and looks like it can be ridden, we leave those alone,” Evans said.

Michigan State University – where Potter serves as the sustainable transportation manager at the Bike Service Center – includes a note on its tagged bikes that explains what must be fixed in order for them to not be impounded.

Evans maintains that PACE officers look for abandoned bikes while patrolling the city, a notion Potter disputes.

“It’s so obvious when a bike is abandoned,” Potter said.

PACE's large sweeps tied to end of MSU semesters

According to Evans, PACE will do a large sweep at the end of the winter, when bikes left to weather the snow and ice are broken down and easily removable, as well as at the end of the MSU spring semester, when some students typically leave bikes behind.

Otherwise, it’s up to residents or passersby to file a complaint in order to get bikes tagged and, ultimately, removed. Potter believes bicycle abandonment is a year-round problem that should be regularly addressed.

“They just have to have a systematic way to deal with it,” Potter said.

Section 50-820 of the City’s Ordinances reads, “It shall be the responsibility of both the owner and occupant of any multiple-family or nonresidential premises to provide on-site storage facilities for bicycles.”

Potter said he’s encountered privately owned bike racks at local businesses overrun with abandoned bicycles. When he asks a manager or employee to address the issue, he said, the usual answer is that it’s the landlord’s problem to deal with.

The ultimate issue, Potter said, is that by simply having some bike parking, that requirement of the ordinances is met, and he hopes to see a resolution adding maintenance as a condition of the code.

“I sincerely doubt that they’d let abandoned motor vehicles remain for one week in any of the car parking lots that the City owns,” Potter said in his email to ELi. “So why let these public amenities languish like this?”


Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Tim Potter said East Lansing could be in danger of losing its current designation as a “bronze” level bike friendly community by the League of American Bikers. That has been removed because Potter says he did not suggest that. © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info