Abandoned bikes take up valuable cycle parking space

This article was published in 2019, in Magazine 145.

When I think that a bike left for weeks at these racks has been abandoned, I turn it upside down. This was a Raleigh Chiltern, worth around £70.
Image as described adjacent

The eight cycle parking spaces outside our house on Thoday Street provide a treasured facility on the street, filling up at night and emptying during the morning. Although designed for just eight cycles, very often we see extra bikes squeezed in by double-parking or parked at awkward angles. We keep our own bikes in the house to free up the racks for others, so it especially irks me when bikes are left abandoned but locked to the racks.

I see the bike racks every day so I notice when a bike has been unused for a week or more: in the same position on the same rack, usually leaning over a bit more or even on the ground hanging by the lock.

Abandoned bikes make the racks look a mess. Often the bikes are locked to the rack by just one wheel so the bike can move onto the footway or into the road, becoming unsightly and causing obstruction. Abandoned bikes make it harder to use the racks because they lean across the gap, restricting access. I think people in general are rather reluctant to touch or move other people’s bikes, and having to work around abandoned bikes is just plain awkward.

The design of the racks could certainly be improved to reduce the problem of over-crowding of bikes and to keep them upright, which could look a lot better than what all-too-often looks like a messy pile of bikes. When I’ve determined that a bike is abandoned I turn it upside down (if that is possible while still attached to the rack) and then everyone notices it.

If we’re to get anywhere with encouraging more cycle parking on our streets then the local authorities will need to provide a much improved service for dealing with this problem

The official way of dealing with abandoned bikes is to report them to the city council via their clunky website form. The location, description and even a photo of the problem bike can be sent to the council in this way. An automated response with a reference number comes back, and then you have to wait. Occasionally I have received a follow-up email from a customer adviser.

After a few days a city council ranger should visit to affix a yellow tag to the bike. The tag explains that the bike has been reported as abandoned and will be removed by a given date, unless the tag is removed. Almost always the bike remains in place until the given date when a council van appears, the lock is cut and the bike thrown unceremoniously onto a large pile of metallic waste on the back of the truck. What happens to it then I do not know.

On one occasion the yellow tag was removed and the bike remained on the racks.

Over the years the response by the council has varied, and recently the council has acted only after repeated badgering of their email address. On the latest occasion even that did not work so I decided to remove the bike myself. I partially dismantled the bike, which allowed the frame to be passed through the D-lock. After I reported that to the council they did respond telling me to tell the police. I did call the police on 101 and they told me that no incident had occurred and referred me back to the council.

Will I have to take the same action with the next bike that is abandoned? This can’t be right. If we’re to get anywhere with encouraging more cycle parking on our streets then I think the local authorities will need to provide a much improved service for dealing with this problem, and it is not easy to make that case in times of austerity.

Simon Nuttall