Amid all the good tidings that Red Bowl brought on Saturday was also the reality that some business owners just don't get it. At around 6pm, just around the time that Neighborhood Bike Works was shutting down their valet bike parking, the valets and manager of the Cescaphé Ballroom next door to North Bowl Lanes came out with bolt cutters to cut the lock of a bike parked to a tree-guard in front of their establishment, citing bikes parked on private property. Fortunately we were able to convince them to wait until we paged the owner, who came out and moved the bike.
The question always arises as to whether business owners, building managers and even angry homeowners have the right to confiscate bicycles parked in the public right of way. The answer is not as clear as we would like it to be, however in many cases Pennsylvania law protects the bicyclists:
PA Consolidated Statutes -Title 75
Section 3509. Parking.
(1) A person may park a pedalcycle on a sidewalk unless prohibited or restricted by an official traffic-control device.
(2) A pedalcycle parked on a sidewalk shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of pedestrian or other traffic.
Official traffic-control device refers to the responsible government agency- the Streets Dept, Parking Authority or PENNDOT. But the case with Cescaphé is not cut and dry. The private property argument arose when we asked as why they were cutting bike locks. The law does not specifically address fences, tree guards and street trees. The tree guard that the cyclist locked to may be private property but it may also have been part of a streetscape project paid for with public money. Cescaphé is not alone here, in the past we got wind of security warnings and lock cuttings taking place at the American Physicians Building, WHYY, Hopkinson House, several office complexes on JFK Blvd and Market St West and even Lincoln Financial Field.
The lack of bike parking in Northern Liberties is the root of the problem. More bike racks and a bikes in buildings ordinance would bring this silly culture war to an end. However it will be a long time before bike parking is everywhere so the issue of "who can confiscate bikes when" needs to be addressed. It is also important to report these incidents to the Police.
And a final point that shouldn't be overlooked, North Bowl was able to comfortably park nearly 200 bikes in its tiny 8 car parking lot (0.1 acres). Cescaphé was hosting a wedding and probably had to pay a huge chunk of change to park 100 cars in a nearby lot, taking up a full acre of land. It's the economy of bikes that makes them so useful in the city.
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The tree guard just to the left of the North Bowl parking lot is where Cescaphé Ballroom employees came out with bolt cutters to remove a bike.