It’s never really been easy to find a place to park your bike in New York City, and now that thousands of new cyclists are riding on city streets, it’s even harder. When you get wherever you’re going, there’s a good chance there won’t be a bike rack nearby; hitching your bike to a tree or a subway railing is illegal and carries a hefty fine, and property owners with metal fences often have signs warning bikers to stay away. To make things worse, prime spots on bike racks tend to be taken up by rusting, long-abandoned bikes.
When marketing student and avid biker Pat Gamble moved to New York—and immediately noticed abandoned bikes or frames chained on racks and street posts all over the city—he decided to turn to Instagram for some help cleaning them up. For the last three weeks, he's been taking shots of "dead" bikes, tagging them #deadpedalNY, and generating a growing map of each bike's location.
"The project is an instigation to get the Department of Sanitation to pay attention to the problem," Gamble says. "But it also offers them a tool—through the map and photos, all harvested through Instagram—that they can just look at in the office and see where they need to go to focus their efforts."
Right now, if someone wants to report a dead bike through official city channels, it's a lengthy process. "It’s about a 15 to 20 minute phone call just to get them to come out and look at the bike and tag it," Gamble explains. "Then someone won't come back to pick it up until a few weeks later."
Gamble hopes that since posting to Instagram takes only a few seconds, others will be inspired to join him in crowdsourcing a full map to share with the city.
"The beautiful thing about using Instagram to address this problem is that it asks almost nothing of contributors," he says. "They can snap a photo, add a filter if they are feeling artsy, and just hashtag it. That’s it. I feel that the easier it is for people to contribute the more it will be used and the more useful the project can be."
As the weather warms, he plans to give out hanger tags at bike shops, so people can physically tag abandoned bikes on the sidewalk, and others walking by will learn about the program.
Dead Pedal NY actually isn't the first attempt to map out the city's abandoned bikes—the radio station WNYC tried something similar a couple of years ago. "I liked that they also saw the need to address the problem," Gamble says. "I feel that using Instagram and the collection process that I've made takes a lot of the steps out of the complexity of their project."
Still, some challenges remain. The biggest issue: The city won't remove bikes unless they're officially "derelict," so frames that are still in decent condition have to stay locked up. That means if the city listens, the Instagram project will only get a certain percentage of abandoned bikes off the street.
Maybe it's time someone tried pursuing another idea once proposed by the design firm Pilot Projects—since the city can't deal with abandoned bikes that aren't totally trashed, another organization could collect usable bikes for recycling. And those could be mapped on Instagram, too.