how to interpret flat tires

A friend just alerted me to this bit in the NYTimes Magazine:

I locked my bicycle to a fence outside my building a few times over two weeks. One morning, it was gone. My landlady had the police remove it, claiming she tried to alert the owner by letting the air out of the tires. She left no note. At the precinct, an officer said she told them the bike had been there for three months. Fortunately, I reclaimed it undamaged. Unfortunately, the police cut the locks: replacement costs are $150. Should my landlady cover that? NAME WITHHELD, NEW YORK

I don’t understand how flattening the tires says, “Please move your bicycle,” but then I have trouble with nonverbal languages like the raised eyebrow, the crisp uppercut and the hula.

You are not entitled to store your bike on your landlady’s private property. She has the legal right to ask the police to haul it off to bike jail. But ethics take a less sanguine view of her conduct. Your landlady made no meaningful effort to contact you and, if your account is accurate — hers might differ — she filed what amounts to a false police report. She should do more than contribute to your bill; she should replace the locks, apologize and maybe sew some new curtains for your apartment, to expiate her misconduct. Or do some sort of dance that would communicate remorse (to erudite Hawaiians, if not to me).

There is no citywide policy covering situations like yours, according to the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, but Manhattan’s Ninth Precinct has adopted a prudent approach. Transportation Alternatives wrote in a recent issue of its magazine that, upon receiving a complaint, the police put a note on the bike “alerting the owner that the bike will be removed after 10 days.” The assumption is that if the bike belongs to someone, its owner will see the notice and remove the bike; if it’s abandoned, the police will then remove it. In your case, the police should have acted similarly. Conflicts like this could be reduced if the city provided sufficient spots for cyclists to lock their bikes. Happily, the Department of Transportation is installing many more bike racks around town.

UPDATE: The cyclist asked her landlady to replace the bike locks; the landlady refused.

Humor aside, this does raise some issues in a city like Adrian where bike racks seem few and far between. Is this an opportunity for civil disobedience, a chance to raise awareness, and/or potential leverage for securing bike racks, e.g., by means of supporting more faithfully and generously businesses that provide them? What are your thoughts?


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