Shabazz Stuart is an enthusiastic cyclist, but he leaves his bike at home and hops on the C train to get to work in Downtown Brooklyn.
“I’ve had three bikes stolen in five years,” Stuart says. He’s certainly not alone: around half of all active urban cyclists have had a bike stolen. (I’ve had two pilfered in my first two years of living in New York City.) But he’s not willing to gamble his nice new road bike with those odds.
As heart-wrenching as Stuart’s multiple brushes with bike theft have been, they got him thinking: Why is this problem so prevalent? And was there something he could do to tackle it?
What Stuart landed on was the issue of secure bike parking, or more specifically, the lack of it. He, along with Manuel Mansylla, an architect whom Stuart met while working in public space design and management in Downtown Brooklyn, created Oonee, a modular bike-storage kiosk that can be easily installed and integrated into public spaces. The pilot Oonee pod will open in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in March, and from there, Stuart hopes, the kiosk will begin to pop up in cities to equip cyclists with a safe space to store their rides.
The Oonee pod is a variation on a form of bike storage that’s existed for a while: the bike cage. While certainly secure–generally, cyclists can pay a fee to lock up in a cage, for which they get a key or a door code–they’re inflexible, ugly, and rare, generally appearing only in parking garages or high-traffic areas like train stations.
Stuart wanted to create a more flexible storage unit, and one that could scale. “We had to create something that could integrate with public space, and would have something for everyone–both cyclists and other folks who are just passing by,” he says. Cyclists will access Oonee via an app, and pay a monthly membership fee to use the kiosk (the fee will be no more than $11–as much as a Netflix subscription and as much as people are generally willing to pay for such services, Stuart found out in his consumer research). Inside the kiosk, they’ll be able to lock their bikes, and eventually, Stuart says, the Oonee team is looking to partner with local bike shops to have mechanics come by and service bikes in need of repairs–say, if a cyclist got a flat tire on the ride in.
But for Oonee to really prove viable, Stuart says, the pods have to provide something for everyone, not just cyclists. “We went from thinking about secure bike parking to infrastructure that was community-centric, and public-space enhancing,” he says. He envisions that Oonee pods–because they’re modular–could attach to a coffee kiosk, for instance, and perhaps also offer mobile phone charging units on the side; chairs and coffee tables could cluster around. In that way, they could anchor an otherwise vacant swath of space.
The pods could also be branded, like bike-share systems, giving sponsoring companies and events an unconventional ad platform and providing an additional revenue stream for the company as it scales, which Stuart hopes to do so quickly. The Oonee co-founders are planning initially to market the pods to private property owners and managers, who can opt to install the kiosks without having to navigate the hurdles of getting a permit to install on public, city-run space. But eventually, once they prove the business model, Oonee pods could also start appearing in public areas.
As cycling has become the fastest-growing mode of transit in the U.S., solving the secure parking issue is only getting more crucial. Cycling is both a sustainable and efficient way to get around, and that’s reflected in how quickly its grown in popularity: Since the 1990s, the number of cyclists on the road has increased 350% in New York City, and 498% in Washington, D.C. Stuart worries that unless cities tackle bike storage, those rates will plateau. And with urban areas confronting traffic congestion issues as populations boom, they can’t afford to lose this alternative mode of transit–and cyclists can’t afford to keep losing their bikes.