The United Nations is celebrating the World Bicycle Day tomorrow and urging people to get on their bikes to help fight climate change, but apparently you're not allowed to do that if you’re in the UN headquarters campus in Manhattan, New York.
If you’re a cyclist, you are barred from entering the campus for “security reasons” and have to park your bike five blocks away from the main entrance in a separate bike storage area. However, as RTE reports, drivers in their cars, or their shiny black SUVs can go straight in, and even have a parking garage directly beneath the International-style building.
In April, the UN installed a handful of bike racks within its gates after pressure from a group of cycling advocates in the UN, but they were made accessible only to high-ranking officials like ambassadors and deputy ambassadors, not for delegates, members of the General Assembly, other UN staff, or journalists. The move has been criticised by many.
Udo Fenchel, a member of the United Nations from Germany said: “This is really VIP parking for very high-ranking members.
“With a car and motorcycle you can easily access the UN garage, which is basically underneath the Secretariat building. You can either take the elevator or use the staircase, you’re not even exposed to weather or anything. It’s much more convenient.
“There are slogans about greening, sustainability, and sustainable development. They banned single-use plastic from the compound and whatnot, but this is a very conservative and unresponsive attitude towards this bike and bike parking situation. It is unclear to me why this is the case.”
A large group of ambassadors to the @UN is now making the case for bicycle access at the UNHQ. Hopefully, their clear message will help identifying the missing link so we don’t compete to park in the bus stop just outside.
♫ I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike ♫ pic.twitter.com/3cOwYd8liB
— Cornel Feruta (@CornelFeruta) February 10, 2023
Cornel Feruță, Romania’s ambassador to the UN was one of the members involved in pressuring the body to install the bike racks within its grounds, but he said there’s a long way to go.
“As ambassadors we can always access the compound through the main gate in our official cars, and I find it unfair, to say the minimum, to not be able to access the same gate by other means, environmentally-friendly means, like the bicycle,” he said.
He added: “I’m sure there is much more we can do as individuals and professionals and we can provide a good example to others. It’s striking because you have, on the one hand, very lofty and ambitious objectives that we put on papers and high-level statements, but when it comes to delivering, it’s a major gap.”
The General Assembly had earlier endorsed a recommendation to ease bicycle, e-bikes and e-scooter access within the Headquarters, but according to employees and documents, Secretary-General António Guterres has failed to provide such a proposal, instead telling the committee that “any upgrade to existing infrastructures to accommodate bicycle parking would require extensive planning and resources to mitigate security risks”.
Despite a GA-endorsed recommendation by the #ACABQ there‘s no action by @UN_OpSupport to achieve transport equity at UNHQ. Other duty stations provide safe and accessible bike parking, yet #UN in NY exile bike riders to a deserted area next to the FDR North ramp. #WorldBicycleDay pic.twitter.com/e5aAJ8s5e4
— Udo Fenchel (@foeniculum) June 3, 2022
Last November, the United Nations also banned any e-bikes, or even any folding bikes from its entire campus, citing the rising number of fires stemming from lithium-ion batteries. However, Teslas and other electric vehicles are allowed.
At a news briefing on Wednesday, spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, another cycling advocate within the UN, told reporters that Guterres had put forward a budget proposal to expand bike parking for all staff, including reporters, and move it closer to the main entrance.
“We want to see greater bike access. We want to be more bike friendly. We want to be more friendly, full stop,” Dujarric said. “And this is a step in the right direction.”
Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after completing his masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He also covers local and national politics for Voice Wales, and sometimes writes about science, tech and the environment. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him riding his bike on the scenic routes, fighting his urge to stop pedalling and click photographs (apparently not because he's bonking).