New venture offers secure bike parking

Oonee co-founders Shabazz Stewart, left, and J. Manuel Mansylla outside the first Manhattan location of their new, secure bike-parking pods, in Lower Manhattan. Photos by Sydney Pereira

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | The third time was the charm.

After Shabazz Stuart had three bikes stolen within five years, the entrepreneur decided that cyclists need a secure space to park their rides.

Three years ago, Stuart began working to launch Oonee — a subscription-based parking garage for bikes. After a pilot of the garage-like pod in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Oonee has launched its first location in Manhattan at Water-Whitehall Plaza on Oct. 22 through a partnership with the local business improvement district, the Downtown Alliance. And Stuart said lots of city cyclists are eager to take the new service for a spin.

“The response has been overwhelming so far,” said Stuart.

The way people move around the city and use public space is changing quickly, said Oonee co-founder J. Manuel Mansylla, and Oonee’s pods are designed specifically to address those needs.

“Infrastructure can’t be the way it used to,” he said.

Mansylla, who also founded the design firm Totem, is the brains behind the pods’ design, which can be expanded or shortened depending on need. The pods are also not permanently fixed to the ground, but rather secured in place by water-filled Jersey barriers.

“We need something that is going to be as fast and dynamic and flexible as we are,” he said.

The Downtown pod is already at capacity, according to Mansylla, with some 50 subscribers who will share 20 spots inside.

Oonee’s Shabazz Stewart explains how the bike-parking pod works to an interested passerby.

“We need a sustainable place where we can park our bicycles,” said Frederick Cordner, one of Oonee’s first subscribers and a Newark resident who commutes to Lower Manhattan. “I feel it’s a great step forward.”

Colin Hong, a West Villager who works in Tribeca and comes to Lower Manhattan regularly for lunch with friends, is also a subscriber.

“I’ve had bikes stolen before, so I’m just a little more paranoid than usual,” said Hong.

Stuart and Mansylla are betting that cyclists are willing to pay $4.99 a month for a spot in the pod, with the first month free. Oonee also offers day passes for $1 and weekly passes for $2.50 during off-peak times.

“I got into this project to provide affordable cycle parking on scale — for everyone,” Stuart said.

The company plans to expand to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn and Queens Place Mall next year, according to Stuart, through an agreement with Madison International Realty, which owns both, and several other sites are in the works.

“It doesn’t really help if there’s only one,” Stuart said.

But in the heart of crowded Lower Manhattan, Stuart had a lot of trouble securing space for his parking pod. Conversations usually stop at the first email, according to Stuart, because property owners are hesitant to cede precious outdoor space to an untried venture. The Downtown Alliance has been the most supportive, he said.

“Our partnership with Oonee allows us to offer a low-cost solution to answer one of our biking community’s biggest concerns — bike security,” said Downtown Alliance President Jessica Lappin.

The private use of this public space at Water-Whitehall Plaza is allowed through an agreement between the Department of Transportation and the Downtown Alliance. Though the plaza is city property, the Downtown Alliance has a concession agreement to operate, manage and maintain the space, according to DOT spokesperson Alana Morales. The Alliance can make commercial contracts for use of the plaza, but all revenue must be used for the plaza’s maintenance and management, she said.

“All of the money from Oonee goes to fund maintenance of all the D.O.T. plazas that we oversee in the district,” said Alliance spokesperson Elizabeth Lutz. “Currently there are two of them — Water-Whitehall Plaza and Coenties Slip.”

Alliance chief spokesman Andy Breslau said that he is “particularly stoked” that Downtown’s first Oonee pod is located across from the Staten Island Ferry, which he thinks will go a long way to promote cycling as a transportation option in Lower Manhattan.

“If biking is ever really going to reach a maximum,” said Breslau, “bike parking has to be solved.”

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