Outcry Forces City to Address Lock-Cutting Policy

By JOANNA DETZ/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — At a recent meeting of the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission (BPAC), members brought in Public Works Department environmental supervisor Leo Perrotta to address a rash of city-sanctioned bike-lock cutting that had left the biking community angry.

In early May, Jack Madden, owner of Legend Bicycle on Brook Street, had been hearing a number of complaints of bike-lock cutting occurring in College Hill and the Knowledge District. Rumors had been going around that the city's Public Works Department was cutting bikes locked to signs. So Madden put up a post on Legend Bicycle’s Facebook page asking if others had been noticing this trend.

Comments from his customers ensued. According to Madden, one had parked her bike on Point Street near Olga’s for less than an hour and returned to find the lock on her bike cut. Another claimed to have seen a public works employee on South Main Street last year cutting the locks of any bike locked to street signs. ecoRI News spoke to the director of the Public Works Department who affirmed bike locks were being cut when they were deemed to be causing damage to street signs.

At last week's meeting, Perrotta acknowledged the issue and blamed it on one public works employee who he said had a tendency to cut locks of bikes chained to parking meters. He said the employee had been reprimanded and the policy suspended altogether.

Perrotta said that in the case of bike-lock cutting, typically the department is issued a work order to remove a specific abandoned bicycle. But he said there was never a blanket policy to remove bikes locked to signs.

"The only time a bike lock should be cut is when we give a work order for it," he said. "It should only happen when a bike is abandoned, has no tires or has been stripped."

When asked by BPAC member Eric Weis if it was "fair to say this (lock cutting) was a rogue action," Perrotta replied in the affirmative.

Perrotta's statements didn't quite jive with statements given to ecoRI News when it reported the story last month.

William Bombard, acting director of the city's Public Works Department, said then:

“One of the staffers from traffic engineering noted locations where bikes were causing damage to signs, so he cut the locks so (the bikes) wouldn’t cause more damage,” Bombard said. “If the sign isn't that sturdy, or if there's an excessive number of bikes that are causing the sign to lose its structural integrity, rather than replace the sign, we cut the bike locks."

Regardless of the real reason for the bike-lock cutting, Perrotta assured BPAC and the bicycling community that bikers should no longer fear locking their bikes to city signs, but he still cautioned, "Just be cognizant of the fact that there are times we have to repair signs when a pole is damaged." So bikers may want to avoid locking bikes to damaged street signs.

"To me this is not a problem as long as my employees are under control," Perrotta said.