Better than nothing?

After not being let into Yankee Stadium with a bike helmet three weeks ago, and having to abandon my bike helmet outside of the stadium (it was stolen), I wrote to Mayor Bloomberg’s office extolling the virtues of Citibike and suggesting that, as bikes get more popular in New York City, the Mayor’s Office should consider looking at rules to allow bike helmets in major city establishments (museums, stadiums, libraries, etc.).

I just got a reply:

From: Customer_Service-KG, <>
Date: Thu, Sep 19, 2013 at 1:23 PM
Subject: 13-9288 re: General Information/bike helmet

Dear Mr. Dichter:

Your email message to Mayor Bloomberg of September 4, 2013 concerning the Yankees’ refusal to allow you to bring your bike helmet into Yankee Stadium was referred to the Department of Transportation.

DOT encourages all cyclists to wear helmets. Commuter cycling increased 262% in New York City from 2000 to 2010. With more bikes on the road, smart cycling is even more crucial to making New York City’s streets safer for everyone using them.

However, we have no control over policies established by Yankee Stadium in prohibiting certain items that the Yankees consider security risks. If you wish to contact the Yankees to discuss this issue you can use the contact form on the Yankees web site at

Thank you for your concern in this matter.

Customer Service Division

New York City Department of Transportation

So I get that it’s a big bureaucracy and someone has written a rule that says that replying to all the letters that come in is a good thing. Let’s quickly agree, in hindsight, that this letter is worse than nothing, and let’s use this as an opportunity to remember that every time anyone in our organization speaks they speak for the whole organization, whether we like it or not. This means that our most important people are the ones who talk to our customers, and it’s high time we train and empower them to use their brains.

What baffles me with this particular letter is, if they’re going to write this sort of response, why didn’t they just take it all the way? Something like:

From: Customer_Service-KG, <>
Date: Thu, Sep 19, 2013 at 1:23 PM
Subject: 13-9288 re: General Information/bike helmet

Dear Mr. Dichter,

Thank you for riding bikes. You wrote to Mayor Bloomberg about your bike-riding and helmet-using, and we at the New York City Department of Transportation are responsible for transportation. Bike-riding therefore falls under our jurisdiction.

We, like you, love bikes, and we are glad that you are riding a bike. You’re not the only one. More people are riding bikes than ever before – lots more! As you can imagine, the more bikers there are, the more chance there is that a bike runs into a bike, or into a car, or even into a person. Sometimes, even, people on bikes just crash for no good reason. It’s terrible when that happens, so it’s good to wear a bike helmet. We are glad that you are wearing a bike helmet and we hope you will continue to do so.

As you can imagine, no matter how much we love biking, and regardless of the fact that biking falls under our jurisdiction at the Department of Transportation, it’s not baseball and it never will be. We’re actually surprised that you don’t know this. Baseball is played in stadiums, and the Yankees in particular play in Yankee Stadium. That stadium is owned by the Yankees, and they make the rules for Yankee Stadium. These rules include the kinds of items, including bike helmets, that can and cannot be brought into Yankee Stadium. They are also responsible for anything that has to do with security, or baseball, in Yankee Stadium. In fact, every single thing that goes at Yankee Stadium is their responsibility, not ours, and they make the rules. So it’s best to talk to them about this issue or about any other issue that concerns doing things in Yankee Stadium, bringing things into Yankee Stadium, or the Yankees. We hope that’s clear to you now.

The good news is that the Yankees have a website, and we even looked it up for you by using Google. The website address is

(If that website address is wrong, however, please do not contact us, or the Yankees. In that case you should contact Google. Unfortunately we don’t know how to get in touch with them.)

We wish you the best of luck in contacting the Yankees, and we encourage you to purchase a new bike helmet since bike use is up and bike safety is important to us at the Department of Transportation! However, just to be clear, what you do at Yankee Stadium is your own damn business.

If you have any additional questions involving bikes or anything else involving transportation of any kind in New York City, feel free to contact us.

Thank you for your concern in this matter.

Customer Service Division

New York City Department of Transportation

Joking aside, getting this sort of correspondence right isn’t difficult.

For example, on Friday I had trouble getting a bike out of a dock at Citibike and was worried that my key was blocked for some reason. Here’s the reply I got from NYC Bike Share (which runs Citibike):

Thank you for contacting NYC Bike Share we have reviewed your account and od onto show any open trips or your key being deactivated. Please try your key again at a different station and on multiple bikes, any bike with a steady red light before inserting your key is out of service. If it still does not work for you such as not getting any lights, or never getting the green light please contact us and we will replace your key.

For additional comments or inquiries, please respond to this email. Please sign up for our e-mail list and visit our website regularly for updates.



Customer Service

I received this email three hours after I emailed them (three hours!), and I was so happy with the response that I wrote back:

thanks I really appreciate this note – I’ll try again on Monday when I’m back in the city.


Get this, they’re not stopping there – they replied to that note too!

Dear Sasha,

Thank you for conatcting NYC Bike Share.

We will be awating your call to let us know weather or not your key is working so that we can have a new key sent out to you if need be.


Chris E.

So here’s the big question for the folks at the DoT: do I care that April has a typo in her email and Chris E. didn’t spell “contacting” “awaiting” or “whether” right? Of course not. What I care about is a timely and substantive response that sounds like it was written by a human being, and if anything the fact that there are errors means each note isn’t going through four reviews before being sent out. The extra note saying “we’re awaiting your call”…can you imagine such a sentence feeling real in the DoT note? Not only did they not write that, they couldn’t have because I would have never believed that they want to hear from me ever again, nor would I ever want to write to them again.

Keep it human, every time, or don’t bother writing back.

(end of rant)

The Yankees put safety first

I’m no big baseball fan, but I was excited to go to a friend’s surprise 40th birthday party at Yankee stadium the other night. In addition to wanting to celebrate with a friend, it felt like a very New York thing to do.

I happily rediscovered that Yankee stadium is really easy to get to by public transportation – Google maps told me I could take any of three subway routes or Metro North. I got there from downtown Manhattan in 30 minutes, taking the A train to 145th street and transferring to the B train along with the guy in the Yankee’s jersey who was trading stories with his 9-year-old daughter who was going with him to the game.

I got off at 161st street and I made my way to Gate 4. There was a guy inspecting each bag perfunctorily and asking each person to turn on their cellphone, which I didn’t pay any attention to until he told me I couldn’t bring my bike helmet into the stadium.

My bike helmet? The bike helmet I wear so that I can use the Citibikes that are Mayor Bloomberg’s pride and joy?

“Why?” I asked.

“It’s a security risk….If you like you can talk to my supervisor.”

The supervisor was worse. He talked to me for a minute, then got a call on his cellphone and disappeared. I waited. Five minutes later I went back to the first guy and asked for the supervisor again. When he came back out, my pleas notwithstanding, he told me there was no way the helmet could come in, no way they could hang on to it for 5 minutes while I got my friend’s car keys to put it in her car, no way I could leave it behind one of the many desks in the lobby. What I could do was go to the nearest locker, which apparently was seven blocks away at a bar.

“What do you suggest I do?” I asked.

“What you do with your property is not my concern, sir.”

(I beg to differ. I didn’t have a “disposing of or storing my innocuous property” problem until I bumped into you.)

So there I am, outside of Yankee stadium, the clock ticking on the “surprise” moment in the surprise birthday party, with an apparently illicit mostly-foam bike helmet that I have no way to store or dispose of. I wish I’d known at the time that there is no mention whatsoever of bike helmets not being allowed in Yankee Stadium on the Yankee Stadium Security Policies web page (though it says laptops are not permitted, and they are), but I didn’t. So instead I pleaded a bit more, I asked for more explanation, and I’m told that a bike helmet can be used as a weapon, at which point it also didn’t occur to me to say that a beer bottle would be a better weapon, as would a full soda can, both of which I later had access to inside the stadium.

Trapped, powerless, and out of time, I gave in. I walked 20 yards to a nearby lamp post and clipped the helmet on to it, assuming I’d never see the helmet again but secretly hoping that the better angels of human nature would prevail; that something hidden in plain sight would somehow be overlooked; or that the surly supervisor would surreptitiously keep an eye on my helmet for me (it was in his line of sight), as a sort of karmic payback for being so woefully unhelpful and unsympathetic.

Sadly, there was no happy ending. When I got back a couple of hours later the helmet was gone.

The helmet only cost me 30 bucks at Dick’s Sporting Goods, and this is mostly a trivial story – except for how patently absurd the whole thing is, how an incredibly low bar wasn’t crossed by anyone who could have said “hey, this is crazy, go ahead” or “let me help in some small way,” and how it’s so easy to have rules and institutions and just a little bit of power, be abused, even in the smallest of ways.

And, if Citibike is going to become a real part of the fabric of New York City life, perhaps our fine Mayor, as a parting gesture, could mandate a blanket permission for bike helmets to be allowed in buildings, museums, and, yes, stadiums.

Otherwise, pretty soon I’ll get sick of buying new helmets, and will be tempted to flaunt all the rules and sit outside the game with my helmet and a 32 ounce soda, jeering.