Dozens of rusted, broken bicycles have been locked to fixtures on public property in Portland for weeks, months and in some cases years.

But the city has been unable to remove them because there are no policies or procedures in place that allow it to legally do so.

That could change next month if the Portland City Council adopts an ordinance that would empower police officers and city employees to cut the chains and locks that hold the abandoned bikes in place and remove them.

The proposal was unanimously recommended for approval by members of the City Council’s Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee last month and has the backing of at least one cycling advocacy group.

“We think it’s a great idea,” said Brian Allenby, spokesman for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, which is based in Portland on Preble Street. “If there is just one bicycle out there that doesn’t have a rider on it, then it’s a loss.”

Under the proposed ordinance, an abandoned bike would be defined as any bike locked in the same location on public property for one month or longer that meets at least two of the following criteria: it has no tires or wheels; its handlebars, seat or wheels are warped or missing; it is inoperative because its chain is missing, rusted or broken; it has a visible layer of dust on the seat or handlebars.

The city’s Department of Public Services would tag a suspected abandoned bicycle. Its owner then would have 72 hours to remove it. If the bike is not removed, the city could take it and store it for a minimum of 30 days.

Unclaimed bikes would be donated to a local nonprofit that specializes in refurbishing bicycles.

The abandoned bicycle ordinance was presented to the City Council at its Monday night meeting for a first reading. A second reading and final vote could be taken at the council’s next meeting, on April 6.

SPACE TIGHT AT BIKE RACKS

City officials say they have received numerous inquiries and complaints from residents regarding bikes that have been locked and abandoned on public property. Many of those complaints concern high visibility locations such as the Casco Bay Municipal Ferry Terminal and the ferry landing on Peaks Island.

Lisa Penalver, who lives on Peaks Island, has grown so tired of the bikes locked to the rack that she started putting yellow surveyor tape on the collection of ragtag bicycles. The rack is located near the ferry loading dock, the gateway to the island community.

Penalver’s thinking was that any owner who wanted to use their bike would remove the tape. That was last October. Six months later, more than 25 bikes still have tape on them.

“Some of them have been there more than a year. You can tell because their wheels and chains have fallen off,” said Penalver, a member of the Peaks Island Council.

Space on the rack is limited and Penalver points out that many islanders ride and need a place to secure their bikes.

“It’s valuable real estate,” she said. “I am really looking forward to the day the city can remove these bikes because they are an eyesore.”

The situation is much the same at the Casco Bay Lines terminal on the mainland. Bike rack space is at a premium even in mid-March. Two racks under the roof outside the terminal on Commercial Street are filled with bicycles of all kinds that might be considered abandoned under the city’s proposed policy. A few don’t even have wheels, gears or seats – all that remains is a frame.

Some bikes are chained to a fence because the racks are full.

Many others have clearly been sitting there a while. They have rusty chains and soft tires. However, it’s not immediately clear in many cases if they are abandoned or just left for the winter by islanders or summer visitors.

Other apparently abandoned bikes are scattered around downtown. One red 10-speed Shogun is chained to a tree on Exchange Street in the heart of the Old Port. It’s obvious that the bike hasn’t moved for a while. The back tire is flat and the front tire is partly buried in what remains of the snowbank.

The city will select a community organization to refurbish the bikes after issuing a request for proposals and reviewing the possible uses for the bicycles, according to Bruce Hyman, Portland’s transportation program manager.

Allenby, of the Bicycle Coalition, said his organization would be more than willing to take the bikes, refurbish them and use them in the organization’s Bikes for New Mainers program.

“This sounds like it could be a fantastic source of bicycles,” he said.

BIKE OWNERS WOULD BE WARNED

The city began discussing the issue after using grant money to expand the number of bike racks around the city, including around the Casco Bay Lines terminal, Hyman said. The terminal is a popular place for cyclists who park before getting on a ferry. Some islanders also keep bikes at the pier for use when they visit the mainland.

“We’ve been working with Casco Bay Lines to increase the quality and quantity of their bike racks for a number of years,” Hyman said. “When we went down there, it looked like bicycles that hadn’t been moved in a while were taking up space from other bikes.”

The city has also received complaints from Peaks Island residents about abandoned bikes left at the ferry landing.

“One, it’s unsightly, and two, there’s no place for people who are actively using their bikes to park their bikes,” Hyman said.

“There hasn’t been a city policy on how to handle them so we’ve basically taken a hands-off approach,” he said. State law leaves it to communities to deal with abandoned bicycles.

City officials do not know how many bikes might be abandoned in the city. “We don’t have an estimate right now,” Hyman said.

If passed by the council, the city will post signs about the new policy and give people time to move bikes that are not truly abandoned.

“We certainly would not want to launch this in the dead of winter,” Hyman said. “We’re going to be very conservative in our approach initially,” he said.

The ordinance would take effect 30 days after the City Council approves it.

Staff Writer John Richardson contributed to this report.