CHELSEA — No one can definitively say how they got there, and no one knows exactly how they went away, but a collection of 11 newspaper boxes sitting in the Eighth Avenue bike lane perplexed cyclists and residents in Chelsea for more than two weeks.
"As a cyclist, it's not such a big problem," said Ed Tristram, who uses the lane daily. "But it's strange. Going around the city, I had never seen anything like that."
The miscreant boxes sat on the curb side of the lane at West 22nd Street for at least two weeks, according to locals who called 311 to complain. They included three L Magazine boxes and two for The Onion. All were still in the lane before the onset of Hurricane Irene on Saturday — even though other boxes in the neighborhood had been secured with tape and twine to nearby poles.
But by Monday, they were gone.
"They don't belong there," said Dianna Maeurer, a member of the West 200 Block Association, which represents the area. "It's not just bikes. It's also street cleaners, sanitation trucks. Do they just drive around them?"
Maeurer contacted others in the neighborhood, and many called 311 to complain early on. More than a week into their crusade, there was still no response.
"It's not our job to move them. It's theirs. Obviously they’re completely dysfunctional," Maeurer said. "It's going on two weeks! Obviously the people who put them there don’t even miss them."
How the boxes ended up in the lane is disputed. Some think staff from the newly-opened Gem Hotel moved them to create more sidewalk space on the corner. Others cited vindictive transit workers. One person, who declined to give his name, said there was a 'bike lane ghost' who moved the boxes both in and out of the street.
"We had a ton of people reporting it," said Tom Gray with the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce. "We reported it too, but I don't know who moved them."
The Department of Transportation typically deals with items obstructing a bike lane. Representatives from the department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Hunter Armstrong, the executive director of nonprofit CIVITAS, has dealt extensively with newspaper box violations around the city — and he said he had never encountered boxes in the street before. In fact, he wasn't fully sure it was illegal, and had to look it up.
Paul Dinsmayer, 22, a cyclist who typically uses the Eighth Avenue lane, said he noticed the boxes had moved on Monday morning, and figured Irene's winds had blown them away.
"I didn't really care about them," he said.
"Boxes are boxes. And besides, I can go around them."