The Department of Transportation's design competition for the next generation of bike racks entered its final phase yesterday with the installation of ten design prototypes around New York City. Nine of the ten finalists' prototypes were installed at Astor Place, and as of 6 p.m. yesterday they were almost entirely unused. It'll probably take a day or two before more cyclists discover the next-wave locking options in the Alamo island there, so for now it seems there's plenty of free parking.

You'll recall that David Byrne, one of the judges in the design competition, created his own clever "neighborhood theme" bike racks. (See his designs here; they're not in competition.) The jury picked the finalists out of 200 entries from 24 states and 26 countries. The winner of the competition, to be announced on October 24th during National Design Week, will get $5,000. In exchange, the city gets to keep the intellectual property rights to the design and start installing it.

In a statement, Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives welcomed the "eye-catching" prototypes but stressed that "for bike parking to really work well, we need quantity and quality. Bike racks should be as common in New York City as street lights." The city currently has about 4,700 of the old U-shaped "CityRacks" around town, but with a 75% increase in bike ridership since 2000, cyclists are clamoring for more. Here's a map of other places where prototypes are installed (though Astor Place has the greatest number of them).