In Amsterdam, the number of people who bike is so large that the city has built multistory, bike-only parking garages. Faced with a similar situation, Shinagawa, a ward in Tokyo, built an elaborate underground parking system for bikes. While bike use is not yet so extensive in most U.S. cities as to make such steps necessary, panelists at a recent ULI Washington event discussed both the benefits of increased biking and the opportunities developers have to make buildings more bike friendly.
Shane Farthing, executive director of the Washington, D.C., advocacy group Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), said advocates like himself need to work more closely with the private sector. In Washington, D.C., which is expecting to see its population increase by 250,000 by 2032, Farthing said, there is little or no capacity to accommodate some 100,000 additional car commuters. But bikes require less road space and parking than cars.
WABA research shows that people are more likely to bike if they have protected cycling lanes and trails, convenient long- and short-term parking for their bikes, and access to showers. While commercial and residential developers are not expected to provide protected lanes, Farthing said the other inducements for cycling are “essentially home improvement projects” that companies can generally provide without significant costs.
Anthony Wolf Greenberg, senior vice president of Washington-area developer the JBG Companies, said his firm is beginning to build with bike-friendly design in mind. While his company prioritizes developing properties near transit, other companies have begun to build near bike trails, he said. “We’re not by any means claiming to be some leader on this; we’re very early on. We’re trying to learn a lot about bike-friendliness,” said Greenberg.
JBG has begun to encourage biking to its properties. The company worked with the chamber of commerce in McLean, Virginia, to sponsor a bike-to-work day. It also hosted a bike-to-work day at its Rockville office attended by about 100 people. The firm also provides artsy bike racks in some of their new developments, plus access to bike pumps and vending machines that sell sports drinks and energy bars.
An example of simple indoor bike parking from Toole Design Group. Getting developers to agree to build with bike-friendly design is not always difficult. When Jennifer Toole, president of Toole Design Group, relocated a company office from Bethesda to a new building in Silver Spring, Maryland, she asked the developer to include bike racks near the parking lot exit that would be free for her employees to use. She also asked for showers. The builder agreed to all the requests and also built a larger locker room to house the showers. “I was shocked by how easy it was to get these amenities,” Toole said.
The panelists also noted that companies with bike commuters benefit from their employees being healthier. Toole pays her employees $1.50 per day if they bike or walk to work; she also provides helmets, bike repair kits, and other equipment. Whereas Toole Design Group subsidizes transit, it does not subsidize car parking fees. As a result, 85 percent of Toole’s staff either bikes, walks, or takes transit to the workplace. This improves employee health and saves the company money on health insurance.
People across most age demographics are beginning to bike. Toole noted that in a study conducted from 2001 to 2009, bike trips increased 24 percent, walking increased 16 percent, and use of public transit increased 40 percent for members of generation Y, also known as millennials. She thinks growing numbers of this age group no longer see a car as a symbol of freedom. Whereas a car gave generation X the opportunity to connect with others, generation Y instead turns to smartphones. She quoted Sheryl Connelly, head of global consumer trends for Ford, who said, “I don’t think car buying for millennials will ever be what it was for boomers.” It’s not just millennials who are hopping on bikes; the same study showed an 11 percent increase in biking among the 40- to 64-year-old age cohort.
The panel also was in agreement that facilities that cater to biking have often been treated as an amenity for building construction in the United States Instead, they would like biking to be treated as a source of legitimate transportation that developers should accommodate when building.