Macy’s: Leave the Car at Home


J. Crew and W Hotels aren’t the only companies to promote cycling as of late. As part of its "Earth Week" campaign, Macy’s is running the above ad in local papers. Reads the copy:

Leave the car at home. Ride a bike or walk to work if you can. Discover your own route. Now that’s thinking on your feet.

Maybe it’s just us, but this seems half a step above greenwashing. With endorsements from household brands, be they in the form of corporations or celebrities, is cycling edging toward taking its place among light bulb changing and tree planting as a staple of mainstream environmentalism?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Could you go to Macy’s right now and be outfitted with a commuter bike, rather than a toy or sport bike? And could lock it at Macy’s.

  • ddartley

    Like what a couple of people have said about this ad (and I think Alex Marshall and/or others have discussed at length), I am really glad the guy’s in a suit, not spandex.

    Frighteningly, more and more, I think advertising dictates culture more than vice versa.

    So, while I understand the reservations Brad Aaron expresses, I think people who care about the environment should take care to avoid letting any “cooler than thou”-ness inform any of their efforts. Reminds me of the “bike culture not for sale” attack on Brooklyn Industries by the window hero. I read about that, and I was like, “um, okay, guy. Yes, you were into the band before they were cool.”

    So, sorry if all that’s not a fair way of characterizing what you meant, Brad, but about this Macy’s ad, really, “every little bit helps,” as they say. It feels gross when corporations co-opt what “we” have been working so hard on for so long against so much resistance, but really, isn’t the end result more positive than negative?

  • I would believe Macy’s a little more if they made any efforts to make it easier to get to their stores via bike. Shopping centers and malls remain mostly inaccessible places by bike or foot.

  • Exactly! Given everyone’s distress about the State Farm and Farmer’s HelpPoint ads that made cyclists an object of ridicule, shouldn’t we be rejoicing that Macy’s gets it right?

    BTW, on my bicycle commute this morning, I saw a very nicely suited gentleman whiz past me on the Greenway. I did wonder, however, how well he was managing not to sweat profusely in his lovely clothes.

  • Brad Aaron

    Guys, “half a step above greenwashing” was meant as a compliment.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Still, it’s an ad for a store, and it implies something is available. If they really wanted to do something, they ought to set aside a section for commuter bikes and accessories.

    When I searched for bicycle on their website, I came up with four pairs of dress shoes.

  • Brad, what would constitute “a whole step above greenwashing”?

  • paulb

    About style I’m pretty clueless. But I like it when I recognize it. Bicycle style in NYC is getting wonderfully diverse. If people get more comfortable with cycling because it acquires a little chic I’m all for it. (Not that bikeys haven’t been creating their own bike style all along.) Even if they’re not the most function for $$s value, I like the looks of those Pashleys and Jorg&Olifs and can’t wait to see a few in motion.

    P.S. In hot weather the suit jacket has to go. Maybe someone has some ideas for packing one without ruining it.

  • Charlie D.

    If you like the ad, let Macy’s know it!

    Here’s what I sent:
    I just saw one of your print ads urging people to leave the car at home and bike, and I wanted to let you know that I think it’s awesome! I am a bike commuter myself, and I love the fact that you are promoting bicycling as a way for “regular” people to get around. The young man in the suit is a perfect image to portray this. Thank you so much for putting bicycling in a positive light that it so deserves to be in.

  • I’d love it biking went mainstream. More bikes on the road == a safer ride into work. I live in Oklahoma City; my poor co-workers give me that “taking your life into your hands” look whenever I leave for the day.

    On the other hand, I wonder if biking’s too big of a pain in the ass for most folks for it to become “mainstream”. I’m be satisfied being a robust minority.

  • paulb,

    The jacket in the summer is tough. I try to leave my jackets at the office in the summer, and put it on there.

    Speaking of suits and bike fashion, I saw this guy in a suit wearing his chain as a belt today. That’s what they should be showing in the Macy’s ad.

  • @Charlie D.: what a great suggestion! I just send Macy’s my words of praise as well.

    @Jay: as more cycling infrastructure is built, and more people we know take up cycling, the more we will feel encourage to take it up. The factors that got me up and running: (1) I was looking for a fun physical activity that didn’t involve going to a gym, (2) a friend who’s an avid cyclist made me start thinking about it (and since has been a wonderful source of information and advice), (3) I learned about folding bicycles that could be taken onto trains and into offices and stored in closets, which took care of my parking, storage, and security concerns, (4) I discovered I could spend most of my downtown commute enjoying the Hudson River Greenway and only had to deal with traffic for a small bit at the end, which took care of my safety concerns. Education and infrastructure go a long way towards making cycling mainstream and less of a pain in the ass.

  • Bicycles Only —

    Your positive comments about the Macy’s ad are so illuminating (pun intended) that I have to call you out for your needless putdown of lightbulb-changing.

    Yes, cycling is more societally transformational than bulb-changing, for the reasons you gave. In fact that’s why in my post on Gristmill last week backing the Cape Wind project, I self-ID’d as a NYC cyclist rather than as a mere bulb-changer to prove my green cred.

    But changing light bulbs is important too. It kills kilowatts, which means leaving fossil fuels get left in the ground and carbon stays out of the atmosphere. It also keeps your home cooler. In NYC your carbon reduction ratio might even be higher swapping incandescents for compact fluorescents than trading the train for your bike. And your friends and neighbors can follow in your footsteps.

    In May 1991, at T.A.’s Auto-Free Cities conference, keynoter Lester Brown, a cyclist himself, asked the house for a show of hands of CFL users. Hundreds of hands went up. Lester smiled and told the crowd that after asking this question in his speeches for years he had finally gotten a majority of hands. It was a beautiful moment.

    To answer Brad’s question, yes, cycling is getting closer to joining CFL’s and trees as a mainstream green symbol. The key word is “joining.” There’s lots of room at the top.

  • Gwin

    I have been riding to work for 10 years (and work at an investment bank), but I think biking in business attire is a ridiculous and impractical idea. You get hot and sweaty and dirty when you ride to work — it’s just not meant for expensive clothes that have to be dry-cleaned.

    There IS a happy medium between spandex and a full-on business suit, you know! One can change into more formal clothes at work if necessary… personally, on the days when I have to wear a suit, I leave the bike at home.

  • ddartley

    Brad, I may have really misunderstood. But in any case, I sure didn’t think you were outright complaining about the ad!

  • PayingItNow

    I’ve been a NYC bicycle commuter for many years, and I find this business of accepting green kudos for it kind of silly. I do it because I like it, because it’s more pleasant than the subway, because there’s a very direct, virtually car-free route between home and work, and because it’s a way to build a good workout into my day. I am not “one less car.” I’m one fewer butt on the train. Granted, there are places where bikers are indeed doing something green, but in NYC? Please. The people who drive are overwhelmingly doing so over distances far greater than would be practical for anyone to ride (and my commute is 12 miles each way by bike, so I have a pretty high threshold)

  • John

    Yes, bike racks at their stores should be a given. But I would take Macy’s a lot more seriously if they didn’t rely so much on imported merchandise from China. I’d also take their sense of responsibility more seriously if they didn’t lay off 1,000s while corporate honchos clean up and even have a parachute. This ad is nothing but a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    Macy’s isn’t serious about the environment

  • bureaucrat

    guess it depends how far you’re riding, gwin, how naturally inclined you are to sweat, and how strenuously you peddle. for my 20 min commute, dress clothes are fine. i just take off my tie and roll up my sleeves.

  • rex

    Suits: I found a dry cleaner just a few blocks from the office, so now my suits and dress shirts live at the office. Beware of this strategy however, I have now lost closet space that my wife will likely never give back.

    I have also used a garment bag draped over the rear rack, they arrived just fine.

  • ln

    In the summer I change the whole outfit at work, where i keep a drawful of clothes.

    Last summer, on the hottest day of the year, passed a guy on the greenway biking in his boxers only– clothes on the rack.

  • Charlie, I you’re right that I needn’t denigrate light bulb changing. I certainly would not have thought that changing to CF lighting (which we have done) could do more to reduce my carbon footprint than foregoing motor vehicle travel. But then again I’m no energy expert.

    PayingItNow, you make some good points, but you may be looking at only one slice of the “environment.” Your bike is not only polluting less than a car, it’s creating less congestion on the roadway, less noise, and less threat of injury by collision. And the absence of your butt on the train makes it that much easier for those still using it. And while I use the train when I don’t bike, I usually have the option of ordering a black car home most nights, as do many other people. I don’t order those black cars because I’ve got my bike.

    I also know of lots of people who do commute entirely within Manhattan by private auto, everyday. This morning, my 10 year-old son got to wave hello to two different friends on his way to school, each of whom were being driven by their parent or in a black car (we were bicycling). These people aren’t extraordinarily rich either. The fact is for a lot of the “new New Yorkers” who as little as ten years ago would would have relocated to the suburbs to raise their kids, a car is seen as an absolute necessity and is used on a daily basis for short trips of two miles or less. I can’t say what percentage of the overall traffic burden those people account for, but I think its significant.

    I think getting these people out of their cars and onto bikes would transform Manhattan. It might not immediately subtract that much out of the overall traffic burden, but it might well have made a difference in the outcome of the CP fight and in a host of other “liveable streets” issues.

  • Gwin

    bureaucrat: all true, but let’s not forget the risks of getting grease/dirt from the bike itself onto your clothes…

  • Thanks BicyclesOnly. The direct carbon benefits of CFL’s and cycling depend on lots of factors, as you know. I agree that if we could only do one, it should be cycling, for the reasons we both gave. But there’s no need to choose, as you’ve proven (as did those hundreds of hands at the conference I described).

  • bureaucrat

    BicyclesOnly – agreed. And the best (only?) way to get them onto bikes with their kids is probably thru separated facilities and utility bikes/trikes like they use in Copenhagen etc. Something practical that you don’t have to be an especially stout mom or dad to do.

  • Charlie D.

    I’m glad people are taking up my suggestion to contact Macy’s! Just as we are sometimes critical of companies who send negative messages about bicycling, we should make sure to commend companies who say good things.

  • ordinary cyclist

    Gwin and bureaucrat: for years I thought biking to work was a race – I had a fast bike and all the gear, and changed at work if I needed too. But I recently got a european-style 3-speed, chainguard and all, and realized that in most weather there’s no reason not to bike in a suit and high heels. (Biking in heels is far easier than walking.)

    We’d do well to overcome the myth that biking requires special clothes. That myth is a real barrier to many people who would otherwise try it.

  • Ordinary Cyclist,

    Channeling Alex Marshall?

    Why does it have to be either/or?

    I take advantage of my bike commute to get a workout. For my weight and my health generally, I need regular vigorous exercise. And, vigorous biking is really much better in dedicated bike gear.

    I don’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t encourage biking in suits, top hats, overcoats, flowing skirts, whatever. But, is it really necessary to forgo outfits that just happen to be really well-suited to biking, at least one form of biking? My wearing lycra is not preventing people from wearing worsted wool.

    Biking: wear what you want.

  • bureaucrat

    LOL well said

  • If I have an early morning meeting downtown, I’ll wear dress shoes and the slacks from my suit, a T-shirt or polo on top, and carry an undershirt, dress shirt, tie and jacket on the rear rack. I may look silly, but I don’t really care. I can make the 6 mile trip in less than a half hour (i.e., faster than subway, cab or black car), get some exercise, and change at my destination and be ready for my meeting.

    Then again, when my son has no school and I’m just traveling a few miles to work, I often will cycle in my suit and tie, weather permitting.

    The point is to make cycling as convenient and accessible as possible. The notion that people are undermining the cause of cycling unless they bicycle slowly and dress to impress may carry the day in some European cities. In New York City, we place a higher value on convenience, speed and comfort as a general matter and the idea that NYC bicyclists have to jettison these values in order to bicycle “properly” would only turn people off and impede modal shift.

  • TT

    This is ridiculous. I work in the Macy’s corporate offices at 11 Penn Plaza and would love to ride my bike to work if there was somewhere safe to keep it, but there’s not. Apparently the building used to have bike racks in the basement, but not any more. It’s certainly easier for corporation to tell people to be green than to provide them with the necessary tools to do so.

  • TT,

    I hear ya. A large segment of NY commercial real estate (including the building I work in) is managed by SL Green, which as far as I can tell is virulently opposed to making space for their tenants’ employees’ indoor bike parking. Maybe you’ll have better luck convincing your employer given its “green” stance.

    But even without indoor parking, you can get by. You need to buy and carry 30 lbs of security equipment at a cost of approximately $100, and take the time to remove and replace your accessories and to lock up properly. When rain is forecast, lock up under a scaffold, making sure to lock up to a weight-bearing pillar, not a cross-brace that can esily be removed.

    It’s feasible and its worth it!

  • Gwin

    Ordinary cyclist: maybe you should re-read my entry, where I clearly said there were options between Lycra and business suits.

    By the way, I have a NO-speed bike that definitely isn’t for racing.

  • As great an achievement as that would be, it would not provide an adequate separated path network for the vast majority commuting from home to school. Apparently the building used to have bike racks in the basement, but not any more.



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