How Many Office Buildings Will Volunteer to Go Bike-Friendly?

As the push to pass the "Bikes in Buildings Bill" (Intro 38) ramps up in the City Council, DOT has been engaged in a separate but parallel effort to promote bike access and parking in office buildings. The Real Estate Board of New York has posted material on its web site — prompted by a letter from DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan [PDF] — about how building managers can help their tenants who want to commute by bike [download the presentation].

In a letter to his members [PDF], REBNY President Steven Spinola gets behind indoor bike parking in principle, but opposes the creation of a legal mandate:

Dear REBNY members,

Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC has a focus on making New York City more bicycle-friendly. I encourage REBNY members to assist in that effort by voluntarily providing a means for bicycle storage in their buildings. Bicycle parking has been identified as a major obstacle for many commuters to make the switch to biking to work. By providing safe bicycle parking and storage, you will make it easier for your tenants to bike to work and contribute to the goals of a cleaner, greener city.

We have strongly urged the City not to consider legislation requiring office buildings to provide bicycle parking and will continue to do so. But we do need to meet the needs of our tenants and to contribute to the City’s efforts to make it easier for bike riders to ride to work. So I hope you will survey your buildings and find a means to accommodate bicycles within them where possible.

There are a couple of interesting things going on here. One, it’s important to note that Intro 38 does not "require office buildings to provide bicycle parking." Many building managers are already in compliance with that bill’s open-ended language simply by virtue of allowing tenants to bring bikes inside their offices. Spinola is probably referring instead to stronger language in PlaNYC about the need for indoor bike parking (see the bottom of this page).

Two, Spinola’s encouragement of bike parking is a step forward, but will voluntary measures be enough? A few workplaces have gotten past the strange cultural aversion to bike parking. If they remain the exception despite this DOT campaign, a more forceful law than Intro 38 may be in order.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I wouldn’t dismiss the obstacles. Most cubicles don’t have a place for a bike, so unless there is empty cellar space, you are talking about giving up leasable square footage for a common storage area.

    In addition, whatever floor that area is on will be less attrative to tenants who don’t want bikes coming in from the rain and dripping on the floor.

    The question is, would giving up some space to bikes make the rest of the space more valuable? If there was ever a time when this ratio might work, it is during the coming deep recession, especially if a small charge could be assessed for the parkers.

    Figure the least desirable second floor space leasing at $60 psf per year, and ten square feet per locked bike (space occupied and circulation). That’s an annual cost of $50 per month per bike parking space, to be charged or absorbed by the landlord. If that space would otherwise go begging, that’s a different story.

  • Air

    NYU doesn’t allow folding bikes in at all – it would seem that this bill would help that. It’s completely ridiculous that they don’t, even for faculty with their own offices.

  • JK

    Larry, you are confusing the issue here. Business owners who lease work space often have no problem allowing their employees to bring their bikes in. These business owners pay the rent for the space occupied by the bikes. It’s the building owners — who pay nothing to accommodate bicycles — who are opposed. Most buildings which allow bikes only allow them on freight elevators. So, the issue of bikes getting people in expensive suits dirty isn’t real. Real issues include bikes adding to freight elevator work loads and what to do about bikes during off-hours. The legislation should be clarified to make it completely clear that it requires owners to allow tenants to bring bikes into their leased spaces — not that it requires owners to build common parking.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Business owners who lease work space often have no problem allowing their employees to bring their bikes in.”

    I don’t think that’s true of my business. A former employee was leaving his bike in the supply room, and was told to stop. In fact, I don’t think that’s been true anywhere I’ve worked, public or private.

    My wife’s employer has a large loading area, with a bike rack in back, but I doubt bicycles would be allowed in cublicles.

    Perhaps businesses are just hiding behind the landlords. I believe a separate space would need to be provided. That would be better anyway, particularly when bicycles were wet from the rain.

  • JK

    T.A. is regularly contacted by businesses who want bike access but are refused by their land lords. Better bike access is among the reasons that some IT businesses and NGOs locate in pre-war loft spaces. This said, most workplaces, including in class A buildings, have garbage/recycling and supply areas easily outfitted as bike parking.

    Ben’s article got this right. A lot of the opposition is sociological. The big real estate owners tend to be old guys who associate bikes with childhood and bike messengers.

  • gecko

    This is good stuff! Extensive bike parking is part of stopping a lot of the bad habits making cycling inconvenient in New York City and is probably about giving people the permission to do the right thing as encouraged by “seatbelt” and “scoop the poop” laws and ordinances. They should be put in place as soon as possible and likely require little fanfare.

    Hopefully, the “big one” will be a New York class public bike system with more than 100,000 rental bikes.

    Since rental bikes are used about 5 to 12 times daily in public bike systems this will be a major improvement. Allowing people to enroll in the system using their own bikes for various benefits such as discounts (potentially including public and private healthclubs), attended bike parking, integration with transit, education, and government, etc. will further accelerate the broad transformative change this system will have.

  • It ain’t “storage,” it’s “parking.” A small point, but it helps non-bike folks remember that bikes are vehicles, not toys or sports equipment.

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