This is Bike to Work week in Vancouver. It got me thinking.
I published a post in August of this year called “10 reasons to cycle to work …“. I have cycled to work for over 30 years but it has been an on-again-off-again thing with me. I recommitted this year and have not missed a day since early summer. With the advent of Bike to Work Week, I began questioning what the single most significant deterrent was for me over the years and what can be done to overcome it so that more people, particularly the older professional workers like me, ride a bike rather than drive an automobile.
So, what has been my major deterrent? It is not weather. It is not for having a suitable bike and clothing. It is not fitness. It is not distance. And, it is not the need to use a car throughout the day. Like many, I sit at a desk most of the day. The single biggest deterrent for me has been having good “end-of-trip” facilities – a secure place to lock my bike, shower and change.
I have worked in either downtown office towers or nearby older districts adjacent to the core. The last office tower I was in highlights the problem. The building owners renovated space in the basement as a change room. One for men and one for women. Like so many office buildings, this was an after thought. Unfortunately, they selected a very small space barely large enough for 2 shower stalls and a common area a similar size. If 2 people were showering at the same time you would feel uncomfortably close. And, there were no full length lockers to store toiletries and clothing. Instead, they had lockable 12″x12″ lockers barely large enough for shampoo, razor and toothbrush. Unfortunately, no one used the facility. It was too small and the storage space was inadequate. Had this space been more serviceable, I would certainly have used it. Instead, I chose not to cycle. I looked for suitable change rooms in the immediate area at gyms and hotels. There were none.
This is the problem for most offices, at least those with a more formal dress code. If jeans and t-shirts are the norm then it doesn’t matter as much. You can wheel your bike into the office and may not need to change. But if the office dress code is a shirt, tie and jacket then people need a place to comfortably shower and change.
What can be done? In the above gallery, I have included images found online. They are examples of change facilities designed specifically for cyclists. Some people get it. A gym-like change room is needed to lure business men and women onto their bikes during the week. A place where they can shower, change and hang clothes.
I know many professional men and women that cycle on the weekend, support local charity rides like the Ride to Conquer Cancer and gran fondos. I have heard some say “cycling is the new golf” for senior business people. They cycle and enjoy it. They are more than capable of leaving their cars at home and cycling to the office. And, they would do it it it were not for the “end-of-trip” facilities. And, if they did it, they would be setting a positive example for all the other staff and, as a consequence, many others would follow suit.
So how do we effect this change? Who is in the best position to build appropriate facilities? I see 2 possibilities.
- Building owners have a vested interest. If they viewed bicycle lockups and change rooms more as an opportunity, rather than a liability or inconvenience, everyone would benefit. They could charge higher rents. Businesses know the economic benefit of having healthier employees. The more progressive ones would certainly be willing to pay extra. And, individuals would be willing to pay a reasonable monthly fee to use the facility rather than $50-$100 for a gym membership.
- There is also an opportunity to develop independently owned and operated “end-of-trip” facilities centrally located in the business core. A place to safely lock up bikes, shower, change and, perhaps, fix flat tires and do minor tune-ups . Not a gym. Not a hotel exercise room. No. A place built specifically for cyclists. ( This is a viable opportunity. A venture I would invest in. And, a subject for a subsequent post).
Do you remember the movie Field of Dreams? “If you build it, he will come.” He will come to share childhood dreams. We are all dreamers. We all learned to ride a bike as children. But so many have stopped. If I had the opportunity over the years to pay a reasonable monthly fee to safely store my bike, shower in a clean and supportive change facility, I would have never stopped.
I think what you are proposing has merits, but it is a peculiarly North American subject, often sited as a reason why people do not or will not cycle to work, a hindrance to encouraging more people to commute by bicycle. In Europe, the subject seldom comes up, and I understand that the proportion of the population that commute by bike over here is much higher. This is despite the Europeans usually seeming much more adept at blaming external factors for not doing something. Part of this probably has to do with the difficulty in breaking any old habit, such as driving a car everywhere, but it may also have something to do with the fact that many in Europe who commute by bike do not see it as a form of exercise. They tend to ride a town bike or a hybrid and don’t go at a speed to break a serious sweat. It is just a means to get from A to B, and they do not read much else into their mode of commute. As such, comparative personal hygiene standards aside, the need for a shower at the destination is not really a concern. However, parking space can be a challenge at times, particularly in major cities albeit bike share schemes have, I think, done quite a bit to address this issue.
I didn’t think about that. I live in Vancouver. This is a hilly and sometimes wet place. We can easily work up a sweat even on a short commute. If I lived in the downtown core where it is relatively flat, end-of-trip facilities would be much less of an issue.
Thanks for your comment.
I’m not sure what Chikashi says holds up for the whole of Europe – or at least, not if you count the UK as Europe! ‘They tend to ride a town bike or hybrid’ – you should see the streets of London during rush hour!
In London (and perhaps the rest of the UK, I’m not sure) there are now planning regulations that for every new office block development, a certain number of cycle storage spaces and changing facilities / showers must be provided. I think that’s a great thing! And I completely agree with you – when I don’t cycle is because I’m going somewhere that I can’t shower and change. I’m lucky in that my office block has underground parking and a gym so I have lovely showers and changing space 🙂
I meant Europe in the way Brits mean Europe, as in ‘that land mass over there where people drive on the wrong side of the road’. 🙂
I am fortunate as well. We have a bike room within the office space itself and a funky shower and change area. During the summer months, the bike room is full. I am particular about my bikes and do not leave them outside even locked. So a safe place for my bike is key. I don’t ant to be worrying about it all day.
Kudos to your planners in the UK for being so progressive.
Thank you for the comment.