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.