Catering for the modern day commute

With cycling to work more popular than ever, workplaces are adapting to become more bike-friendly.

May 04, 2016

As more employees take to cycling into the office, the traditional bike shed is being replaced by an array of creative solutions from cycle-in offices in London to automated underground bike storage lockers in city centers.

The city of Amsterdam, for example, is exploring the idea of underwater bike storage and floating islands to house thousands of bikes as it runs of space to meet a rising demand for bike parks.

Amsterdam – where 32 per cent of trips are made on two wheels – is second only to Copenhagen (35 per cent) for bike usage in Europe, according to the European Cyclists’ Federation.

But the Dutch capital, like many other locations, is being forced to think creatively as more people opt for two wheels for their daily commute. It’s not just an issue for town planners – workplaces are also facing a challenge in storing a larger number of bikes and providing facilities such as showers and changing rooms.

“In the last six months we have registered an increase in interest from employers in looking at the role of cycling as a way of commuting among their staff,” says Rosemary Lewis, a London-based location analyst at JLL. “People are using cycling as a mode of transport, not just sport.”

No one size fits all solution

The revamped Alphabeta building in London’s Finsbury Square is a novel response to the cycling trend – a ‘cycle-in office’ which provides parking for 200 bike-owners. But many organizations are severely restricted by the design of their buildings and the density of their location and, therefore, have to think laterally to find a solution.

JLL, for instance, provides cycle storage spaces and lockers for cyclists, walkers and runners at its London headquarters which are proving to be increasingly popular with employees. “There is ever-growing demand,” says Martin di Corrado, General Manager of JLL’s London headquarters. “A lot more businesses are focusing on cycling facilities and associated services now as part of their strategic planning.”

Initiatives such as the Mayor of London’s health and environment strategies – which could see cycling overtaking driving by 2020 – mean that the pressure on employers is only going to increase.

For now, riding to work tends to be more prevalent in cities such as Cambridge, Oxford, Helsinki and Tokyo which have a strong biking culture and history. The cycling student is an emblem of many university cities. But new influences are also increasing the trend – such as the economic squeeze and the desire to save on train fares. And, while many cities from Washington DC to Paris to Hangzhou have self-service bike sharing schemes in place, many commuters prefer to use their own equipment.

These growing bands of cyclists are putting increasing pressure on limited space. Innovative bike storage systems such as Eco Cycle, which stores bikes underground, and Active Commuting, which provides modular containers with storage and showering facilities, have emerged in recent times to fill a gap in the market.

Nick Knight, managing director of Eco Cycle, says: “In many ways cycling is the new golf and people are prepared to spend significant sums of money on their bikes and accessories. They’re looking for somewhere secure and hassle-free to store their equipment while they’re at work yet many companies now find themselves in a position where they have insufficient facilities to meet demand.”

Ignoring the issue could be risky. A change in government policy can put sudden pressure on companies to provide space. In Sydney, for instance, most prime buildings have so-called ‘end of trip’ facilities for cyclists and walkers – partly stimulated by government regulation. Delhi in India, and Rome and Milan in Italy – put temporary bans on the driving of cars last December when smog suddenly breached health regulations. As a result, Milan is considering paying people to go by bike instead of car. “We want to focus the public opinion on the fact that moving by bike is much healthier for them and for the city,” says a spokesman for the city.

Showers are part of the package

Helping cyclists, runners and walkers does not stop at lockers and bike parks, however. “There is a whole suite of issues,” says Lewis, someone who walks to work herself. Showers are a must. Lewis strongly recommends the provision of towels – in order to stop humidity problems that emerge when people regularly leave their own damp towels to air in changing rooms. Employers should probably lay on shampoo, shower gel and hairdryers as well.

At JLL’s London HQ Martin di Corrado’s team has found – after 18 months of observation – the arrangements work far better if individuals have a designated bike space and locker rather than providing more open facilities. Usage however, requires monitoring to ensure these valuable resources are not being neglected.

With the popularity of a cycling commute showing no signs of waning, big and small companies need to consider their location and their facilities management set-up – as well as the demand from employees – to implement a system that meets their needs.

We have not reached the situation (yet) when staff chose employers because of these facilities, says Lewis, but the issue is becoming more important. She says: “The provision of end of trip facilities is going to help retain staff and to encourage them to lead a fit and healthy lifestyle”.

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