Every bike commuter I know has an anecdote of being asked by a semi-amazed coworker, “you bike to work? How do you do it?” After answering with a brief explanation of the route, and how little time it actually takes, the commuter will attempt to persuade the coworker to try it out someday. The coworker’s response, frequently, is “yeah, I should do it, because I need the exercise, but” – and, the familiar excuses follow – “I wouldn’t want to get all sweaty. I need to look professional at my job. And if I had to change a flat, or fix something else, my hands would get all messy. What if it rains and my stuff gets soaked. I just don’t see how I could deal with all that hassle that you put up with. I’ll probably keep driving.”
In his 2011 paper “Trends and Determinants of Cycling in the Washington, DC Region,” Prof. Ralph Buehler of Virginia Tech analyzed data regarding over 5,000 bike commuters and found that individuals who had access to trip-end facilities – that is, showers, lockers, and secure bike parking – were nearly five times more likely to commute by bike than if those facilities were not available. Thus, if our workplaces have what we need to comfortably transition from cyclist to office worker, we are more likely to want to bike to work.
with permission of Bike & Park
With all the things that Minneapolis does to make itself into The Number One Biking City in America, it’s surprising that we don’t already have a public bike center in downtown. A “bike center” is a comprehensive, trip-end facility for the bike commuter, offering secure bike storage, showers, storage lockers, changing rooms, bike repair equipment and/or service, bike-related retail, and food/beverage offerings. Bike centers exist outside downtown – the Freewheel Midtown Bike Center on the Midtown Greenway, and the UofM Bike Center near Stadium Village. Within downtown, Target Commons, at Nicollet and 10th Street, has a bike center available to its corporate employees. According to the website http://bikeandpark.com/bike-centers, bike centers can also be found in other U.S. cities, including Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, St. Louis, Washington DC, Long Beach, Santa Monica, and Santa Barbara. I’ve located yet others in Indianapolis, Seattle, Las Vegas, and Tempe. Portland doesn’t have one – not yet, at least.
Isn’t it time for downtown Minneapolis to set a goal of building the best bike center in the country? It would make perfect sense: we have a relatively compact downtown, with most buildings connected by the skyway system, or within a short walking distance of it. The terrain is mainly flat, served by a network of trails and bike lanes. According to the most recently available data, approximately 60 percent of the jobs in Minneapolis are located downtown. About half of the people who work downtown live within a 10-mile radius – a bikeable distance for most.
In addition, a first-rate downtown bike center would:
1. Show that biking is a low-cost transit alternative to those who cannot afford to pay for downtown parking, but who want or need more independence than allowed by buses and trains. Many people on modest incomes dread the idea of taking a job downtown for these very reasons. In other U.S. cities with bike centers, memberships are a fraction of the cost of downtown car parking. At the Chicago facility in Millennium Park, an annual membership costs only $170 – under a dollar per workday.
2. Serve as a powerful, conspicuous example of bike commuting as a viable lifestyle choice to everyone else. Minneapolis wants to reach 15 percent bicycle mode share by 2020, but isn’t yet quite sure as to how to do it. A downtown bike center would demonstrate that bike commuting is realistic for everyone in the “interested but unsure” group of persons physically able to pedal the distance into downtown. And, people who start biking to their downtown job may start biking to the grocery store, restaurant, mall, or theater. This, in turn, could have a multiplier effect, prompting people to demand trip-end facilities for bike commuters in other locations.
3. Promote economic growth. A bike center could revitalize a vacant ground floor space of a skyway-connected building into a dynamic destination for the bike-commuting consumers, who, in turn, will patronize nearby cafes, restaurants, and retail shops. And, given all the recent press about how millennials and those in the “creative class” prefer to live in cities conducive to a car-free lifestyle, having the best downtown bike center in the country would be a strong selling point for bringing talented people to Minneapolis.
4. Bring Minneapolis international recognition for doing something exceptionally well. Our downtown bike center could set a new benchmark for urban trip-end facilities, showing the rest of the world the very best in design, amenities, outreach, and user engagement, and recognized as the best facility of its kind for motivating people to commute by bike. It could show off our big players and innovators in the bike industry, with racks from Dero, tools from Park Tool, parts and accessories supplied by QBP, a Zap tower, and a sizeable Nice Ride station near the entrance – all things we like to brag about.
5. Cost very little, when compared with many other types of public improvements that are built on a regular basis with little or no controversy. The other U.S. bike centers mentioned above cost in the range of mid-six figures to a few million to construct – less than the cost of most highway rest stops or park-and-ride facilities. The Chicago facility, for example – which accommodates over 300 bikes, and has 16 showers – was built for $3.2 million. The smaller Cleveland facility was built for approximately $600,000. In the vast scale of public works projects, bike centers are relatively small investments.
To make this a reality, we’ll first need to get all of the relevant stakeholders – civic leaders, businesses, bike advocates, and nonprofit foundations – in the same room, and on the same page. We’ll need a comprehensive study of where trip-end facilities are most needed and will have the biggest impact, with a large-scale public outreach effort to get input on what services and amenities are most important to the people who we want to encourage to bike.
Of course we will have to figure out how to pay for it, and how to create a sustainable operating model. The majority of the other U.S. bike centers are operated as a public-private partnership, where the facility is owned by a local government and operated by a private company, which pays either nominal rent, or has a revenue-sharing agreement. Because user fees alone are unlikely to cover operating costs (unless we charge something like $200 per month to use the facility, which we don’t want to do), we will need a supplemental source of funding. For example, the Chicago – Millennium Park bike center sold naming rights to McDonald’s for $5 million to offset operating costs.
If you could design a bike center for downtown Minneapolis, where would it be? What would it have?