Meet Jeff. He’s a 25-year old engineer who works long hours shaping the future of technology. He doesn’t own a car, but has four bicycles. He rides one to work, two on the weekends and keeps the fourth because he won it in a bet.
Jeff’s neighbor is Leanne. She’s 31, a financial analyst, married with two young children and a hectic schedule. She and her husband want to get more physical activity; run errands by bike (60% are within less than a mile); and ride with their children.
Jeff and Leanne represent a fast-growing segment of the housing market, particularly in and around urban centers. As bike commuting is on the rise in cities across the country, so too is the demand for bike-friendly housing.
Smart developers know this and are designing new buildings and multi-family housing that makes riding a bike as easy, convenient and as expected as driving a car.
The future is here; and it’s going to need somewhere to park its bike
Car ownership and miles-driven are way down, especially amongst the next generation:
- According to the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) report, “A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship With Driving and the Implications for America’s Future”, Americans today drive no more than they did in 2004 in total miles, and no more than they did in 1996 in miles per person.
- In A New Way to Go, a 2013 PIRG report, “The average person ages 16-34 drove 23% less in 2009 than in 2001, the sharpest reduction for any age group.”
- Findings from another report, “Millennials & Mobility”, released in October 2013 by the American Public Transit Association (APTA) reveal that 70% of adults under 35 use multiple alternatives instead of a car several times or more per week.
- This generation, the largest and most diverse in American history, doesn’t want to drive a car and prefers to ride a bike or bus.
- In a survey by KRC Research and Zipcar, forty-four percent of young people (18-34 years old) polled said they have consciously made an effort to replace driving with other transportation options. And it’s not just Millennials. 33% of 35-44 year-olds and 26% of 55+ year-olds want to replace driving with biking, walking and transit.
So what does this mean for property development?
“There’s an amenities arms race between new construction and older buildings.” This is coming from Richard Cohen, the President of Velodome Shelters, a company that designs and creates bicycle storage rooms and stations in an interview he did for a New York real estate blog. “It used to be just a washer and dryer, then it was the fitness rooms, and now most buildings have bicycle rooms. In older buildings they have empty space that’s used as bicycle rooms, but they waste so much space and it looks like a jungle.”
The car-centric model is going out of style. If developers aren’t making their properties bike friendly, especially in urban areas that serve young professionals and families, they will become less competitive.
Sweden, a global leader when it comes to bike innovations, designed the first large-scale apartment complex without any spaces for cars. Instead, the Cykelhuset or “Bike House” features a large indoor bike-parking area; wider doors, elevators, and balconies to accommodate unwieldy handlebars and wheels; a fleet of cargo bikes with pull-along sidecars residents may use to haul kids or groceries, and extra large mailboxes so those without cars can have furniture and other larger items delivered.
Cities in the U.S. are starting to catch on. Kemper Development has built a bike commuter “lounge” in its Bellevue Collection, a 4-million-square-foot retail, office, residential and hotel complex in Seattle. “We’re not just putting a rack over in the corner and bolting it to the floor and calling it good,” said Kemper President Jim Melby, whose bike lounge will include bike racks, lockers, shower rooms and a vending machine that dispenses energy bars and spare bike tubes. The investment for these bike amenities: $300,000, compared to the approximate $40,000 it costs to build one parking space in a structure.
Progressive developers consider future tenant needs such as:
- The type and number of bikes they might own
- How and when they’ll ride them
- How they want to maintain and repair them
- Where and how they want to store and access them
Remember Jeff and Leanne? With residents like them in mind, developers can create low-cost, high-impact amenities that really pay off financially – and in resident satisfaction.
Consider Harbor Urban’s Velo, a 171-unit apartment building in Seattle. Its doors, lobby floors and elevator walls are designed to be bike-friendly. And, they offer bike storage niches in each apartment, giving residents the most secure and convenient bike parking imaginable.
Via6, a 654-unit mixed-use apartment project in downtown Seattle facilitates car-free living with secure bicycle parking and a bike wash station for residents, plus a bike shop on the ground floor. The developers also added amenities for employees who work in the building to help make bike commuting more attractive. These include secure bike storage, an area for bike repair and washing, and showers.
Via6 bike parking that’s secure and convenient
EcoFlats in Portland is so dedicated to sustainability that it does not offer car parking. Located on a busy bike corridor, they provide secure indoor bike parking in their lobby instead. On the ground floor is the home of Hopworks, a well-loved bicycle bar, which has loads of additional outdoor bike parking, repair tools and other bike friendly amenities. EcoFlats also has two Zipcar spots and frequent TriMet bus service.
In some places, bikes themselves are getting to be extremely spoiled too. At the train station in Lillestrøm, a small town in Norway, Oslo commuters can store their bikes in a “bike hotel” for a small monthly fee. Although there are several similar hotels across Norway, Lillestrøm’s accommodates the most bikes—up to 400—and is a godsend for residents who can easily ride to the station and then catch the train to work while their bikes sip champers in the jacuzzi.
Bike-friendly housing isn’t simply about being green. It’s about recognizing the trends in transportation and reacting to the growing market need to expand offerings beyond requirements for cars. Right now, bike friendliness is an affordable amenity. Soon it will be a low-cost expectation.
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