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Where shall the new cyclists park their bikes?

By Andy Brown, posted 6 February 2018

Contact on twitter @justridethebike

There are a surprising number of cycling office workers. What happens when they get to the office? Are there the right facilities for them? Some companies seem to be ahead of the game. 

Cycling, it is either the new golf, or the new marmite. If you live and work somewhere like London, then you might have an opinion about it. But anyone and everyone (not just cycling devotees) needs to get used to it, because there is a clear trend for cycling to work growing.  It’s not going to stop either.


According to the Department of Transport bicycle traffic in the UK has risen from 2.5 billion in 1993 to 3.5 billion in 2016. a BCO YouGov survey for the British Council of Offices report into cycling: The Market Cycles, indicates approximately 11% of the UK are ‘cycling office workers.’ In London alone, the number of people cycling to work has moved from 77,000 in 2001 to 155,000 based on the 2011 Census. Will Norman, the walking and cycling commissioner for London claims to have record numbers of people cycling in London.


More usefully for London bike riders, Sadiq Khan announced plans for six new cycling routes to be designed with nine Boroughs - connecting town centres & local communities across inner and outer London. The UK Government is also quietly backing bicycles: it is looking to double cycle journey stage trips before 2025. Cities like Manchester, Nottingham and Edinburgh all have aims to increase by at least 10-15%. This is ‘policy’ and it could be argued that it is muddled by politics and an underlying perceived commitment to cars on roads and a lack of integrated transport planning – but the growth in bike riding is happening almost regardless of Government.


Which begs a question. How and where will these various bicycles will be stored and parked from 9 to 5? The answer will largely fall to facilities management (FMs) service providers – the firms like (whisper it) Carillion and Capita who manage take care of much of the non-core support work organisations in the private and public sector need sorting out.


The Good News

The good news is that in some commercial developments and offices it already is – because many high-end developments see cycling as a major factor in their design and management.

Developers and owner occupiers are embracing cycling. Many of the major schemes on plan, or that have gone live recently do not make car parking a priority. Think Cheesegrater, 52 Lime Street (the Scalpel) and 100 Bishopsgate. Occupiers of such buildings specify well designed, functional and secure cycling facilities. This goes beyond bike racks. We are talking showers, changing facilities and a drying room – better known nowadays as end of route (to work) facilities.


The Verde building in Bressenden Place, Victoria is a “best in class” example for cycling provision. Tishman Speyer, the owner developer, anticipate that by spring 2018 it will have 3,000 end users across its 300,000-sq. ft. and 440 bicycle spaces. Nick Adams, the property manager, said, “Demand for good quality cycling facilities has evolved hugely in the past ten years as cycling has become increasingly popular, so we have to accommodate that demand. Cycling friendly facilities are tailored to the user experience. At Verde there is a dedicated cycling entrance right off the street via a ramp to 400 bike parking spaces, 33 showers and 400 lockers.”


Verde assumes that 13% of its working population will cycle to work. If it increases, then they will find a way to create more space. Central St. Giles in London, started out with 3,500 permanent employees and around 1,500 visitors it allowed 200 cycle spaces, Due to increased demand that has risen to 450 spaces.


What's causing it all?

But what triggers this demand? Is it a company policy around sustainability, reducing the carbon footprint or is it about wellbeing? Government data, figures from Transport for London and the BCO report indicates that the cycling to work will continue to rise there’s a lack of workplace or FM data linked to that perceived demand. Whilst not specifically asking the question about cycling to work, the Leesman Index states that 59% of its database feel parking (e.g. car, motorbike or bicycle) is important, but only half of them are satisfied with it. 48.4% see leisure facilities onsite or nearby as important, and 33% say the same about showers but only 34.7% satisfied with what they have got.


Ian Ellison, a workplace consultant and contributor to the Stoddart Review, pointed to his own research, “There are health and wellbeing benefits with doing exercise in any form (e.g. walking, running, cycling, tennis) to, from and during work. But we need to understand more about the motivations for what and why.”


For employers the motivation is healthy people arriving at work ready to roll (as it were). Martin Brown, FM and sustainability consultant said, “Cycle Scheme research with 107 employers found that those who cycle to meetings and to work, are more energised than those who may have arrived via public transport or by road. That same research also reported that an overwhelmingly majority of employers (98%) say cyclists are healthier and more energised (89%) than their commuting counterparts.”

The pleasures of the bike

Martin Brown argues that one of the reported ‘pleasures’ of cycling to meetings, even in wind and rain, is the time available to plan and prepare for meeting or day ahead with a free mind, to contemplation of the nuances (mindful cycling anyone?).


So, how do you find the space? One Government building that already had existing showers and locker space in a basement adjacent to a gym and simply expanded it due to the increased demand for both cyclists and runners. There were no issues with power or water supply, but there was staff consultation regarding reducing car parking spaces to increase cycle spaces. For older buildings where facilities need to be retrofitted, that review of what’s needed and the behaviours of the workplace users is critical.


Justin Sires, head of Europe and co-founder of cycling storage and changing facilities provider, Five at Heart said, “The first step must be find out what is happening in the building. What is the user experience? If there are any at all, are all the available facilities being used to the max? And what kind of bike riding are talking about in the first place?”


It is wrong to assume cycling to work is all about middle-aged men in lycra. What about anyone moving between meetings bringing a Brompton folding bike into the office or someone preferring to ride on a sit up and beg Dutch style bicycle frame. Cycling end of route facilities have to appeal to a broad audience, cater for the wider building dynamic and anyone creating them and managing them needs a holistic perspective that covers the entire building from the ground up, including communal areas and the car park.

“It is important to create a balanced amenity, one that works for everyone and meets the demands of different people’s journey. But you need to ask difficult questions to arrive at the right specification,” explained Sires. Getting it right first time is all part of the balance because there is a cost to getting it wrong. Installing showers for example, showers are the most expensive and involved item to deliver.


Cycling facilities will make a building and therefore the employer in that space more attractive to employees nowadays. Employers and owner occupiers of buildings no longer see provision of cycling facilities as a nod to social responsibility. It is a given. It is increasingly a policy and will, in time, be added to PQQs. As Nick Adams said, to high end commercial development it is a given because people want to cycle to work and it is good for them too – so why not make it easy for them?


“You need to focus on functionality,” says Justin Sires. “Specify bike racks so that are evenly spaced, easy to use and with adjacent lockers with enough hanging space to store users’ clothes. Then think how easy it is to access bike cages or lockers. Isn’t it simpler to open and secure the facilities via a digital or access card solution that communicates with a building management system?”


Sky, but not Team Sky?

This is what Sky has done at its campus site at Osterley. There are three huge bike racks, one of which runs 300m alongside one of the studios and has capacity for 700 bikes, 800 lockers, 90 showers and drying rooms for wet cycling gear. There is also an on-site cycle shop offering free servicing and a reduced price on parts and bikes. Sky might be exceptional – after all it does sponsor the professional race team lead by Chris Froome – but it is catering for around 8% of its employees (daily population on site averages 6,500 but can be as much as 7,500 people).

Dan Dunford, Sky Account Lead from Mitie, says, “There is around one rack per nine campus staff, but this goes further than just showers, secure bike storage and lockers. It is a cultural thing.  Sky sees cycling as part of its character. Cycling is all about a flexible, active, healthy way of working and we help make it tick.”


Sky has a distributed approach across its various buildings on site rather than a single cycle parking location. Employees have a choice of places to park, shower and change. Support for cycling includes an on-site cycle shop, free cycle maintenance and discounts on bikes and parts.

So what?

If you do not subscribe to the idea of cycling to work, you might be thinking so what. However, if the Government’s targets for cycling growth are going to be achieved, then, according to the BCO study undertaken by Remit Consulting UK businesses need to offer better facilities for cyclists. Right now, 83% of workplaces in the UK offer some sort of bike storage, but less than half (47%) of this is covered and secure.


The argument is that improved parking facilities could help increase numbers of those cycling to work, with 16% of office workers surveyed saying that better bike storage would encourage them to do so. Over a third of those surveyed (38%) said they would consider commuting to work by bike if their workplace had better or more facilities.

Neil Webster, director, Remit Consulting, said: "As cycling continues to rise in popularity, ostensibly the most pressing issue for businesses will be finding the space for bikes, lockers and storage. However, our research shows that the focus needs to be on the quality of the facilities offered, not just the quantity. Alongside safe storage and showers, there is a clear demand for towels, hair dryers and complimentary toiletries. This kind of service provision may not just encourage existing employees to cycle to work, it could also act as a market differentiator for prospective employees, and even have a positive impact on lettability.”

Credit: Lezyne, 2018.

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