Back in March, we drooled over the bike amenities at the new SRAM office in Chicago. Inspired by the Windy City workspace, we went looking for bike-friendly offices here in New York City. And, sure enough, a growing number of companies are taking meaningful steps to encourage their employees to commute on two wheels by making the workspace bike-friendly.
Top photo, from left: Angela Choi, Jenn Cash, Lizania Cruz, Tanya Quick and Nikki Taliaferro of the Manhattan-based design and branding firm Language Dept.
Coming up on May 20 those businesses will be in the well-deserved spotlight as thousands of New Yorkers celebrate Bike to Work Day. Every year, the national event inspires new riders to spin their wheels for the first time and gets the gears turning in the minds of employers, elevating the role businesses play in making active transportation a convenient and feasible option.
Why do companies care how their employees get to work?
For Kickstarter, the popular crowdfunding platform headquartered in NYC, bicycling helps the business live up to its corporate charter. “As a public benefit corporation, we try to reflect our values in our daily operations,” says Julie Wood, Kickstarter’s director of global communications. “Supporting green commuting methods, like biking, is a great way to limit our environmental impact and be an environmentally responsible organization.”
For Columbia University, it’s about health — and safety, too. “Columbia’s New York City location fosters compact, sustainable urban lifestyles, which makes it an ideal bicycling location,” says Daniel Allalemdjian, director of Transportation Demand Management. “The important decision to create a more bike-friendly campus has improved the efficiency of the transportation network [and] bike safety, reduced vehicular emissions and encouraged healthy lifestyles.”
How do you create a bike-friendly workplace? Here are 10 ideas from bike-minded leaders at Kickstarter and Columbia University, as well as Transportation Alternatives, Language Dept., and Penguin Random House.
1. Bike stipend
The cost of a bike pales in comparison to a car, or even public transit. Still, there are costs associated with cycling. Penguin Random House and Kickstarter help reduce those financial barriers. “We give employees $500 per year toward the purchase of exercise equipment or a health club membership — and bikes are included in this perk,” says Michael Weissman, vice president of Facilities, Office Services and Corporate Real Estate. Kickstarter also subsidizes cycling by giving its staff an annual bike stipend of $100.
2. Shower access
Few companies can swing a full-scale locker room like SRAM, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to help cycling staff show up fresh. For instance, Columbia University offers a low-cost membership at nearby Plus One / NYPH Fitness Center that allows CU employees to use the showers for just $5 per month.
3. Changing rooms
Nobody wants to be a cycling Clark Kent, changing into office attire in the tiny confines of a bathroom stall. Luckily, staff at Transportation Alternatives (above) don’t have to contort to keep their threads out of the toilet bowl. “We have changing rooms that are in close proximity to our bike room,” says Jackie McAllister, TA’s operations manager. “This allows for our staff to change in and out of their biking gear without a hassle.”
4. Bike storage
While NYC streets are getting markedly better for biking, locking your ride outside exposes your bike to potential theft and adverse weather. At many bike-friendly businesses, though, that’s not an issue. “We supply a large bike room within the building on the second floor,” says Weissman of Penguin Random House. “Employees enjoy that their bikes are in a locked, secured area where they’re the only ones with access.” Kickstarter and TA (above) also also have a dedicated, indoor bike room for staff, and Language Dept. has a two-bike rack mounted on the wall, adding convenience and cycling ambiance to the design and branding firm’s workspace. At Columbia, bikes are protected from the elements even outdoors with a number of sheltered bike parking areas with maintenance tools.
5. Free tune-ups
After months in hibernation or the wear-and-tear of winter riding, just about every bike needs a spring cleaning. Just last month, to gear up for peak riding season, Kickstarter hosted a free annual bike tune-up for its employees. At Columbia (above), Ride Your Bike to Campus Days also feature free tune-ups — and discounts on bike accessories.
6. Complimentary classes
Especially for those who are curious about bicycling, gaining confidence to ride on the streets is the first step to becoming a cycling commuter. To provide that essential education, Columbia University offers free Bicycling Street Skills and Traffic Skills 101 to share key strategies for stress-free riding, with curriculum that’s both in the classroom and out on the roads.
7. Citi Bike memberships
What about staff members who don’t own a bike? Or commute a distance that’s too far to pedal? Citi Bike offers an affordable, nearly universal solution. “All employees are given a Citi Bike annual membership as a benefit, whether they want it or not,” says Tanya Quick, principal of Language Dept. “This encourages those who aren’t riders to try it, and those who want to ride, but don’t have a bike, to use it. It also means that if we’re stuck after a meeting and can’t get a cab or Uber, we can ride back together.” Kickstarter employees also get a membership upon employment. According to Citi Bike, 185 businesses have signed up for corporate memberships so far.
8. Office bikes
Transportation Alternatives takes bike sharing one step further. As a bicycle advocacy organization, they’ve received in-kind bicycles (above) that staff can borrow for general use.
9. Bike tools
Even the most expert cyclist encounters minor mishaps, like a flat tire. To ease commuters’ minds about minor repairs, a bike-friendly business often has tools in the office. “We have a floor pump and a multi-tool here, and I’m now versed at changing flats, so basic emergencies are covered,” Quick says. At TA , they don’t just have pumps and repair tools, but spare locks and helmets for in-house use, as well.
Sure, some cyclists love Lycra and technical gear. But the notion that you need special attire to ride to work is possibly the most common misperception about bike commuting. “Jenn [Cash, a principal at Language Dept] and I wear ‘normal’ clothes and heels to commute in,” Quick says. “We try to set an example that it doesn’t have to be complicated. My favorite moment of late was from a former client whose son goes to the school next to our office. She said that there have been times she’s dropping him off in the mornings and people will comment “There’s a dressed-up lady on a bike.” She doesn’t even look; she just says ‘Oh, that’s Tanya.’ If it weren’t for the fact that I’m the early bird in the office, I’d say it could be one of many from Language Dept.”
Is your office bike-friendly? Share what your employer is doing in the comments. And if you’re ready to take it to the next level, learn about the Bicycle Access to Offices Law, which helps support bicycle commuting by providing the opportunity to park bikes securely in or near the workplace. Also, check out the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Business designation — and urge your employer to apply!
Top photo, from left:
Photos: Language Dept (lead image), Columbia University (bike maintenance workshop), others velojoy