Guest blogger Greg Kushmerek continues his series of articles on bike commuting:
Last time I discussed how much something seemingly simple, parking, can have a strong effect on whether people cycle to work. Today I want to argue for the second seemingly simple thing that can make a big difference in whether someone cycles to work: having a convenient place to shower.
If you’re an American reading this, it might seem awfully obvious and almost a given. I say this as an American: people don’t like to smell your stink and you don’t like people smelling yours. On this basis alone, many people put biking as a non-starter. No place to clean up? No bike ride to work.
There are people who go through heroic motions. I read once about a guy who works out in San Francisco and cycle commutes. He’s got his place to park the bike, in a room in the basement of the building, and he also has adult-sized wet wipes to clean up from his ride. It makes for an interesting read, but I doubt that’s inspiring enough to spark a movement.
I’m fortunate: my employer has a gym on-site that includes a locker room with clean showers and towel service. I use this every time I come in. I keep a set of clothes at work that regularly go through a dry cleaning service (that I pay for) and I ride in with my shirt nicely rolled up — rolling helps prevent wrinkles. This makes riding in exceptionally easy from a logistics standpoint. I skip the shower at home and heck I save on hot water too. I consider this arrangement ideal.
So what could we do in designing our workplaces to make this available to more people? Many larger business have on-site gyms; if they provided safe bike parking then it’s easy enough to make the commute workable. It’s the medium and smaller places that are harder to manage.
One idea is to engineer change through the tax code. Businesses could receive tax credits if they provide a parking/shower package for cycle commuters. Sound outlandish? Businesses already receive tax breaks if they close down a building. That’s why some places stay empty for years but don’t get sold (I once worked at a place that redecorated a floor and then moved everyone out to claim the credit). A counterargument that nags at me is that the tax code is already so tortured that it’s become inefficient and costs society in a myriad of other ways.
What else? Well there’s the simple but blunt approach of making car commuting more expensive. The last time I checked, gas taxes didn’t even cover 60% of the cost of maintaining roads meaning that non-drivers are continuously subsidizing the roads that they don’t use. Here again is where I have some sympathy with the Libertarian point of view: if people find the service is worthwhile, then make people pay for it. I don’t want to privatize the Fire Department, but I do think the subsidy to car drivers is ridiculous and they should pay more for the roads they use as well as for the times they use them (look up “congestion charging” for more on this idea).
Whether through congestion charging (design) or market forces (demand as in $4 gas when the world economy was humming), a smart business will see the advantages of putting in more parking and showers to attract tenants. After all, once companies start to hire again, how better to burnish Green credentials than to promote their friendliness to cycle commuters?Posted: June 24th, 2009 | Filed under: Cycling, Transportation |