Employers: Setting the Tone for Bike Commuters
Since I began commuting nine years ago, I’ve worked for
three four different employers. All have been located within five miles of my residence at the time, and that short distance encouraged me to leave the Metro behind and either bike or walk to work. Now I exclusively bike or walk to my office, something that I know I’m extremely lucky to be able to do.
Over the course of commuting to these jobs, I’ve seen how employers can influence and even encourage people to bike commute. The following are my experiences commuting to three different places and a description of the various bike commute setups used by each employer.
These environments helped shape my opinions about employers’ roles in creating a conducive environment for bike commuting. Bike commuting isn’t only the ride from home to work. It’s also about what happens once you and your bike arrive at the office.
- Office or Cubicle: Cubicle
- Parking: Outside only, Uncovered, Not within eyesight of building security
- Type of Rack: Prison bar-style rack that can take several bikes in theory, but unless you park on the ends, requires you to lift your bike up over the rack (a vile proposition for bikes with fenders) to then lock your front wheel and bike to it.
- Shower facilities: None
Discussion: Minimally acceptable, this commute environment made me a mostly fair-weather commuter. I detested leaving my bike out in the elements on rainy days, and never looked forward to a ride home on a wet bike. I did so on rare occasions, but I wasn’t happy about it.
A good bike lock and proper locking technique were mandatory. Even then, I still had moments of worry about my bike and I would often go out to check on it a couple times during the day.
The lack of shower facilities was not a huge deal given my proximity to the office, but another inconvenience. I always felt slightly undignified having to change in a bathroom stall in the event that I did not wear my work clothes on my commute.
- Office or Cubicle: Cubicle
- Parking: Covered parking garage in the building, Within eyesight of parking garage staff
- Type of Rack: Prison bar-style rack that can take several bikes, but unless you park on the ends, requires you to lift your bike up over the rack to then lock your front wheel and bike to it (as previously mentioned, not good for any bike, but really does not work for bikes with fenders).
- Shower facilities: Workout Club in the building, Membership required for use, but the club membership was offered at a discount
Discussion: You never know what you got until it’s gone. Man, that Workout Club was nice. I should have spent more time appreciating it. It allowed me a place to change out of my cycling clothes if I needed, workout after work, and I didn’t even have to bring my own towel.
The covered bike parking in a garage within eyesight of the staff who worked there gave me peace of mind. Yeah, the bike rack was rather crappy, but normally not enough cyclists parked there to make it an issue most days.
For a while, the building attempted to add an additional bike rack in an obscure corner of the garage, but 1. I did not feel safe using that space at night; and 2. The rack was lodged in a corner between two perpendicular rows of parking divided by a pillar. That visual might not be coming together for you, so I drew it for you.
Use of the rack required a person to squeeze his or her body between the pillar and the front corner of the car while hefting their bike up to fit their bike into the rack. Ridiculous. I returned to that parking garage one day and checked on that rack. No one is using it.
- Office or Cubicle: Office! With a door!
- Parking: Two options
Covered parking garage in the building
Well-designed bike rack (the inverted “U” shape) that can take several bikes
Not visible by security
Park your bike in your office!
- Shower facilities: Showers and locker rooms in building (and happened to be located on the same floor where I worked).
- Other perks: $20 per month in bicycle benefits. The money could be used for repairs, bike rentals, lights, cables, helmets, tires, and to offset the cost of a bicycle.
Discussion: This employer made me feel like I hit the bike commuter jackpot. The simple act of letting me keep my bike in the office encouraged me to commute. I did not have to leave my bike outside, uncovered, and unsecure. It spent the day hanging out with me. My office was small, but as I did not host meetings in it, the limited space was not an issue.
In addition, people saw bikes coming in and out of the building all day long, which I think helped normalize bike riding. It communicated, “We welcome bike riders here.”
Cycling was not treated as some weird fringe form of transport. It was viewed as simply another way of getting to and from work. Bike commuting was not common in my building by any means, but it was not something pushed to the side, either.
Regularly seeing bikes can also plant the seed in someone’s mind about the possibility of bike commuting as opposed to Metro or driving.
The $20 per month bicycle commute reimbursement added up to an annual benefit of $240. That money helped me pay for some work at the bike shop, a new helmet, and part of a new bike frame. It may not be much compared to what some receive for a Metro or parking subsidy (which I have my own feelings about), but it’s a solid step in the right direction.
Through bike commuting to different places, I’ve learned a lot about how employers set the tone for bike commuters. Are we an afterthought, a sad little bike rack that holds hardly any bikes left out in the elements to rust away, or are we a welcome transportation method that employers actually put thought into and encourage?