Bike Rooms for two wheeled comuters

A Room of Their Own for 2-Wheeled Commuters

Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Jordan Mokriski in the bike storage room of the Starrett-Lehigh Building, where he works. The room holds about 150 bicycles.

Published: November 15, 2011

Creating a bicycle room for tenants at 345 Hudson Street turned out to be a good fit. The blocklong building in the quiet streets of northern TriBeCa has a low carbon footprint, and many employees of businesses there, like Penguin Putnam, Starbucks and CBS Radio, were already biking to work. And there was an unused storage space off Charlton Street, adjacent to a loading dock and with access to the lobby.

"It's a few hundred square feet, and it's always packed," said Alfonse Amore, vice president for property management for the building's landlord, Trinity Real Estate. "We have 35, 40 bicycles there a day."

Trinity opened the bike room in August 2008 at a cost of about $30,000 for lighting, a paint job, a new front door and, of course, bike racks (10, at $2,500 each). That does not include the forfeited rent from leasing it as storage space. In Manhattan, such rent can run from the low teens a square foot annually to $30, depending on the neighborhood and the demand.

The city does not track the number of dedicated bike rooms in office buildings, according to the Department of Transportation, which since December 2009 has required those with freight elevators to provide bike storage if a tenant asks. (Exemptions are available, but a landlord would still have to provide alternative parking or demonstrate a serious safety concern related to using the elevator.) But the number of rooms as opposed to simply racks appears to be growing.

The bike room at 345 Hudson Street joins those at, among other places, 1330 Avenue of the Americas, 340 Madison Avenue, 520 Eighth Avenue and, perhaps the most ballyhooed, the Empire State Building. Some landlords say they are happy to add and maintain the spaces in a commercial real estate market that is increasingly favoring green construction and retrofitting, for financial and public relations reasons. And bike advocates see the rooms as the finest example of a shift in policy and in psychology.

"The law doesn't require bike rooms," said Noah Budnick, the deputy director of the nonprofit Transportation Alternatives. "The law just requires that the buildings let the people get their bikes from the street to their office. They're both good solutions." Transportation Alternatives, which worked with the city on the 2009 law, does not track the number of dedicated bike rooms, but estimates that they, along with other bike storage, are growing.

"We're hearing more and more that this is a selling point for the real estate industry," Mr. Budnick added. "You're seeing office spaces marketed with bike rooms, which is pretty awesome."

Still, landlords know they are sacrificing something - possible rent on ground-floor and subterranean spaces turned over free to the tenants paying rent upstairs - and some wonder if dedicated bike rooms will be sustainable if rents continue to rise from recessionary lows.

Bike rooms arrived in the biggest way with an announcement in April by Malkin Holdings that the landlord would open a bike room at the base of the Empire State Building. The announcement came during New York's debate over bike lanes and less than two years after Anthony E. Malkin, the president of Malkin Holdings, started a $550 million renovation of the Empire State Building to make it environmentally friendly.

The tower's bike room was carved out of 780 square feet of retail space for which the landlord could normally charge $500 a square foot annually, but, as Mr. Malkin said in an e-mail, it was "very deep space," tucked away from foot traffic and therefore likely to rent at a discount.

Such pragmatism seems to govern landlords on bike rooms. "And why not, right?" said Frank Pusinelli, the executive vice president for operations, property management and construction for RXR Realty. "It's better than having tenants bring their bikes up to the space."

RXR maintains bike rooms at three towers: 1330 Avenue of the Americas, which houses five to 10 bicycles each weekday in a 225-square-foot space, at a cost to build of just around $1,000; 340 Madison Avenue, which draws as many as 30 each day to a 425-square-foot area that opened in September in unused basement space, at a cost of $4,500; and the Starrett-Lehigh Building on West 26th Street, where an 1,800-square-foot space holds about 150 bicycles each day, from employees of tenants like Martha Stewart Living and Hugo Boss. The bike room was created by the previous landlord, Shorenstein Properties, which sold the building to RXR last spring.

But one thing may be preventing landlords from building even more bike rooms: showers.

In new office buildings, the U.S. Green Building Council, which certifies buildings as LEED-compliant, awards points only for bike rooms with showers and changing rooms. And in existing buildings, bike rooms also do not automatically earn LEED points because they are based on behavioral changes in tenants - for instance, if a tenant allows employees to telecommute or if a landlord puts in a bike room that gets heavy use. LEED certification, shorthand for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is important to landlords because it tells the public, and investors, that their buildings save energy.

The building council's requirement that new buildings have showers, which can be costly to install and take up more space, is a sticking point for some New York landlords. While a rinse may be necessary for riders pedaling 10 miles to a suburban office park, landlords say, Manhattan employees coming from, say, Park Slope in Brooklyn, usually won't work up much of a sweat.

"You have a lot of buildings here which would like to get LEED points," said Eric Gural, an executive managing director of Newmark Knight Frank who oversees the 1,000-square-foot bike room at 520 Eighth Avenue. "If we didn't have to put a shower in, I think you'd see a lot more bike rooms that would be provided by landlords." (The bike room at 520 Eighth, like all others in this article, lacks a shower.)

So the installation of dedicated bike rooms in Manhattan's commercial buildings appears linked to landlords' willingness to take a hit on underused or empty space. Changes in the LEED points system might spur growth, but the pull of more lucrative uses might arrest it.

"A Park Avenue landlord with a couple of hundred dollars a square foot," Mr. Amore of Trinity said, "is going to have a hard time making that decision."

Daniel Flanzig, Esq.

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