New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine July/August 2020 free digital issue

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ARCHIVE ARTICLE

Bike Haven

When they set out to repair the damage inflicted on their underground space by Hurricane Sandy, the board of directors at a 160-unit co-op on East End Avenue in Manhattan decided to find out exactly what shareholders wanted to do with their prized subterranean asset.

“We think transparency and communication are very important,” says Justine Parchment, who moved into the building in 2007 and was elected to the board in 2013, the year after Sandy sent water from the nearby East River surging into the 17-story brick building’s underground mechanicals, laundry room, staff lounge, manager’s office, workshop, and storage space.

“As a shareholder,” Parchment adds, “I felt it was important to get feedback. So we sent out surveys to find out what kind of amenities people preferred. It was clear that storage lockers were the top priority.”

Priority Number 2 came as a surprise. “Storage lockers were followed by bike storage,” Parchment says, adding that the creation of a fitness room was another high priority. “We realized the demographics of our building are changing: there are younger people coming in who might be more active and have a greater use for bikes and bike storage.”

The East End co-op has plenty of company. Board members, property managers, and brokers agree that as the city’s amenities race heats up – and as bike ridership continues to rise – bicycle storage has moved near the top of the list of offerings that make co-ops and condos attractive to ever-more demanding buyers.

But creating such a space – like so many challenges co-op and condo boards tackle – is not as simple as it used to be.

Searching

At the East End co-op, Parchment was armed with the results of the shareholder survey and soon got busy. She started by contacting several companies that sell and install storage lockers and bike racks, checking out product options and prices. Then, after deciding that Giant Industrial Installations of College Point, Queens, offered the most suitable product, she went exploring, accompanied by the company’s president, Jamie Barnard.

“Jamie was key in helping me bring my vision to life,” Parchment says. “He was incredibly knowledgeable about his WireCrafters products, and he was willing to customize and work within the limitations of our space. He was able to show us the different systems he’s installed in other buildings, and I wanted to see them in person. I was introduced to property managers, and I asked questions: How much do you charge for bike storage? How would you do it differently?”

They advised her, virtually unanimously, to charge a fee for bike storage – not only to generate revenue, but to keep the area orderly. Chaos, they told her, is a big problem in bike storage rooms. If there are no assigned spaces or charges, people have a tendency to neglect bikes, abandon them, or stack them on top of other bikes. Fees for a space run from about $50 to $200 a year.

When Barnard started designing the bike storage in the East End co-op, he was helped by what the board had already done. “They were very thorough, they did their homework,” he says. “Usually we’re given a square-footage of space and told to maximize it. But they wanted spaces for 55 bikes. We were able to customize the architectural plan. The bikes are hung vertically, either on racks attached to the walls or to a custom-made tube-steel frame. As a result of the space we saved on the bike storage, we were actually able to increase the space for storage bins by four or five bins, for a total of 72.”

The co-op was thrilled with the result – and by the bonus it delivered. “Our basement refurbishment project was able to accommodate a similar number of storage bins and bikes in a smaller area (than we’d expected),” Parchment says. “This improvement was not only more user-friendly...but it also provided the much-needed space to offer shareholders another valuable amenity – a new fitness room.”

Ridership Rising

For Barnard, who started Giant Industrial Installations in 1990 primarily as a provider of storage lockers, the East End Avenue co-op’s interest in bike storage was part of trend that began to take off about a dozen years ago – long before the 2013 debut of the Citi Bikes bike-sharing program, or the city’s vigorous campaign to expand the network of bike lanes, or the recent spike in bike ridership.

“Around the year 2000,” Barnard says, “it seemed that in every building we visited there was an opportunity to improve bike storage. Back then, bike rooms were a mess – lots of flat tires, three-quarters of the bikes never left the bike room, but nobody wanted to throw them out or donate them to charity. That was when we decided to get involved in the design and production of bike racks.”

What a difference a dozen years make. As the New York distributor of the Kentucky-based WireCrafters line of storage products, Giant Industrial now creates more than 5,000 bike storage spaces a year in the city. “Today, the amenities race is incredible,” Barnard says, “and we’re hearing that bike storage is a must-have amenity, especially if you’re close to a park. It’s not as sexy as a theater room or a rooftop terrace or virtual golf, but it’s right on top of the list.”

Mark Levine, a principal in the property management firm Excel Bradshaw Management Group, says that storage space – for bicycles and other possessions – is second only to parking spaces as the most desirable amenity in the buildings he manages. “It’s an amenity that’s highly valued,” Levine says. “It’s an amenity of convenience and a source of soft income, which are few and far between in co-ops and condos.”

It might also be required by law. In 2009, the city council decreed that all new residential buildings with more than 10 units must provide one bike parking space per two units. As a way of encouraging people to bike to work, the city also began requiring office buildings with at least one freight elevator to allow bikes on the elevator. (Bike parking space is the responsibility of the employer.) The city also required public parking garages and lots to provide at least one bike parking space for every 10 car parking spaces.

These laws were a response to the sharp and continuing rise in ridership. The most recent data from the American Communities Survey, from 2014, shows that nearly 43,000 New Yorkers commute to work by bike – more than double the number in 2006. In 2011, a citywide survey by the Department of Health found that more than 500,000 New Yorkers ride a bike at least several times a month. Meanwhile, the Citi Bikes program, despite some early glitches, continues to grow in popularity – to 10 million rides in 2015, a 25 percent jump from the previous year.

And now for the most amazing, counterintuitive part of the story: as ridership has risen sharply, accidents have declined even more sharply. Possibly because of reduced motor vehicle speed limits, improved and expanded bike lanes, and drivers’ willingness to share the streets, the city reports there was an 82 percent decrease in the risk of serious injury to bicyclists between 2000 and 2014. No wonder bike storage is becoming a high priority for boards.

Gimme Shelter

Another beneficiary of the city’s embrace of two-wheel transport is Richard Cohen, who started out making mass-transit shelters, then founded Velodome Shelters in 2012 to manufacture outdoor bike shelters and indoor bike storage. The biggest challenge in New York City, he says, is finding space.

“It’s tough because there are a lot of people in a building and usually the storage is in the basement,” Cohen says. “And very often, bike racks compete with tenant storage lockers for space.”

One of the Velodome’s solutions to the scarcity of indoor space is to move bike storage outdoors. This can entail erecting a canopy over the outdoor storage area, installing enclosed, lockable shelters, or erecting 12-foot-by-4-foot modular shelters that can accommodate nine bikes. Modules can be added to make maximum use of available space and meet growing demand.

“These outdoor storage options can generate a lot of money while freeing up space in the interior storage room,” Cohen says. In addition, Velodome installs horizontal, vertical, and double-decker racks, and also ramps that help riders lift bikes to elevated racks.

When Cohen was serving on the board of his 300-unit co-op in Greenwich Village, bike storage became a priority – and he got pressed into service to increase the capacity, order, and security of the building’s bike room. He achieved the goal by buying 25 vertical racks (but not from Velodome).

“A bit of advice for any building: it’s hard to predict interest,” he says. “In our building, we posted a sign-up sheet to see how many people were interested. Then we got reps from the manufacturing companies to look at our space, meet with the board, and come back with a simple drawing and an estimate of what it will cost. A big mistake a lot of buildings make is packing too many bikes into the space.”

There are additional considerations. “Boards should also remember that you have all kinds of people in the building,” Cohen says, “and the storage area must be accessible to everyone – seniors, kids, women.” Another issue is that many people get a false sense of security if the bike room can be locked, forgetting that anyone with a key can make off with unlocked bikes. There are gradations of security, with “Class 1” at the top: an enclosed space with a lockable door and storage racks that accommodate locks for each bike’s frame and at least one wheel. Cohen also recommends installing a security camera in the bike room.

That may be overkill for your building. But remember: this is New York City, and bicycles are coveted not only by bike riders, but also by thieves.

Looking for a sign of just how desirable an amenity bike storage has become in New York City? Go to downtown Brooklyn, where the 36-story office building at 16 Court Street sports a sidewalk shed to protect pedestrians while Local Law 11 facade work is being done. Tall letters on the shed’s plywood panels shout about a new amenity that has just been created off the building’s lobby: Bike Room.

While the facade work was being done, the building’s owner, SL Green Realty, decided to repurpose a commercial space off the lobby, turning it into a parking space for up to 40 bikes. “It’s an amenity to our tenants – younger, creative, tech-savvy people,” says Jeremy Bier, the building’s leasing agent. “We thought it would be a good way to keep our existing tenants happy and attract new tenants.”

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