Get tips from one of the Conservancy’s green living experts (and a regular bike commuter) below, and don’t forget to send us your questions on any conservation subject for one of the Conservancy's 550 staff scientists. (Note: We regret that we can only answer one or two questions each month and that we cannot answer the others offline.)
Cassidy Graham of Berkeley, CA, writes:
I'd like to start biking to work, but my office is small and doesn't have much space for storing my bike. And forget about showers. Do you have any advice for how to get started and make it easy so I'll stick with it?
Jon Fisher, data management specialist and member of the Conservancy’s “green group”, replies:
Congrats on making the decision to bike to work! It's an excellent choice for many city commuters. The benefits of bike commuting include:
• You get some exercise.
• Running errands on the way to or from work (or at lunch) is a snap.
• Sometimes it can be faster than mass transit or even driving (for short or moderate trips)
• If you have the average U.S. commute and you switched to biking every day, you would save the equivalent of 3.1 metric tons of CO2 emissions, which has about the same impact as changing your vehicle from a Suburban to a Prius (for all use, not just for commuting).
But for many people—whether they are already avid bikers or not—commuting by bike can seem daunting. Here are a few tips for removing some of the key obstacles people face and encouraging more people to bike to your office.
Use Existing Resources. Probably the best place to begin the process is to search out what resources exist from your city or county government. After years of spending a lot of effort promoting green commuting on our own, my local office green group just discovered last year that we had been missing out on tons of free help!
Our county office has provided us with a fantastic array of services including: bus/rail and bike maps; bike commuter training sessions; tools like an office bike pump; advice on getting certified as a bike-friendly business; and they even put bike racks in front of our building for free! Try searching for your city department of transportation and if their web site doesn’t make it obvious what resources are available don’t be afraid to email a few different people.
Showers. The most common complaint from bike commuters is when offices don’t have a shower and locker room. Except for people with very short commutes, most bikers prefer to take a shower after they ride to work. If your building doesn’t have one, you can try discussing the possibility of installing one with your office manager, or talk to neighboring gyms or offices to see if an arrangement can be worked out to let your co-workers use one of those showers (e.g. your office might be willing to pay a small monthly fee to a gym for this purpose even if they’re not willing to build a shower).
Secure Bike Locks. Having a secure place to lock bikes up is also typically pretty high on the wish list of bike commuters. The best option is a lockable bike room in your office. Again, try talking to your office manager about setting up a space. If that's not possible, even just having sturdy bike racks with plenty of room for locking them up is a good start. You can look into adding bike racks in a parking garage, or check with your city department of transportation to see if they’d consider installing bike racks on public land in front of your office.
Build a Community. Another critical step to making it easier to bike to work is simply building a sense of community. Start small—use a central location, like the bike room if you have one, to post notes and share contact info on a bulletin board. Staff with bike maintenance experience might offer up their help for others having bike troubles, and everyone can swap tips about the best bike routes, good bike shops, etc. At The Nature Conservancy, we periodically have group rides and post details in the bike room.
We also help people plan the best route from their house to work and even run a “bike escort service” where someone nervous about biking to work for the first time requests a more experienced cyclist to meet them at their house so they can bike to work together. Feeling like you’re not alone can be a great incentive to get going and keep riding throughout the year.
Bike Clinics. After a number of people mentioned to me in passing that they would love to bike to work but their bike had some mechanical problem that they never seemed to find the time to fix, we organized several free bike repair clinics. A few other volunteers and I set up a 2-hour window during which anyone could bring their bike by to get some free repairs and tips on bike maintenance. This has really helped to get some people “unstuck.” Running the program twice a year seems to be enough to keep people rolling.
Prizes and Giveaways. Finally, if there’s one thing that can consistently be counted on to motivate people to change their behavior, it’s free stuff! From giving out free lights and ankle straps to organizing free brownbag lunch sessions on safe bike commuting or how to stay warm and dry in bad weather, to free bike maps, or even baking cookies for new bikers, we find that an offer of something free often gets new people to try out biking to work.
Planning an event during National Bike Month (May) gives you a good excuse to host an event, plus increases the chance you can get free stuff to distribute from your local government.
While there many of other things you can do at work (getting your company to offer the Bicycle Commuter Benefit, organizing a Green Commuter Challenge, and much more) any of the above can help encourage more bikers at your workplace. If your company is reluctant to put a bit of money behind your proposals, try reminding them that more and more companies are encouraging their staff to walk and bike simply to lower health care costs (even if they’re not interested in the environmental benefits).
If you’re interested in this topic, the League of American Bicyclists Bicycle Friendly Business Program is not only a cool way to get green bragging rights for your workplace, it also has lots of tips on how you can make it even better. Going through the application process and reading about all the possibilities inspired me to pursue a number of improvements to my own workplace, which has already led to more bike commuters!