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Bike to work? These property owners want you

A cyclist passes the Pacific Centre shopping mall renovation at Robson and Granville streets in Vancouver. Owner Cadillac Fairview is preparing for the arrival of Nordstrom and adding office space. The reno will increase bike parking spots for prospective tenants to more than 200.

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

In the past six years, Vancouver's Pacific Centre has added secure storage spaces for nearly 150 bikes. When 725 Granville, the latest addition to the three-block-long downtown office-shopping complex, is completed next year, another 88 secure spots will become available.

Safe bike parking, alongside lockers, showers and other "end-of-trip" amenities, is "a key feature for us to attract clients to the buildings," says Ultan Kampff, general manager of the Pacific Centre, which is owned and managed by Cadillac Fairview.

"It helps clients attract staff who want to join their organizations. It's a key selling feature for them when people consider where they should work."

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In dense urban centres, Canadians are increasingly jumping on their bikes to get to work. To keep the attention of major tenants – in particular, those hiring green-minded millennials – owners and managers are rushing to add infrastructure to keep cyclists happy, especially in balmy Vancouver, a notoriously active city where it's easy to ride a bike year-round.

Across this increasingly suburbanizing country, the number of bike commuters has sat stagnant at about 1.3 per cent since 2001, according to census and 2011 National Household Survey data from Statistics Canada. But in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, that number has roughly doubled since 2001; 4.4 per cent of Vancouverites pedalled to work in 2011.

When Cadillac Fairview launched its Green At Work sustainability program six years ago, the landlord made sure cycling infrastructure and amenities were in the mix. Six years later, it offers 1,096 secure biking spots in its commercial buildings across Canada, up from 654 in 2008 – with plans for more – plus more showers, lockers and change rooms for cyclists.

"We hope that by continuing to expand this program nationally, we will not only meet the needs of those tenants who already prefer to bike to work, but start to change behaviour and encourage more tenants to think of alternative and more green ways of commuting to the office," says Karen Jalon, Cadillac Fairview's national sustainability director.

The highly congested City of Vancouver hopes that half of the trips taken in the city will be by "green" transportation – by foot, bicycle or transit – by 2020. The city is also pushing for 15 per cent of all trips to be made by bike by 2040.

Data from TransLink, the city's public transportation network, indicates that cycling may already be the city's "fastest growing transportation mode," with a 40-per-cent increase of trips from 2008 to 2011.

Vancouver has also recognized that a lot of the infrastructure it has built appeals largely to people who are already comfortable biking on busy roads, and is looking at ways to encourage more children, seniors and novice cyclists to hit the road on two wheels.

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Since 1998, Vancouver's HUB: Your Cycling Connection has pushed the city and its property owners to build better bike facilities to encourage more people to bike to work. The non-profit education coalition also works with employers and building managers to educate employees and tenants about the benefits of commuting by bike.

HUB executive director Erin O'Melinn says she's noticed Vancouver undergo a "cultural shift" away from driving to work.

"People are starting to be stuck in traffic for too long," she says. "They're feeling more sedentary. There's this push from multiple sides, and cycling is a positive response to a lot of those."

HUB co-ordinates a twice-annual "Bike to Work Week" in Vancouver that encourages drivers to switch to two wheels. Of the 7,600 who participated in the latest one at the end of May, 1,700 were first-time bike commuters – many of them women, who tend to bike less in cities without dedicated cycling infrastructure, Ms. O'Melinn says.

She says millennials entering the work force are more likely to go car-free. "It's hard to find a space to park, hard to afford a car, gas, parking, insurance," she says. "Whereas if they're already in an urban area, cycling is a great opportunity not only to save money, but to feel good and healthy."

It's no wonder that commercial property owners are responding to this shift, offering end-of-trip facilities such as secure parking, lockers and change rooms to lure a new generation of talent. The new LEED Platinum-certified Telus Garden, slated to open in Vancouver next year, will include all of that. As will Cadillac Fairview's new development at 725 Granville St., the future home of the city's flagship Nordstrom department store and 300,000 square feet of office space.

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It's not just privately owned buildings that are offering such amenities. One of the biggest end-of-trip facilities opened in May at Vancouver General Hospital. The secure 182-bike Cycling Centre, built in a long-closed laundry building, now offers heated lockers, change rooms, a bike-repair area and towel service for paying members of the hospital staff. Full memberships with locker access cost $165 annually, or $18 for 10 days.

There was already plenty of bike parking there but, says Kevin MacDuff, a human resources manager with the health authority, they were in the dark and out of the way "in the right spot for thieves to steal stuff." Those spots will still be available for employees and visitors who don't want to pay for a Cycling Centre membership.

"Anyone who has become a member is overwhelmingly happy with what they've got," Mr. MacDuff says. "I use it myself. It's great to cycle to work – even if I get sweaty, I can have a quick shower."

The hospital is also running education workshops with the help of HUB. The cycling centre, Ms. O'Melinn says, "is a really good showcase of what you can do."

Globe app users click here for table showing bike commuting figures

Across this increasingly suburbanizing country, the number of bike commuters has sat stagnant at about 1.3 per cent since 2001, according to census and 2011 National Household Survey data from Statistics Canada. But in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, that number has roughly doubled since 2001; 4.4 per cent of Vancouverites pedalled to work in 2011.

Per cent of commutes made by bicycle

All of Canada1.30%1.39%1.25%
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About the Author

Josh O’Kane is a reporter with The Globe and Mail's Report on Business. Since joining the paper in 2011, he has told stories from New Brunswick to Nairobi. More


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