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  • Sun July 27 2008
  • Posted Jul 27, 2008
[Many Iowa cities are experiencing the same surges...] Minneapolis / St. Paul MN The Twin Cities is experiencing a surge in bicycle commuting, and companies across the region are adjusting their facilities accordingly. by Kendall Anderson Staff Writer July 18th 2008 With bike commuting up 30 percent over last year by some counts, area companies are adding shower facilities, indoor storage space and other perks. And at several Twin Cities-based manufacturers, the change in commuting behavior is boosting sales and even causing a shortage of parts. Carmichael Lynch advertising firm employees who bike to work are now eligible for a $500 drawing, as well as other incentives. On the other side of downtown, Target has watched its onsite shower and locker room facility, used by bikers as well as lunchtime exercisers, near maximum capacity in the past two months. In St. Paul, the First National Bank Building just finished building an indoor bike-storage facility. And Butler Square in downtown Minneapolis recently struck a deal with nearby Lifetime Fitness to allow bike commuters who work in the building to use shower and dress facilities – for free. The move is helping Butler Square work toward its LEED certification, said Denise McCormick, senior property manager. “It’s a small step but it’s certainly a very visible effect – tenants are seeing the building going green,” said McCormick, who said she’s watched the number of Butler Square-bound bicyclists increase ten-fold from a year ago. Advertisement A company can get LEED certification points by having a shower facility within 200 feet of the building, McCormick said. Tracy Pleschourt, facilities manager for Carmichael Lynch, said the firm’s original objective was “to do what we could to deter the effects of carbon emissions.” But now, “we’re finding the employees are talking about it so much that we would definitely say it helps with employee retention.” Ameriprise, the largest single-tenant office building in downtown Minneapolis, has had an underground bike-parking area for years. “I think we were really ahead of the curve because we realized it was good for the city and employees,” Stacy Housman, a spokeswoman for Ameriprise Financial Center and Ameriprise Services Center. One local company actually pays its employees to bike. Well, sort of. Allina, which sits near the Midtown Greenway, offers bike storage facilities as well as a stipend to defray the costs of utilizing shower and related facilities at the Freewheel Midtown Bike Center, which opened in May with seed money from Allina as well as the City of Minneapolis. Other companies could follow in the footsteps – or bike paths – of these Twin Cities companies, especially with federal legislation on the table. A bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month (and is pending in the Senate) would allow companies to provide bicycling employees a tax benefit to defray the costs of commuting. Demand from cities Dero Bike Rack Co. in south Minneapolis saw an 84 percent increase in June sales over the same month in 2007; the national leader in bike rack and bike storage products said it’s experiencing 20 percent more growth than expected. Quality Bicycle Products in Bloomington, the nation’s leading bike parts supplier, and some of the stores it supplies, such as Freewheel Midtown Bike Center, have had spot shortages of utilitarian bike accessories. Dero, which has 14 full-time employees, declined to release annual revenue or related data. But spokesman Nick Mason said the private company recently filled a large order for bike rack-related products in Boston in what the company calls a new trend. More and more cities and municipal agencies are placing large orders for bike racks and lockers. “We’re seeing two things happening: municipal governments are now beginning to plan for bike racks and we’re seeing more demand at the individual company level,” Mason said. Dero is also seeing an upsurge in event-related bike parking. The Walker Art Center is among facilities that have recently hosted events at which bike racks – and even bike valet parking – were available, Mason said. Fueling the changes in behavior – and sales, in some cases – is the surge in gas prices to $4 or more per gallon. The number of bikes on the Midtown Greenway jumped 30 percent over 2007, according to a city survey. From April through June, cycling trips on the greenway climbed to 17,466 from 13,470 in 2007. “In response to skyrocketing gas prices and global warming, more people than ever are getting out of their cars and getting on their bikes,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak, who hopes to see Minneapolis become the nation’s leading bike-commuting city. At 2.5 percent of total commuters, the number of Minneapolis bikers places it second in the nation, behind only Portland, Ore. “The Midtown Greenway is a rare urban treasure and a perfect way to get around town – especially a bike-friendly town like Minneapolis.” The greenway, the first phase of which opened in 2000, is a 5.5 mile walking and biking trail stretching from the Chain of Lakes in the west to the Mississippi River in the east. Funded in part with federal transportation dollars, the greenway is a partnership between the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County. The survey electronically counted bikes at Hennepin Avenue, Cedar Avenue and West River Parkway. Hennepin Avenue had the highest count, with a daily average of 3,620 bicyclists in June – a monthly high and a 35 percent increase over the June 2007 average of 2,680. Dusting off chandeliers Dan Breva, the manager at Freewheel, said since opening in May he’s seen higher-than-expected demand for bike bags and the racks that support them on utilitarian-type bikes (as opposed to racing bikes). Bike mechanics have also been in demand, he said. “We’re seeing a lot of bikes that basically have been garage chandeliers for a number of years coming down off the rafters and being dusted off – we’re seeing a lot more tune-ups on older bikes,” Breva said, adding that “accessories for utilitarian biking have been a little tough to come by,” he said. “It seems to be occurring nationwide – basically there have been shortages on parts and accessories and even some bikes.” Rybak, as well as St. Paul city officials, is working on a self-service bike-sharing program that would resemble the one launched this summer in Washington, D.C. The long-term plan for the area is an offshoot of a free bike-sharing plan that the cities are working on with Humana for the Republican National Convention Sept. 1 – 4. The Twin Cities has 80-plus miles of off-street bike trails and 40 miles of dedicated bike lanes on streets. “I think here in the Twin Cities it [the trend] is going to last and continue to grow because our bike network of trails and lanes and dedicated bike lanes is coming together more and more every year,” Breva said.

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