Why apartment designers should make room for bikes

This was a temporary blog post, and draft of a passage I had been labouring over for my next book. Thank you to all those who helped with their comments. 

24 Comments

  1. Koen says:

    Hi Steven,
    one reason for not making the shed part of the main building is that on a small plot, the shed would either be part of the front or back side of the house, thus taking away light from the living room. The Dutch like to have as much light into the house as possible, living under often dark skies and dark winters. So if you have a plot of say 5 x 23 metres, with a terrraced house of 5 x 10 metres, the shed would take away a lot of light. So you put it as far back into the garden as possible. You ride in via the back alley, and just a few steps take you into the kitchen, easy as that….

    • Steven says:

      good point! As designers we could look at ways of bringing bike rooms into the middle of houses or apartment blocks, away from the light. Thanks!!

    • andreengels says:

      Another reason why Dutch don’t mind having their bike sheds a bit further away, but Americans do want their car garage close at hand, is the different carrying capacity of bikes and cars, and because of that the different mode of shopping, Someone who shops by bike will usually restrict himself or herself to one shopping bag full of groceries, an amount that can easily be carried while cycling or walking, but making it necessary to do shopping again in 2 days or so. By car, one can take much larger amounts of groceries, and shop for the week even when with a family. But now look at what happens when coming home: The person with the bicycle locks it away, takes the shopping bag and goes. The person with the car stops and locks the car, takes 2 shopping bags, brings them to the kitchen, then returns 2 or 3 times to get more bags. If you have to walk it once, you don’t mind, but when you go up and down several times, you prefer the distance to be short.

    • Steven says:

      Therefore, in a purpose-built bicycling district, you could park your bakfiets inside, close to the kitchen.

  2. Luke says:

    I dunno, Steven. Are you pushing the interests of “cyclists” versus those who happen to go to work/potter around using a bike? My sister recently did a few days’ work at the London Cycling Campaign. She (long term cycle commuter and non-car owner) left her bike chained outside, the regulars all took their artisanal bikes into the office. A bit precious?

    The free marketer in me also wonders why people should be compelled to buy houses with integrated bike parking rather than just have a crap old bike.

    I’ll admit I haven’t really thought this through.

    Also – on archeologists finding nothing for bikes in London. Yes and no. There are thousands of miles of cast iron railings that have no function other than to lock bikes to. Archaeologists will wonder why they all have signs saying “Do not lock bikes to these railings.” Why ever not?

    • Steven says:

      ha ha! Engrave the railings: “this was built as a bike rack”.
      To your sister: I’m guessing she felt a bit vulnerable going back to her bike and fumbling with locks and reattaching her panniers, perhaps in the rain. Meanwhile a driver in car land would have driven straight into a secure parking basement. I should explain that I’m not looking at how to fix london, but how to build new cities or districts that people will see as more convenient than a car city. Thanks Luke! Ask your sister what she might think?

    • Steven says:

      Luke, you’re forcing me to think through a metal block I’ve never been able to clear. I love collectible bikes and how they can be used as conversation starters. And I think purpose-built bicycling districts would need people who idolise bikes as early adopters. However, if the long term aim is to replace suburbia with bicycle-urbanism, then in the long run we shouldn’t expect bicycling districts will have any more bike nuts than the suburbs have car nuts.
      So the primary purpose of indoor bike parking should not be to protect loveable bikes from little scratches, but to give people a more comfortable and secure life in a bike district than they could have in a car district.
      I steered us both off track with the last couple of paragraphs. You steered me back. Yay!

  3. Well, we would most certainly appreciate it. This is what our hallway in our current two bedroom apartment (approx 64 square meters) looks like.

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2345371188929&set=a.1148290822668.2022991.1089493257&type=3&theater

    On the other hand I guess our family is not quite the average kind, judging from comments form visitors, though everyone seems to like it. At least when we are around. It’s the pricier bikes for recreation we keep in the apartment.

    There is a common bike room downstairs in the building which is packed with bikes, most of which are not used that much to be honest. We have an additional couple of bikes for more day-to-day purposes there, as well as our bakfiets. To be able to run the bakfiets to the door of the apartment would be fantastic for handling of the kids and stuff, but the elevator in our old building does not allow it, nor is there room for any ordinary bike either.

    A thing to consider is that the bikes tend to get rather filthy. That is true for our MTBs obviously, but up here it’s especially true for any bike used in the winter which gets full of road dirt and snow. So a space for bike storage indoors should ideally allow for that reasonably well.

    BTW, the board of our housing association(?) has been discussing removing the bike room lately in order to use the space for business purposes to get more rent. But I think I rather quickly talked them out of it. There is no other reasonable place to put all the bikes and the general agreement in the city has been that it would let up the streets for car parking but bike storage should be inside the buildings. Hence there are very few bike racks on residential streets. So they can’t really just throw them out.

    • Steven says:

      Many thanks for that! Pete Jordan’s book In the City of Bikes talks about indoor bike garages being common in the early 20th century throughout amsterdam, but they have all been turned into shops. Show that page to your housing board maybe? We don’t have snow where I live, but I can imagine it melting all of the floor and dropping dirt with it. What if bikes followed a tiled track into the house, with a raised tiled track and a floor waste so melted snow and dirt could be hosed away? (Thinking out loud here)

  4. Top marks for this essay, it’s been a concern of mine for many years.

    When I lived in row houses (terrace houses as we call them in Melbourne), bikes were generally left along the long hallway. A wide enough hallway works OK for this but generally those houses have hallways that aren’t wide enough. You can wheel further to get to the kitchen for unloading, then wheel back into the corridor, so your bike is pointing in the right direction for your next exit. Some of those houses have a tiled space between the front of the house and the iron fence which fills up with bikes, usually under cover of the first floor or a verandah. These houses were built before, or just about when bikes were coming into use.

    I currently live in a 1920’s concrete building in the City, not built as a residence. We have 3 bikes suspended from the ceiling/roof (fixed using dynabolts and using a pulley system sold as a one-off by Aldi). My cargo bike lives in a car park on the other side of the street – most inconvenient. It doesn’t fit in the lift. When the building was new I imagine a lot of staff would have arrived by bicycle, but no idea where they could have parked them – maybe via the rear laneway door into the back of the ground floor but I doubt it.

    My wife comments that she would ride a lot more if she didn’t have to get the bike down, into the small lift and through the inconvenient front door every time. There are 3 of us living in 80msq so we don’t have space for ground-level storage.

    I’m currently doing the rough (pre-architect) design for some row houses that I’m planning to build as a development in an outer suburb of Melbourne. It’s about 1km from the railway station and a bit further to the shops, so I want to provide bicycle parking. The sites face north and the outlook is over public land including a river, so the front of the houses will have most of the window area. Access to the rear may be possible for the end-houses in the row, but not to the middle ones. The laundry will be out the back but you would have to wheel the bike right through the house to get there. At the front of the house, a large area with the couches and coffee table at the front to take advantage of the view, and the kitchen & eating area in the same space towards the centre of the house. Meanwhile I’m thinking about some sort of entrance hall so the front door doesn’t open directly into the large open-plan living area at the front. I’d already thought of making enough room in that entrance hall to store a few bikes. The houses will be wide enough to still leave plenty of area for the big window at the front. Maybe when I get to the architect stage they will re-arrange everything however.

    • Steven says:

      I can see a business here for myself, acting as a client advocate for people like you.I would re-do your mud map, then “help” the architects realise your vision instead of their own.

  5. crank says:

    I have to admit, when looking for a house in inner Melbourne, I was trying to find one with a garage (to store the bikes) and thus enable ride-in/ride-out. The house we ended up buying (while magnificent in many ways) does not have any garage (or off street parking that can accommodate a car). We use the ROW at the back to access ~1.5m strip at the rear of the house, which is right near the kitchen. It is totally fine, but my eternal pissing and moaning, fault-finding mind gripes at the annoying step (sucks with a loaded bike), loading/unloading children in the rain, and the weather my bike must endure (oh the humanity!) We also remove shoes in the house. This often means jogging the length of the house if you end up leaving from the other end from which you arrived. I’d love to arrive home, take off my hat, hang my coat, and stick the bike in the closet.

    Although, I do think this thinking results from the car culture I live in. (I feel we bikers have to prove cycling is superior at every turn)

    While I lived in NY, any considerable shopping expedition on foot was a schlep. (Particularly if you are on a high floor in a walkup, thankfully, I was not.) I used to shop with a massive messenger bag and a folder. Having the shopping attached to my body this way changed the dynamic. I arrived home, folded bike, walked up stairs, threw bike in closet, unloaded shopping. This was probably as good as I could have wished for. Subsequent modern condo we lived in had a ‘bike room’, in the basement, reached via a maze of corridors, then I had to hit the elevator to head up to dwelling. I don’t suppose I minded that too much, except for the maze. That place was “convenient” because it had washer and dryer in the unit 🙂 nevermind a bike.

    I guess context matters.

    I do have flashbacks of shopping by car, and never envy it. It drives me nuts when I visit my parents. My Mum’s house has garage downstairs and kitchen upstairs. That is certainly a chore. (Same with emptying bins)

    Nowadays we get all the hard stuff delivered (canned goods, drinks, bulky items) and just hit the market by bike for fresh fruit & veg.

    • Steven says:

      Nice reflections! Thanks! (Darn, I should have obtained ethics approval to quote all these comments in the book!) We lived on the upper west side when I did a sabbatical once. It’s one of the densest neighbourhoods in the first-world. Far denser than any of those funky parts of New york. It is dense enough that everyone can live within 400m of a grocery store. We were exactly that far from our nearest. One problem I see is big/efficient trucks can’t service grocery stores in districts that are dense enough that everyone can walk to buy food. There’s just too much competition for the edge of the buildings to go blasting in gigantic loading bays. This means, you can live in a district that is dense enough to sustain an all-walking lifestyle, but you will pay more for your groceries. A lot of the Columbia wives were car pooling to do big shops in New Jersey—so there you go! The other cost of very high density living is that most apartments will not get an outlook or direct sunshine. That won’t kill the residents. But it will kill the developer who builds a new district with apartments that lack modern (post-garden city) amenity.
      Old cities themselves will be always be a “schlep” because the buildings are mostly all walkups, and adding lifts would price out working class people. Perhaps all the world’s historic centres will become wealthy ghettoes. That turns my mind elsewhere. I’m trying to save the world here: not just the handful of people who can afford to live in those hotspots.
      Your point about one front door, instead of a back door and front door, is brilliant. Mental note made!

    • crank says:

      You have my permission to plagiarize any and all of my brilliance and then charge me to read it your book, go ahead 🙂

    • Steven says:

      that will hurt you, but if you insist!

  6. Colin says:

    Using the indoor garages of detached suburban homes as a comparison might be a little misleading – urban areas.don’t have these. Newer apartment buildings in urban areas accommodate cars with underground parking, but there’s no direct entrance to kitchens. Just like residents going backwards to get their bike from the verandah, car-owning residents have to go backwards (underground!) to the garage in order to go back to the surface and out into the world.

    A relative of mine has moved to an apartment block in Sydney with a mechanical car stacker in the basement garage, making car parking even more inconvenient. Gotta wait for the slow machine to retrieve your car. Makes locking your bike to the pole on the street look quick and easy.

    • Steven says:

      Colin, which bit did you miss? The book I am writing is about a new model of urban expansion.

    • Colin says:

      It seemed to me that part of your rationale for incorporating bike parking in people’s homes is to compete with the way that car parking is incorporated in people’s homes. My point is that *in urban environments* residential car parking is already at a competitive disadvantage to bike parking, even if that bike parking is a bare pole on the street.

    • Steven says:

      Yep, gotcha. I think we’re on the same page now.
      This essay is from a chapter I am writing about convenience for people raising small kids. They are the demographic for whom suburbs keep being built. If we can devise a new model that beats the car suburb at its own game, we can stop urban sprawl.
      Thanks for persevering with me!

  7. Frank says:

    I cycle more than 20 km a day but the 10 m walk to my bike storage is an inconvenience? And my problem is so big that I should have chosen a differently designed house? I never knew. You are trying to find a solution for something that is not a problem whatsoever.
    And I will stop cycling when the day comes they introduce glas covers. Isn’t the whole point of cycling being outside?
    “Rolling their bikes into their kitchens”? Yep, you’ve definitely left planet Earth.

  8. Joel C says:

    First up: I’m not an expert in urban planning, architecture or design. 🙂

    I’m not sure if your in-apartment plan fully takes account of people’s desire to keep a tidy house, particularly in smaller apartments. I live in Glasgow, Scotland (UK) in a traditional late 19th century tenement similar to the one pictured here:

    http://media.rightmove.co.uk/79k/78061/39662335/78061_1592_IMG_00_0000.jpg

    There are typically 3 or 4 floors per building (or “close”), stair access only – no elevators. On each floor there are two apartments of 1 or 2 bedrooms (the extra bedroom being the result of sacrificing a large, airy kitchen for a cramped, windowless internal hovel). Space is a premium.

    As in the picture, there’s a similar shortage of on-street parking for motor vehicles. Anyone locking their bike up outside would soon discover the folly of their decision as it would likely not be there there next day! People from time to time lock their bikes to the iron bannisters on the ground floor of the communal stairwell, although again you might find it gone soon afterwards.

    As such, the options are:

    1) lock it in the cupboard under the stairs (which I do) – there is only really room for 3 or 4 bikes maximum, although even at that, more than a couple involves a fair bit of manoeuvring and good timing to use effectively. It just so happens that myself and my partner are the only ones currently using the cupboard – if another resident fancied trying it, we’d likely have a problem.

    2) Carry the thing up 4 flights of stairs to the apartment, which already has precious little floorspace.* I know for a fact my partner would be less than agreeable to having a dirty, oily wet bike in the hallway. As your other commentator pointed out, Scottish weather tends to be on the damp side, hence accommodation would need to be made for dealing with this. Even if this wasn’t a problem, bikes are awkward, untidy things that don’t stack well or stand properly – even with a kickstand.

    One thing Scottish tenements do tend to have are high ceilings: often 3.5 metres or more, floor to ceiling. I’ve thought that it would be good to utilise this by creating a hanger and pulley system, allowing you to store the bike out of the way at height, perhaps in the vestibule area. An alternative might be to design a stand (or wall hook) to allow the bike to be stored vertically in a cupboard. Some cargo bikes like the Yuba Mundo appear to have this use case in mind.

    Otherwise, some form of communally-accessible, dry and – most importantly – secure external storage would be supremely helpful for would-be utility cyclists.

    (*) in the UK properties are virtually never advertised by square metre/foot – the number of bedrooms is the primary indicator of size (hence the popularity of 2 bed conversions). By massive coincidence, new British homes have, on average, some of the smallest houses in Europe by floorspace.

  9. Luis G says:

    Not sure if this is helpful or even relevant, but my partner and I are renting a not particularly well designed unit in Hobart that unintentionally offers a convenient bike storing area right next to the kitchen.

    The useless space around the stairs has become very handy for us:

    https://plus.google.com/photos/105843600769104239504/albums/6019505235748342529

    Way more convenient than leaving our bikes exposed to the elements in the backyard or front yard.

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