Tenant Initiative Key to Success by Stephanie Alting-Mees

When I started commuting to work by bicycle six years ago, I could just wheel my bike through the lobby of the building, take the elevator or the stairs to my office, and store my bike in a nearby cubicle. My bicycling coworkers and I felt totally secure leaving our bikes while we worked.

Three years ago, everything changed. The building was sold and the new owner was not going to allow people to bring bicycles through the lobby, into the elevator, or into any common areas of the building.

One u-rack located down the street was the sum total of the new management company's plan to provide bike parking after eliminating bike access to the building.
The stated reason was that the lobby and elevators were going to be renovated and the property manager did not want anything that could track in dirt or leave marks on the walls. Even delivery people would not be allowed to bring hand trucks across the new carpet or into the elevators.

The second reason, which was implied more than directly stated, was that the property manager felt that bicycles, delivery carts, and the like were not appropriate vehicles to have traveling through the main lobby of a "professional" building—i.e., bikes were not compatible with a professional image. (Yeah, it made me want to scream also...)

My bicycling coworkers and I decided to notify the other tenants in the building about the impending changes. If we stood any chance of convincing the property manager that bike access was critical, we needed to prove that safe and secure bike parking was something tenants wanted and supported, even in a "professional" building. We wrote up a petition in support of maintaining bike access and took turns standing in the lobby and going floor to floor talking to tenants and asking them to sign our petition. Within a week, we had gathered more than 200 signatures.

We sent the petitions and a cover letter to the management company. The letter was polite, professional, and carefully worded. We acknowledged their concerns—maintaining a clean, safe, professional image—and clearly stated our goals—maintaining safe and secure (and convenient) bike parking for tenants. We asked if they would meet with us so we could work together on a solution. We ended up meeting several times over the next two months.

It became clear very early on that the management company would absolutely not allow us to bring our bikes through the lobby once the renovations were started. Their goal was to maintain a bike- and delivery-cart-free image—to keep everything deemed "non-professional" relegated to behind the scenes. However ignorant and irrational we found that thinking, it was not negotiable.

Rather than continue trying to convince them that bicycles through the lobby were perfectly professional, we decided to focus our efforts on finding a way for the company to maintain its self-described professional image, while still allowing bike access and on-site parking.

We researched every other possible point of access into the building. We talked to people in neighboring buildings to find out what kind of bike facilities they had. We inquired with a few buildings nearby that had bike parking to see if they had extra space we could use.

Bicyclists now use the sidewalk freight elevator to access the locked bike parking rooms in the basement of this downtown office building.
As it turned out, our building didn't have any other public access other than the lobby (and the fire escape, but we all agreed that wasn't a good solution). We were starting to get desperate when, during one of our meetings, the property manager mentioned that the delivery people would be required to bring their handcarts into the building via the sidewalk freight elevator. Why not allow bicyclists the same access? we asked, expecting a litany of liability issues as the answer.

In the end, our negotiations resulted in the management company setting aside two locked storage rooms in the basement of the building, accessible via the sidewalk elevator. To get a key, bike-commuting employees and their employers must sign a "release of liability" form and pay a refundable deposit of $25. While the facilities are damp, dusty, and more than a little spooky, our bikes are safe from the weather and sticky fingers. Aahh, the sweet, musty smell of success!