Pity the beloved two-wheeled pet: Part 2, you get what you pay for

September 27, 2011 | Apartments, Bicycles, Cities, Infrastructure, Innovations, Markets, New York City, Rental, Storage, US News

[Continued from yesterday’s Part 1.]

 

By:David A. Smith

 

So strong is the bond between young urbanites and their rolling pets, we learned yesterday, they cannot be parted.  As demonstrated in this New York Times article, the quality of bicycle storage will influence and possibly even govern their choice of where and whether to rent or buy – and the trend is rising:

 

Hey, Bar, let’s burnish my cool cred and give the paps a thrill

 

Bike storage tends to be easier to find in new buildings, whether condo or rental.

 

In residential developments (for that matter, any developments), space is divided conceptually into three economic categories:

 

  1. Utility and structural core.  What puts the building up and keeps it heated, cooled, lit, and clean.
  2. Revenue producing.  The space that makes the money that makes the building viable.  What we sell or rent.
  3. Non-revenue common areas.  Lobbies, clubhouses, fitness rooms, and in-building storage.

 

In metaphoric terms, revenue space is the leaves; utility core is the trunk; and non-revenue is the bark (necessary but neither productive nor structural).

 

When designing structures, developers hate that third category of space, because it adds nothing to their pro-forma and yet is not justified by necessity.  It’s discretionary, hence questionable – and developers wrack their brains seeking either to minimize the physical non-revenue space or to maximize the revenue they get from it (e.g. by renting out the clubhouse or charging for storage).  Thus developers hate unfunded mandates like this one:

 

As of 2009 most new buildings, including multifamily residential, have been required by the city to provide some bike storage.

 

Another novelty: the bunk-bed approach

 

As I’ve said repeatedly, government just loves to order someone else to use private money to fund a perceived public or consumer benefit.  Business, in turn, packages up that requirement and embeds it in a bundled price.

 

(Offering it is also a relatively inexpensive way for a developer to gain points toward LEED certification, which measures a building’s environmental impact.)

 

Right now LEED certification is neither mandated nor incentivized.  So, like other green amenities (say, green roofs), it sits in an economic netherworld, and its value depends on convincing the public that a building with LEED certification is more worthy of one’s rental dollars.

 

 “It adds to the general tone of the building,” said Shaun Osher, the founder of the brokerage CORE, who kept his rusty bike on the fire escape when he first moved to New York City 20 years ago.

 

Remember, public space is not naturally defensible space, and between the elements and the passersby, private property left in public space is at risk of deterioration, damage, vandalism, and theft.

 

An important book with the most common-sense point

 

“It’s one less thing you have to worry about in your apartment.”

 

Bicycle storage therefore needs to be neither In (the apartment) nor Out (on the street).  This makes it an unusual form of non-revenue common area.

 

Wonder if the lease allows you to affix brackets to the outside wall?

 

The developers of 80 Metropolitan, a condo building in Williamsburg that opened in 2009 and is being marketed by Halstead, originally set aside 24 spaces for bicycles, all free. When those filled, they added 42 more. When those were taken, in went a hanging system in the garage for 22 more bikes. Now, there is a plan to add enough storage to accommodate the 12 cyclists on the waiting list.

 

More market proof – not only is the non-revenue common area space being repurposed, somebody somewhere should be charging for it!

 

Some of the established spaces were nabbed by Robert Schupp and his family, who live in a three-bedroom apartment in the building. Mr. Schupp, 41, his wife, Nona Reuter, 44, and their 8-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, moved to New York City from the Netherlands last fall. They have four bikes among them; the grown-up ones hang on racks fixed to the wall and the children’s ones parked underneath.

 

Robert Schupp and Nona Reuter in the bicycle room at 80 Metropolitan in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They said they had seen a lot of bike storage while apartment-hunting in New York.

 

Mr. Schupp, who works as a conflict analyst at a nonprofit organization in Manhattan, started commuting to work by bicycle in the late ’90s, the last time he lived in New York City, and hasn’t stopped since.

 

My sweat or yours?

 

“Sure, I get to work a little sweaty,” he said, “but better that it’s my own sweat, rather than everybody else’s from the subway.”

 

Social norms influence bike use.  Back in the Eighties, when men wore suits and starched shirts, bicycling to work was the kiss of death, for by the time you arrived your appearance was wrecked for the day.  Now, with casual wear more prevalent, one can recover from one’s perspiration.  (I’ve long thought offices should add showers, for just such reasons – and note that showers too are a non-revenue common area amenity, so they are squeezed out of office developments.)

 

Mr. Schupp said he had noticed far more bicycles on his daily commute than there were a decade ago. He said he had also seen plenty of bike stabling while he was looking for an apartment.

 

“We were really pleasantly surprised that it was something that was advertised in all the new buildings,” Mr. Schupp said. “It shows how much more normal it’s become to cycle in New York.”

 

The trend is conclusive: demand for bike storage exists.  The key now is to make it a logical option and get its economics to work.

 

Plenty of longtime New Yorkers, too, are also making bike storage a priority in an apartment hunt.

 

“There was an apartment we put a bid on, and then it occurred to us to ask about bike storage,” said Natalie Danford, 44. It turned out, she explained, that the answer was no. “That was one of the reasons we backed out. We can’t afford a 3,000-square-foot apartment, sadly, and a bike takes up a lot of room.”

 

Yes it does.  More than a pet, less than a child.

 

A picture is worth 1,000 words, isn’t it?

 

The couple have spent several months searching for a Manhattan apartment with at least one bedroom and office space. Their broker is Margaret M. Heffernan of the Corcoran Group. Their budget is around $1 million. By now Ms. Danford knows bicycle facilities may cost extra.

 

See the missing ingredient yet?

 

“Our old apartment had bike storage, and it was cheap, like $25 a year for a hook, which was fabulous,” Ms. Danford said of the postwar building where they lived for 20 years. “But I was somewhere recently that was $100 per month.  [48x more – Ed.]  It struck me as a lot of money for a hook, but I would probably do it if I lived there, because what else are you going to do?”

 

Part of the cost of a vehicle is its upkeep and its storage.

 

The Beatrice and the Continental, both rental buildings on the Avenue of the Americas, charge upward of $100 per month, according to Clifford Finn of Citi Habitats Marketing Group, the exclusive brokerage for the two properties. “Retail and commercial is at premium,” Mr. Finn explained of that neighborhood. “There’s not a lot of leftover space in a place like that.”

 

In urban environments, space is space.  Space costs money. 

 

Let’s assume that storing a bike requires floor space of (say) 2′ x 8′ (figuring you need access).  That’s 16 square feet, and the bike could require as much as 27 (3′ x 9′).  If we assume revenue-producing space in a building charges $40 per square foot per year (Midtown Manhattan is averaging $57), that works out to $53 monthly for a 2×8 bike space, and $90 a month for a 3×9.  In light of this arithmetic, the Beatrice/ Continental prices don’t look so bad at all.

 

Even vertically, they’re consuming 2′ x 5′ or so

 

Many New Yorkers, of course, do surrender chunks of their living rooms to their two-wheelers. And they make do.

 

In effect, these New Yorkers are paying for their bicycle storage, by dedicating some of their living space to it, just as one would with a loved pet.

 

Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

 

“People find all kinds of creative solutions,” said Richard Hamilton, a senior vice president of Halstead Property. “I’ve seen bike pulleys that get them off the floor. In my old apartment, we put up hooks and hung them. Or you could lean it against the wall. And then it falls on you. And then you cuss.”

 

Actually, there’s a logical endgame for the bike storage challenge:

 

Superior Ink, a Related Companies condominium on West 12th Street, even offers bike valet service. Residents can call ahead and ask that their bikes be taken to the lobby.

 

Just another service provided by the high-rise’s mahout.

 

Yesterday we met Brian Whiteley, whose landlord won’t let his bicycle into the building. 

 

“I have a lot of my artwork up,” Mr. Whiteley said. “I’d really prefer not have a bike on the wall next to it.”

 

Well, the bike doesn’t mind

 

All right, Mr. Whiteley, I want to ask you a question: Will you pay extra for the storage?

 

Do you feel lucky about your storage?

 

Bike storage was non-negotiable for Dror Harel, an airline executive who is also relocating to New York City from the Netherlands (the unofficial bike capital of the world) with his partner, Mark van den Bergh.

 

Mark van den Bergh, left, and Dror Harel on Groenewegje canal in The Hague. One of their requirements for a move to New York City was a building with bicycle storage.

 

“We live on bikes here,” Mr. Harel said by telephone, while riding his bicycle on the streets of The Hague. “For us, it’s a way of life.”

 

Yes, Mr. Harel, you live in the world’s flattest country, where the culture of bicycle riding was established long before the automobile ever took hold.

 

Mr. Harel was unimpressed by some of the crowded storage areas he saw, and by suggestions that a bike can be hoisted and fastened to a wall.

 

“We didn’t like the creative ideas of the Americans,” Mr. Harel said. “A closet was not an option.”

 

Well, thank you and the bike you rode in on.

 

 

If not in closets, where will we put all these bikes?

 

They settled on a one-bedroom in a rental building on West 38th Street where they will keep their bicycles in assigned spots in a basement, for no extra charge.

 

Clearly the market is not yet differentiating, some owners failing to recognize that they have an amenity which both costs them money and has value in the marketplace.

 

“When you’re paying top dollar for a home,” said Mr. Kliegerman of Halstead, “you wouldn’t expect to pay to hang your bike on a wall.”

 

Fine, then pay for the space another way.

 

In most buildings, however, either the service is free or the fee is nominal, maybe $10 a month.

 

That small sum is mostly intended to discourage the leaving of unused and unusable bikes in storage ad infinitum, rather than to raise revenue.

 

They’re behind the times.  They’ll catch up.

 

Everybody chases the leaders