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Room for change

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Bart Sbeghen reports on the growing phenomenon of premium end-of-trip facilities in some of the nation’s most progressive commercial buildings and offices. Photos: Karl Hilzinger, Hormuzd Khodaiji.

The phenomenon may not be obvious to most people, probably because of the movement’s quite literally underground nature. That was until a front page article in The Financial Review reported on huge investments made by businesses keen on encouraging staff to increase their daily dose of physical activity. The headline referred to the lavish $9.3 million marble upgrade (Italian and Moroccan, if you’re interested) to the locker room at Sydney’s Grosvenor Place complex—a skyscraper occupying an entire block in the financial district.

Head of Facilities Management at Knight Frank, Brad Harding, is one of the largest commercial property agents and managers in Australia. He deals with hundreds of buildings and has seen widespread change in the attitudes towards implementing health and wellbeing inspired structures and offices.

“Not only were quality end-of-trip facilities such as bicycle parking becoming more common in commercial buildings, tenants themselves were actually demanding them.

“More and more are giving up car spaces to make way for showers, lockers and bicycle parking,” he said.

“Not only are we seeing more bike parking facilities generally, [but] they are also becoming more sophisticated and feature-laden. Bicycle maintenance stations are now all the rage.”

James Legge, a well-known Melbourne architect and director of Six Degrees Architects, is developing, with others, apartment blocks with (gasp!) no car parking. And, people are lining up to buy and invest.

Inspired by the project at The Commons, Brunswick by Breathe Architects, the firm are shaking up people’s ideas of apartment development. Given the demand from potential buyers, apartments without car parking are set to spread quickly.

“Jeremy from Breathe got The Commons going—that was the precursor. He showed that it could be a success and that there was a demand for what he was offering.

“The next project, Nightingale 1, intends to connect architects and investors in an attempt to remove the developer from the development. Investors take a stake in better quality and more affordable housing with profit capped at a fair rate.

“We have a large database of people who are interested in buying. We want to focus on owner occupiers who are happy living without owning a car.”

Architect–investor-run developments desire more control of decisions and by eliminating car parking and other expensive luxuries, they can instead focus on quality design and finishes.

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The Commons, Brunswick.

The first step is to locate land with access to good public transport. This makes a case to potential owners and local councils.

“We need council to be on-side. We do that by ensuring access to public transport and developing a green travel plan for all residents. Your body corporate fees go toward your green travel plan which might include public transport, car share, or bike repairs. But you can’t put it towards petrol. The car share stations outside the Commons are the busiest in Melbourne.

“There are some barriers with planning laws. It can be a difficult proposition for councils.

We have the database of potential buyers and they are surveyed first to go with the development application. For instance we have 40 potential buyers for 20 apartments and none of them want a car. Instead they get two or three bike parking spaces per apartment and a high quality residence in a great location.”

Legge sees himself at the forefront and hopes to contribute to positive change. “Apartments and housing have changed. We should not expect them to have car parks. With all the other current transport choices and the new ones that are on their way, such as Uber and autonomous vehicles, you shouldn’t waste space on car parking. It is yesterday’s thinking and is making current housing less affordable.”

Joe Sullivan is Finance and Commercial Manager of the Rialto—an iconic part of Melbourne’s skyline and the tallest office building in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Rialto have just opened one of the swankiest bike parking and end-of-trip facilities from the area once taken up by 40 cars. The $2 million investment, on the part of the building owners, boasts a facility with 349 bike spaces, 574 lockers, a repair station, a towel service, ironing boards, and, in the female change rooms, hair dryers and straighteners. Use of the facility is free for tenants.

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Change rooms at Rialto, Melbourne.

“Bike parking facilities, showers and change rooms for tenants are certainly becoming more prevalent, especially since I’ve been involved here at Rialto. Existing buildings are all providing them. Usually it’s the larger buildings but even the smaller ones have them but not to the same scale.”

Asked what’s driving the changes, Joe pointed out people’s attitudes towards their workplace.

“A large part of it is that over the past decade there has been a change around what people expect of their workplace. People have a lifestyle related to their workplace, just like they have around their home. For instance they may go for a jog or ride at lunchtime, or a walk, or play sport with colleagues. They want their workplace to accommodate these activities.

“We aim to provide the needs of the people who work here. We’ve been going through a regeneration over the last six or seven years. There was also upgrades to tenancy floors and environmental lighting. The Rialto is a 30-year-old building and we need to make it as relevant and ground breaking as it was when it opened. The Rialto is a premium building so we had to aim for a premium bicycle facility.”

The location of the facilities is an indicator of the changing priorities of both the owner and the tenants. It has replaced 40 premium car parks, positioned near the lift wells and on the entry floor. Now the best parking spots are reserved for bike riders.

The facility has been very well received, but more importantly, it’s been utilised. A number of Rialto workers, signed up to the gym next door, return to shower at the Rialto rather than use the gym’s change rooms.

As to why the Rialto invested such a significant sum on the facility? That comes down to a commercial reality.

“The tenants demanded it. From a competitive perspective we had to do it,” Mr Sullivan says.

“In the past it would have been uneconomic to remove the car parks which people pay for but now it’s changed. It makes more economic sense to now replace the car parks with bicycle parks and facilities.”

Mr Sullivan thinks this is not the end and is excited about future integration of the facility.

“I think from our perspective we’ll integrate it into the rest of the building, including the online portal where you can order coffee, book in your dry cleaning or get a massage. It’s about creating a healthy community where we’ll do things like tap into the Ride2Work Day program and support the work of [non-profit mechanics] Good Cycles.”

Not surprisingly, Mr Sullivan cannot stop himself singing the praises of the building; he is the commercial manager and the bike parking is part of the sell, after all.

“The Rialto needs to remain innovative and relevant to the needs of professionals and the bike parking end-of-trip facility is a critical part of this.”

Well said. It’s not just office buildings and apartments making changes for bike riders—workplaces themselves are adapting buildings to encourage a healthier lifestyle.

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The Alfred Hospital, Melbourne.

Chris Nunn from AMP Capital has been involved in commercial property for over seven years and has seen a seismic shift in provision of cycling facilities in buildings. The end-of-trip facilities often double as shower and change rooms for workers getting active at lunch.

“Tenants are seeing the benefits from reduced absenteeism and improved productivity when staff are physically active. They are demanding quality facilities that encourage healthy lifestyles and property owners are responding to market demand.

“Any new building owner would be crazy not to include premium end-of-trip facilities. And those with existing buildings are including facilities in any upgrades to stay competitive and attract tenants. Good quality end-of-trip facilities are a must.

“There has been a huge investment in active travel and end-of-trip facilities, especially in CBD buildings, with some property owners spending $1-$2 million and even more. Some of them look and feel like a five-star hotel or an exclusive gym with luxurious appointments and finishes. The newly completed Aurora Place development in Sydney is a great example with riders, runners and walkers treated like valued club members with a towel service and other extras.”

But Mr Nunn points out that to get the most from these investments, businesses are asking government to do their part and contribute to the infrastructure.

“The property sector would love to see more investment in the public realm at all levels of government. This includes a network of cycleways that everyone can use. This is the bare minimum that all cities require to be fit for the future.”

But it will take bold decisions, coordinated planning and investments in infrastructure from our governments.

“Cities like London and New York are showing the way and benefiting from the boom in cycling. The transformation in those cities has been phenomenal. Everyone realises we need to get more active. We need to change. The average worker wants to look after their own wellbeing; we need government and business to support that,” Nunn argues.

Chris Carpenter, Chief External Relations Officer at Bicycle Network, says, “It’s appalling that industry leaders have been forced to pick up the slack as the NSW government continues to invest in cars and trucks, and not bikes. Governments should be leaders and not followers. It’s time for the NSW government to turn the tables and start supporting healthy lifestyles and business investment.

“Businesses are being sold on the benefits of more people riding. They are making solid commitments, not just in terms of dollars invested in cycling facilities in their buildings, but also in supportive policies and programs for their staff who want to get a healthy, daily dose of bike riding.

“But governments, especially state and federal, are dragging their feet. In fact, our research indicates that in the Sydney CBD, businesses have spent over $10 million over the last two years on cycling end of trip facilities while the state government is at the same time, unbelievably, removing bike lanes from the city. Cities are changing for bike riding, it’s just that some governments don’t seem to realise it yet.”

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One thought on “3”

  1. Stop telling companies to install vertical or expensive high rack systems that only the strong people with light race bikes can use. The simple inverted U rack is the most suitable, simplest & cheapest for the “8 to 80 year olds”. Not everyone is as young & fit as you Bart. Some people want to ride “Dutch” bikes or electric bikes &/or have full length mud guards. Such bikes are often too heavy & awkward for their riders to lift. Under the Australian standards the space required for vertical racks is basically the same anyway since you still have to allow the manoeuvring space.
    Bike rack test – If your grannie can’t lift her full mud guarded Dutch bike into the rack then it is not a good rack and is discriminating against many people who might want to ride.

  2. I work in Melbourne Central Tower (the office tower adjacent to the Melbourne Central shopping centre) and they have just put in the most incredible end of trip facilities. $165 a year for a private locker with a PIN code; swipe-card access room for bicycle storage; five star hotel quality rainforest showers and fresh/free towels every day! Amazing. They even have a TV playing Sky News to watch while you’re getting dressed, a refrigerated water refilling station, permanently installed tyre pumps and these high tech bike storage racks that can store two bikes on top of each other on a hinged rack. Oh, and a lift that goes directly from the end of trip facilities to any floor in the building directly. I’m glad to be working in this building!! (And despite my breathless enthusiasm I’m not in any way associated with the owner/managers of the building, other than being a very happy employee of a company that is a tenant!)

    1. Can you provide a link for that place ?? I used to have good bike parking at my last workplace – but need to join a gym, to get a shower…

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