PORTLAND, Ore. - In 21st century America, a 19th century invention — the bicycle — is figuring more and more in the calculations of apartment hunters and others looking for suitable digs.
Bike commuting is on the rise in many cities, studies show, and as the number has grown, so has the need for bike-friendly housing.
Many apartment complexes are offering secure storage spaces for bikes. Some developers are even putting bike repair shops in apartment buildings.
"I decided to live without a car, to take the leap," said 31-year-old Rose Barcklow, who lives in a Denver apartment that gives her easy access to the bike lanes she takes on her 7-mile commute to work.
Her apartment complex, "Solera," is ueber-bike-friendly. Barcklow doesn't have to lug her two bikes up to her apartment because there's a secure storage area for two-wheelers, and she makes use of the "velo room" — a tool-equipped workshop where she can pump up her tires, clean her chain and fix a flat.
"There's brushes, wrenches, the goo that gets grease off your hands, and aprons," she said.
Chris Archer, assistant project manager for Zocalo Community Development in Denver, said the developer's next project, a 231-unit apartment complex, will have a bike repair room that includes multiple bike repair stands, a wide range of tools and lots of bike storage space.
Bike-friendly amenities are a big draw for potential residents, Archer said.
"Most folks who move in are very green-minded," he said.
What is bike-friendly housing?
If you're a cyclist who owns a house, you can do pretty much whatever it takes: Put your bike in the cellar or in a locked garage to keep it secure. Build shelves or a cabinet to store helmets, cycling shoes, spare tubes, tires, tools and other gear.
If you don't own your own house, not to worry. An increasing number of apartment buildings are thinking about how they can meet your needs.
In Portland, the collective voice of cyclists is louder that in many other American cities. In the last several years, Oregon's largest city has built a network of bike lanes, bike paths and streets designated with "sharrows"— arrow-like symbols painted to remind motorists they share the road with cyclists. Each morning, thousands of Portland cyclists commute to work. All of this has helped earn the city a reputation as one of the most cyclist-friendly in the nation — and it sometimes has drawn curses and rude gestures from motorists who think there are too many bikes on the road.
North Portland, across the Willamette River from downtown, is emblematic of Portland's green and bike-catering nature. On North Williams Avenue, within a few blocks of each other, are a guest house, a bar and an apartment complex that all cater to cyclists, plus the United Bicycle Institute, which offers classes on bike repair. All are located on a major bike commuter route.
Jean Pierre Veillet is developer of the building containing the apartment complex, called EcoFlats.
"Three thousand people ride their bike by here each day," said Veillet, standing in front of EcoFlats, which has 18 apartments.
In the vestibule is a line of 30 wall-mounted bike racks with a bike hanging from nearly every one. EcoFlats appeals to the green-conscious in other ways as well: On the roof, for example, is an array of photovoltaic and solar thermal panels. Also in the vestibule is a flat-screen monitor that shows the energy usage of each apartment, which creates competition among tenants to be energy-efficient.
On the ground floor is the Hopworks BikeBar, decorated with bike frames hand-crafted locally. Hopworks has a water bottle filling station, plus 99 empty bottles of beer on the wall — all in bike water bottle cages.
Just down the street is the Friendly Bike Guest House, which originally housed people taking bike repair classes at the United Bicycle Institute but which has also been discovered by others, including people coming through on bike tours. The guest house has an interior bike lockup area, bike-themed art and a repair shop with tools.
To the north of Portland, Seattle is also developing a bike-friendly reputation, with thousands of cyclists sharing the streets with motorists.
Matt Griffin is managing partner with the Pine Street Group, which is building a 654-unit apartment complex that caters to bike-riding tenants as well as cyclists who won't even be living there.
The complex will have 240 secure stalls for bike storage as well as men's and women's showers and locker rooms. Non-tenant bike commuters can join a club that gives them access to those facilities. If they need work done on their bikes, they can leave them at the bike shop during the day.
"We really wanted to be a hub for people who want to commute to work," said Griffin, who last year put nearly 10,000 miles on his own bike and has been car-free for nine years.
"Blkes are a good way to get around Seattle."
Terrence Petty, The AP's news editor for Oregon, is a long-time cyclist who occasionally writes about cycling trends.