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Sophisticated cities like Chicago lead when it comes to providing parking for cyclists.
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Toronto City Hall was literally founded on a parking lot.
And not just any parking lot. The 2,087-space cavern beneath 100 Queen West is reportedly one of the largest underground garages on the planet.
So it's understandable that the architects of the Nathan Phillips Square revitalization recommended that a fraction of the lot could be spared to convert into a bike station.
The bike station idea was quietly shelved in July 2011 amid budget cuts and a squabble with the Toronto Parking Authority, which didn't want to give up the 24 spots the facility would occupy. But on Monday, April 8, the Government Management Committee voted to restart it.
The station would include secure 24-hour parking for 380 bikes, a repair shop, lockers and four showers.
Cycle Toronto's Jared Kolb says he's "thrilled" with the revival of the project, which he believes will encourage city employees and others who work in the area to take up riding.
"It will be North America's largest bicycle station, and it sends a really strong message that bikes, and cyclists especially, are welcome at City Hall," he says.
Predictably, however, not everyone was pleased with the decision. One of the two committee members who voted against the project was Councillor Doug Ford, who fumed about its $1.2-million cost ($600,000 of which has already been spent on the design and site preparation).
But curiously, the focus of his ire was the fact that the facility would include showers, a feature he took as proof that reckless spending at City Hall knows no bounds.
"It's absolutely incredible. We're building showers now," Ford huffed, vowing to block the project when it goes to council next month. "It never ceases to amaze me, this place."
A day later, Mayor Rob Ford, the councillor's brother, declared that he, too, would try to kill the project.
Whenever the Fords are faced with this kind of perceived profligacy, they like to remind their colleagues that the city should be "run like a business." And what kind of enviro- obsessed, granola-peddling business, they seemed to ask, would waste money on a bike station?
Well, how about Brookfield Assets Management, the hyper-profitable Toronto-based financial services conglomerate? The firm, whose annual sales exceed $18 billion, is presumably the kind of business Rob and Doug would like to emulate.
According to Andy Willis, Brookfield's senior VP for media, the company's Bay Street office complex boasts "a monster bike locker." And, yes, it includes showers. "It's a source of enormous pride. There's a ton of people who bike in," Willis says.
Brookfield Place (formerly BCE Place) actually has two bike stations: an open locker that holds 56 bicycles, and a secure one that accommodates 100. The latter was expanded last year but still can't keep up with demand. It's so crowded that tenants have to enter a lottery to win a space.
Financial giants aren't the only ones who believe bike parking is good business. Intelliware, a software company with roughly 100 employees, has racks and showers at its Adelaide office.
"When we moved into the facilities [on Adelaide], one of the first things we looked at was ‘Where are the bikes going to go?' So it's top of mind always," says Susan Smart, Intelliware's marketing director.
Other companies that provide secure bike parking and showers include Corus Entertainment, Mountain Equipment Co-op and Urbanspace Property Group, which owns the Robertson Building on Spadina.
Different companies cite various reasons for investing in such facilities: to promote employee well-being, woo potential office tenants or project a green image. But whatever the reason, Councillor Joe Mihevc, who helped restart the bike station project, believes this is one area where the city should be taking the lead instead of trailing the private sector.
"It is absolutely inconceivable to me that the seat of local government would not have a great bicycle parking facility," he says.