By Dom Nozzi
It is common for planners, activists and (some) elected officials to think that we should require an employer to install showers at a worksite to encourage bicycle commuting. In some instances, a proposed project that will generate large numbers of car trips will “greenwash” itself by voluntarily installing showers to make the point that they are effectively reducing the number of car trips their project will generate.
But as a lifelong bike commuter and someone who has spent much of his life researching bicycle encouragement literature, I can unequivocally state that showers have little if any impact on a person’s decision to bike or walk to a work place.
Sure, it would be nice to have showers at a work site. But I have never known ANYONE who decided to bike because a place had showers. Or decided not to because of an absence of showers. And the literature points this out.
As an aside, I spent most of my adult life bike commuting in very hot Florida summers, and have never felt as if I was noticeably sweaty at the office (even though I sweat more than most).
I suspect that a reason why some people mistakenly believe that showers can influence large numbers of employees to become bike commuters is that as motorists, they imagine that bicycling in places like Florida is not possible because of how much sweating would occur (and that the employee would therefore be dripping with sweat at the place of work). Few realize, though, that bicycling just a few miles, even in the Florida summer, is not much of a sweat problem at all – particularly because it almost always happens in early morning hours when it is cooler.
For what it’s worth, the effective ways to convert larger numbers of motorists to bicycle or pedestrian (or transit) commuters include parking cash-out (giving employees the option of “cashing out” their work site parking space for a higher salary or a bus pass, or a free bike, etc.), priced parking for motorists at the work site, and creating more opportunities to live in proximity to the work place.
Besides showers at the work site, other ineffective — yet common — ways to create more non-car commuters include bike lanes, bike paths, bike parking, employee recognition certificates, and bike-to-work days.
Again, I am NOT suggesting that the above ineffective tactics should not be used. What I AM saying is that by themselves, they are much less effective than commonly thought.
I am certainly in favor of businesses installing showers. I might even recommend that larger employers be required to install showers. Similarly, I strongly support requiring the installation of sidewalks where they do not exist. Not because I think sidewalks will meaningfully increase walking. But because, like showers, it sends a message this the community supports and encourages walking and bicycling. And dignifies the bicyclist or pedestrian, who are otherwise marginalized, trivialized and otherwise treated like misfits and outcasts to be ignored.
Is it not time to start getting serious about transitioning to Plan B in anticipation of Peak Oil or other possible economic crises that loom on the horizon? An inevitable time when nearly all of us will be commuting without a car?
Isn’t it time to start installing the necessary Plan B infrastructure? In THAT sense, it makes sense to start requiring showers. But let’s not kid ourselves about their effectiveness in our current situation.