Paulo Nunes-Ueno moved to the Bryant neighborhood in North Seattle so he could be within pedaling distance of his job at Seattle Children’s hospital, where he sometimes rides to work while wearing a suit.
Frank Koontz, an educator who looks forward to commuting by bicycle to his office in Bellevue, recently put money down for a home in a proposed Eastside development that promotes itself with such statements as: “Imagine living in a home where bike storage is a planned amenity.”
And real-estate agent Karen Stern occasionally takes clients on tours of homes while on bicycles.
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They don’t necessarily have to ride up to her Magnolia office, but she’ll ride down to other neighborhoods and show home shoppers around on two wheels.
In what is considered one of the most bicycle-friendly areas of the country (Seattle consistently ranks in the top 10 on that scale, according to Bicycling Magazine), a growing number of home shoppers in the Seattle area are looking for places where they can ride their bikes for work and pleasure.
“They want to stay healthy and they don’t have a ton of time. So something like hopping on your bike is a very efficient way of getting exercise,” said Stern, who also commutes on her bike, riding a short distance from her home to the Windermere Real Estate office in Magnolia.
It’s usually a simple, trouble-free trip.
“I have a little backpack to put shoes and paperwork in,” she said. “I get there and change shoes.”
Her husband, Dr. Eric Stern, had to do a bit more when he rode to work at Harborview Medical Center. “Eric had the system,” Karen Stern said, noting that he stored his dress clothes at the office. “He had all the gear. Gore-Tex pants, Gore-Tex gaiters. Waterproof shoes. A good lighting system. A light on his helmet, light on the back on the bike. Light on the front. He was a total dork, but you need it.”
Eric Stern, who also teaches at the University of Washington, said he’s cut back on riding to work for safety reasons — too many new bicyclists not following the rules of the road and too many motorists distracted by texting and cellphones.
“Every year, there were more and more and more bikers,” Eric Stern said. “It started right when Lance Armstrong won the first Tour de France [in 1999], and then there was a real uptick when gas got expensive.”
The number of people who commuted to work in the Seattle by bicycle jumped 36 percent from 2005 to 2008, from 25,000 to 34,000, according to a survey by the U.S. Census.
The Sterns said they moved from Queen Anne Hill to Magnolia a few years ago partly because of the neighborhood’s bike appeal — the relatively quiet streets, bike lanes and large parks with bike trails.
Karen Stern said many of her clients are health-conscious physicians. She’s not aware of many other real-estate agents who take people on home tours while riding bikes.
“Real estate is a tough business to go out on a bike. It works for me because I’m with doctors, but others would say ‘Are you crazy?’ “
That may be changing, though. Just south of Bellevue, where many developments were built for cars, the proposed Trails at Newcastle is hoping to catch the bike-commuting wave. Groundbreaking on the project, where Koontz plans to live, is expected this fall, says Trails at Newcastle spokeswoman Brenda Nunes.
Established developments also are doing more to accommodate the growing bicycle business.
For example, the 54-unit Laurelhurst Condominiums near the Burke-Gilman Trail has doubled its bike-storage capacity in its secured parking garage basement from one 12-stall bicycle rack to two. But that’s filled up now, too, said Patti Beard, the condo manager, and there is no room for more racks.
“We’re probably maxed out at this point,” she said.
A bike magnet
Many employers are playing a big part in the rise of bicycle commuting, too. Seattle Children’s hospital has become a bike magnet, with about 365 of its 3,000 employees riding their bikes to work on a regular basis, according to Nunes-Ueno, the director of transportation.
Children’s encourages commuting by bike by providing such perks as giving employees $3.25 a day to ride their bike, carpool or take the bus (and avoid paying a daily $5 parking fee); and placing the bike racks in a covered area near the main entrance while co-workers who drive must sometimes park in distant lots and ride shuttles.
Children’s also provides 150 company-issued bikes, with 10 electric-assisted bicycles on the way. There are 30 employees on a waiting list for bikes, Nunes-Ueno said. Bike commuters there also get access to men’s and women’s showers and locker rooms. Children’s also is spending $2 million for bicycle and pedestrian improvements in the area, plus a new connecting ramp to the nearby Burke-Gilman Trail, he said.
The trail serves as a bicycle highway; a number of Children’s employees have moved near the hospital in order to ride to work — about 25 percent live within a bikeable three-mile radius, Nunes-Ueno said.
“We have a tremendous number who live close enough to bike,” Nunes-Ueno said. “We work with them to show that it is possible and ways to deal with your clothes and be presentable. I often bike in my work clothes.”
Children’s is in Northeast Seattle, which is bisected by the popular Burke-Gilman Trail (created on the former right of way of railroad tracks). That has helped the surrounding neighborhoods become one of the more popular areas for homebuyers who like to commute by bicycles, according to the Cascade Bicycle Club, which has 13,000 members.
So where are some of the best places in and around Seattle to live if you’re an avid biker? According to Cascade Bicycle Club, access to the Burke-Gilman Trail can make an area more attractive to live. Other areas that attract homebuyers who like to bike to work include Magnolia, Ballard, South Lake Union, Fremont, Wallingford and Bellevue.
Stephanie Frans is the commute program coordinator with the Cascade Bicycle Club, and she helps bicyclists find a good neighborhood to live in. And that is an inherently personal question.
“The most common mistake is setting yourself up for a very long and very expensive commute that you can only make by car: choosing square footage over quality of life,” Frans said. “That’s what it means to me. But that is a very value-laden statement. I just feel like a lot of people don’t think through the quality of life situation when choosing a house or neighborhood.”
Nationally, 40 percent of the trips people take are two miles or less — an easy 10-minute ride — but 90 percent of those trips are made by car. Frans tells people to look at a prospective home and create a two-mile radius around it.
To make bicycling a serious commuting option, your work and your children’s schools should be in the radius. Also look for groceries, parks, libraries, coffee shops — whatever is important to you, she said.
Frans also said that people moving into a condo or an apartment should make sure there’s adequate and safe bike parking and that the complex is agreeable to bikers, both in amenities and in policies. Some places don’t allow bicycles to be stored inside the units, for example.
Besides access to amenities and other forms of transit that can expand the bicycling radius, Frans said people should assess their transportation situation along five parameters: safety, time, convenience, comfort and cost.
Then make sure you can comfortably get where you need to go on a bike.
“All of those amenities where I live are on Aurora Avenue,” Frans said. “Am I going to bike on Aurora Avenue to those places? Nope. I’d rather bike four miles on a pleasant route than bike a mile in unpleasant conditions.”