By Jordana Rothberg, Multifamily News
August 24, 2023
Developers, managers, safety experts, and bike vendors weigh in.
E-bike and bicycle share programs have been in and out of the media for years. Afterall, the promise of new bicycling technology offers a lot: sustainable living, affordable transit, healthy lifestyle choices, quick transportation. But it hasn’t all been uphill.
Following COVID-19, popular bike share programs like Zagster closed shop. Recently, Lyft made a move toward offloading its e-bike and bike share programs. Further, e-bikes have been making headlines, with a small number of serious fire disasters killing more than a dozen people so far this year.
Dan Colombini, principal, and director of fire protection at the New York City-based consulting engineering firm Goldman Copeland, told Multi-Housing News that this bad press should not put multifamily developers off of incorporating bikes into their communities, however. In fact, he thinks having these programs is a great idea.
“Inviting e-bike systems and operators into multifamily is a way to institutionalize the safety expertise from a service provider,” said Colombini. Where individuals may not take as much care with safety precautions and e-bike storage safety, multifamily operators could, leading to a more regulated e-bike experience.
Both e-bikes and bike share programs can be safely and efficiently introduced to multifamily properties. While both are still relatively new amenities, their potential is vast.
The bike share program managed by RMK Management at 42 Hundred On the Lake. Image courtesy of RMK Management
Benefits of bikes in multifamily
Amenity spaces are one key way that developers and owners are setting properties up to compete. The construction of fitness centers, yoga studios, outdoor green spaces and health-oriented amenity spaces has been a way to stay ahead and make residents happy. Further, these community-wide amenity spaces are shown to increase resident satisfaction more so than individualized in-unit amenities.
“Studies have shown that properties will get a 30 percent to 40 percent higher return rate on investments for property wide amenities than they do for individualized specific amenities,” said Patrick Perugini, president of Dynamic Bicycles.
When making a cost-benefit analysis of a installing a bike share program, Perugini said it is a no-brainer. He gave the example of implementing a bike share system on a property for the cost of around $40 per unit, noting that it is hard to think of any other improvement or amenity that would be available to the community at the same price.
“When you are looking at what you want to spend on your property to get the biggest return on investment, bike shares are very inexpensive relative to other types of upgrades,” explained Perugini. Not only can bike share and e-bike programs act as a vehicle to increase resident satisfaction, they can also aid with marketing and branding. When bikes are custom branded, they show off the community’s logo anywhere a resident takes it, becoming a built-in marketing vehicle. Upon walking up to a site or a leasing office, if the bike share or e-bikes are property displayed, one of the first things potential residents will see is a branded, community-wide amenity. These strategies have the ability to influence and impress potential residents.
“We are constantly competing for the market rents and wherever that is any resident is likely going to visit around five different apartment communities,” explained Chase Smith, vice president of market-rate development at TWG Development. “So, it’s often about having to differentiate strategies and maybe that’s the location, maybe that’s the amenities.”
Smith explained that similar to new and different amenity trends, bike share programs sweeten the deal for potential residents and investors. “However you incorporate a new amenity, you will typically see a pretty big payoff and whatever you spend will ultimately be a minor component of the larger project,” he explained.
Branded bikes can help advertise for the community they are implemented in. Image courtesy of RMK Management
Developers and managers making moves
Whether helping boost rent premiums or an increase in occupancy, Smith believes amenities like bike share programs are worth it in the long run. TWG Development is in the process of implementing its first bike-share program into a community. Grant Park Village in Westfield, Ind., is acting as the company’s pilot project of sorts for this type of amenity.
Although the bike share aspect of TWG Development’s project is still largely in its planning phases, Smith explained that there are likely to be between 25 and 50 bicycles stationed on the property. Residents and neighboring community members will be able to join a membership program and rent the facility’s bikes.
“A more active amenity set is the future in multifamily real estate project,” Smith explained. “We’re really excited about how this works, not only for our residents, but as part of the community, given that we’re extensively involved in public-private partnerships. Being able to check all of those boxes is huge for us.”
RMK Management Corp. also offers branded bike amenities along with bike share services, repair stations, and bike storage at several communities it manages. Each property has a designated area for the bikes where they are stored and where the GPS tracking system on each bike is charged. It’s an extremely popular program already.
“The free use of the bikes through our bike share programs at many of our properties allows residents to enjoy nearby trails and outdoor spaces when they may not have a bike of their own,” said Diana Pittro, executive vice president of Chicago-based RMK Management Corp. “Our complimentary bikes also mean residents do not have to purchase a bike or worry about bike storage and maintenance.”
What’s best for your residents?
Both e-bike and bike share programs require some planning ahead. For e-bikes, extra steps are involved, such as pulling conduit or planning for the electrical infrastructure. Operators also need to be sure that all of their equipment at an e-bike station meets the right standards and approvals and that everything is safely stored.
Considering the numerous steps that go into the implementation of an e-bike system when compared to a bike share program, many multifamily developers are opting for the latter.
“In my opinion, bike share programs are easier to implement and maintain, as well as less expensive than e-bike programs,” said Pittro. She continued that e-bikes are also heavier and require more training to use, making them more of a liability for multifamily owners and operators than bike share programs.
“Currently, I would not recommend providing either e-bikes or scooters at multifamily communities because of liability and the increased training and education the property manager would need to offer to residents prior to using,” Pittro said.
When choosing between e-bikes versus bike shares, owners and operators also need to consider the environment of their community. Determining where an e-bike might be a better option than a bike share program depends upon the surrounding landscape, safety, traffic, and more.
“What is the proximity to places of employment, the grocery store, the pharmacy?” Colombini posed, noting that all of these are factors. “What’s the weather like in that area? Those are things that contribute to the decision making process for people in terms of how they’re going to decide what their means of transportation is going to be.”
For TWG Development and RMK Management, locating bike share programs in their communities was based on the fact that residents had access to trails or shopping, dining, and entertainment options either directly off of the site or a couple of blocks away. Not worrying about finding a parking spot, but not having to bike too far, made bike share the ideal choice. In a more urban landscape, or in a community located a further distance from some of these amenities, an e-bike system may be more ideal. Either, even in a small amount, makes a positive difference for residents.
“If you have a 150-unit property, a five-bike or 10-bike system can have an enormous impact,” said Perugini. “It’s not a big expenditure, and it’s a quick way to upgrade a property to the next level.”
Bike share and e-bikes check a lot of boxes at multifamily properties. They can increase resident retention, are relatively affordable amenities to bring in, offer a healthy lifestyle option for residents and even check sustainability boxes for properties looking for sustainability credits and LEED certifications.
“My guess is that, like many amenities, bike shares will become a must-have in properties at some point,” said Perugini. “The popularity of bikes is not going to slow down and there’s a growing demand for sustainable and alternative transportation alternatives to getting in a car.”
Not every resident can afford their own bike, or for that matter, has the space to store it. Further, several experts don’t believe that individual bikes are the safest and most economical choice.
Colombini explained that the wide array of electric devices that are on the market now are readily and well regulated. “We think that the multifamily community use of these devices can actually be beneficial because they would be presumably located, stored, and charged outside the residence,” Colombini said. “There could also be a higher standard of quality and regulation of the actual batteries and charging mechanisms.”
Where bike shares are quickly becoming more widely adopted, the widespread adoption of e-bikes may be a bit further down the road. “The future for bike share programs looks strong, and like with a lot of new technology, we will have to see what the future holds with e-bike offerings at multifamily communities,” said Pittro.
“In a lot of suburban markets we are seeing a lot more active amenities,” said Smith. “Over the next five years, I would think that bikes and bike share programs are going to be a part of that.”