Employers woo bike commuters

It’s the classic summer cyclist trade-off: Do good, smell bad.

Chicagoans who take two wheels to work usually arrive in dire need of a shower—not to mention a secure place to stash their bikes—but some commuters are in luck.

Hoping to encourage employees to ride, some area workplaces are taking steps to make a bike commute easier.

Among them is the Burke Group, a civil engineering firm in Rosemont. The firm reimburses its bike commuters to the tune of 48.5 cents per mile; it also provides bike racks, a shower facility and a place for employees to keep fresh clothes.

“It’s like having an apartment right next to our office,” said Miro Antas, an engineer at Christopher Burke Engineering, whose 18-mile daily commute takes about an hour and 15 minutes each way to Rosemont from Chicago.

Another firm encouraging its employees to ditch the car is the Center for Neighborhood Technology, located at 2125 W. North Ave. The center has secure bike racks and showers. “As an organization, our mission is to promote many different modes of transportation,” said Annette Stahelin, a spokeswoman for the center.

Loop law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP is another bike-friendly workplace, offering showers, towels and a private bike room. According to the firm's bicycling club coordinator, Shawn Galloway, about 15 employees regularly cycle to work.

"We had great interest from a number of employees," Galloway said, "and the firm sees this as a way to promote teamwork and health and wellness."

Facilities like these may be boosting the overall number of cyclists in Chicago.

“The number of commuters has been skyrocketing,” said Ben Gomberg, bicycle program coordinator at the Chicago Department of Transportation. “When I’m biking to work on Milwaukee—I used to be a lonely soul—now I am the slowest person there.”

But others say Chicago companies should do more to encourage cyclists.

Josh Squire, owner of the group Bike Chicago, Inc. and operator of the McDonald’s Cycle Center in Millennium Park, said, “It’s not nearly the level where it needs to be. I think it’s coming more from the employees than the employers.”

Bike commuters whose employers don’t offer facilities can still turn to the Cycle Center.

The facility, located in the northeast corner of Millennium Park at Randolph Street and Columbus Drive, provides safe indoor bike parking, showers and lockers to paid members.

Non-members, however, can lock up inside the building for free.

One monthly member of the Cycle Center, Jeff Brubaker, 24, said he uses the Center almost every day on his way from Lakeview to his job at the American Planning Association, located in the 100 block of South Michigan Avenue.

“Bikes are the most efficient vehicles that we’ve ever invented,” he said.

“They burn no fossil fuels, and that’s vitally important in an age when global warming threatens to cause great hardship.” Still, Brubaker said he would probably bike less often without his membership: “It’s huge to be able to park my bike in a secure location and take a shower.”

That’s a perk that Sean O’Connell, a 22-year-old student at the School of the Art Institute, might appreciate. O’Connell said he bikes about 4.5 miles each way from Logan Square to campus every day.

“I usually just sit in the sculpture garden [in Millennium Park] to dry off,” he said.