In cities, bike storage is a matter of life and death

Our bikes blocking escape from the second floor hallway (neon effect gives a sense of anonymity)

The recently published Harman Report on local standards for homes criticises bicycle storage standards. They can be “excessively detailed” and they don’t “take account of local circumstances (such as road safety or the availability of public transport options)”.  As a regular cyclist living in London I can say that we desperately need those bicycle standards. The photo of the hallway outside my flat is proof. Standards for home designs are made to protect us from new developments that skip over ‘the fine things in life’… like safe bicycle storage and energy efficient walls.

The Harman Report on standards for homes takes a look at the many design and sustainability standards available in the UK and suggests ways to rationalise them. The biggest issue is the cost of these standards to the house builders. The report recognises that we need to do a proper cost benefit analysis that goes beyond just the immediate economics of a particular development. We have to consider the cost to the person who lives in a leaky house with no safe bicycle storage.

Just take my block of flats as an example. We moved here in August from an ex-local authority housing estate where we kept our two bicycles hanging off of the wall in our flat. On rainy days we had oily water dripping off the bikes and staining the walls and floor. In a previous flat in London I carried my bicycle 4 stories up (no lift of course) to lock it in a storage shed. So our new bicycle friendly block of flats where everyone happily kept their bikes in the hallway seemed like a dream. Then we had a fire risk assessment…

Apparently, we are all at risk of getting stuck in the hallway and dying because there isn’t a clear exit. Imagine our tiny hallway filled with smoke. You have seconds to escape before smoke fills your lungs and you can’t get oxygen anymore. One of the bikes gets knocked over triggering a domino effect where they all fall and cover the floor. You struggle to find a way of crawling over the bikes you can hear your neighbours’ children screaming… It didn’t take long for us to realise we had to solve this problem.

The interesting thing was that the fire risk assessment doesn’t require us to remove the bikes from the hallway. But our freeholder does. The private developer that converted our old school building into a block of flats wasn’t required to provide bike storage when he applied for planning permission in 2001. We have a gated car park with two extra spots. The developer owns these but doesn’t use them. We asked if we could use one to store our bikes. The reply was that we should rent it from him for £1500 a year. You might be thinking that’s fair because it’s his property. But it’s not fair for the people who live there.

Our borough’s planning department adopted their core strategy in 2010. Sustainable design that ‘encourages and enables people to walk, cycle, play and spend time together safely in the community’ is a key outcome of the council’s sustainable community strategy that the core strategy should help deliver. We are a 20 minute walk away from our nearest tube station. Cycling is a very popular and healthy way of getting into central London where most of us work. From what I can tell, if our freeholder had applied for planning permission in 2010, he still would not be required to provide any bike storage unless a case officer negotiated this. The council is working on a ‘Sustainability of the Built Environment SPD’ that may spell out a cycle storage requirement.

We need sustainability standards that are nationally described and applicable across all planning authorities. Building regulations don’t do the job in this area. Personally, I think it’s unfair that my local council has to prove that cycle storage should be required and isn’t an unreasonable cost burden to the developer. It is a huge cost burden and health risk for me and my neighbours now that we live in this unsustainable development.

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