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As two-wheeled commutes grow in popularity, buyers look for bike-accessible homes

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By Deborah K. Dietsch
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sweltering heat this summer and early autumn didn't stop Kirk Hourdajian from his regular bike commute. On almost all weekdays, he cycles between the 14th Street condominium shared with his wife, Nairi, to his job as project manager at the Environmental Defense Fund off Dupont Circle.

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"It's a convenient way to get to the office. It only takes about seven minutes," Hourdajian said, noting his cycling is intended as much for a healthy planet as for a healthy body. "I want to do my share to help the environment by using less carbon fuels as much as I can," he said.

When he isn't cycling around the city, Hourdajian parks his Cannondale hybrid, a 30th birthday present from Nairi last year, in one of three crowded bike racks tucked into a corner of the parking garage beneath his condo building. The couple does not own an automobile, but relies on Kirk's bike or Zipcars to do grocery shopping and run errands.

For apartment and condo dwellers, indoor bike storage is often unavailable unless residents are willing to make room for their two-wheelers in their own homes. Although D.C. zoning requires commercial buildings to devote 5 percent of their parking area to bikes, the law doesn't apply to residential buildings. Hourdajian succeeded in getting three bike racks installed in his condo building's garage by joining other residents to lobby the developer. Having a safe place to stow a bike at home is an important issue for many home buyers, said Brent Councill, a real estate agent with Long & Foster's Chevy Chase/Uptown office. "They always ask about bike storage and how secure it is," he said. "Most people don't want to take bikes up elevators. They want to know their bikes are accessible and secure but they don't necessarily want to live with them in their homes."

However, such storage may become more common in the District starting in late 2011, when the city's zoning laws are expected to be updated. According to a draft of the regulations issued last month, new residential buildings with 10 or more dwelling units will be required to provide three long-term bicycle parking spaces per four units and one short-term bike parking space per 20 units, with a minimum of two bike parking spaces in each case.

Montgomery County is also updating its zoning to be more bike-friendly. "We are looking for a more progressive approach to bicycle parking," said Lois Villemaire, a project manager with the county's planning department. She expects the regulations to be changed so that parking spaces for bikes would be a requirement of new multi-family housing and related to the number of dwelling units in the development. "There will also be some design requirements for bike parking in terms of specific types of bike racks," she said, noting that a complete draft of the new zoning is expected to ready for county approval in August 2011.

The number of bike commuters has doubled in the District since 2000. Now 3.3 percent of city residents bike to work, said Jim Sebastian, who manages the city's bicycle program. "The number of people who bike to work goes up every year," Sebastian said. As a result, he notes, "There have been 1,300 bike racks installed on sidewalks all over the city since 2001."

The increasing number of two-wheelers on the streets has been helped by the city's 45 miles of bike lanes, including a dedicated stretch on Pennsylvania Avenue that opened in June. Another contributor to this growth is the city's two-year-old bike-share program, SmartBike. First unveiled in Europe by the billboard advertising giant Clear Channel Outdoor, the system of self-service bike rentals was established at 10 locations in downtown Washington.

In September, a more ambitious bike-sharing network was introduced across the District and in Arlington that will eventually replace SmartBike. The Capital Bikeshare program locks bikes in racks at 49 stations until a cyclist swipes a membership card to release the two-wheeler and pay for a ride.

Growth of cycling culture in the D.C. area and other cities has awakened the real estate industry to its potential as a fresh sales tool in the currently sluggish market. Pedal to Properties of Boulder, Colo., appeals to the niche market by offering retro cruiser bikes to clients who can ride to prospective houses and neighborhoods.

From the seat of the two-wheeler, the buyer can determine the proximity of stores, schools and amenities within biking distance of a home. For houses located long distances from the agent's office, the bikes are loaded onto a van and driven to the destination where buyers can then pedal around the immediate neighborhood.

"Our concept resonates with the fact that so many cities are investing in bike paths and downtown living," said Tim Majors, an Australian entrepreneur who recently invested in Pedal to Properties. Majors's business partner Matt Kolb, a Boulder-based real estate agent, got the idea for the company in 2006 when one of his clients bypassed his services and found a deal while riding a rented bike around town. Kolb lost the sale, but proceeded to lead prospective buyers on bicycle tours of neighborhoods as a way to differentiate his business from the competition.


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