On Sept. 13, the Metrorail board voted to facilitate the construction of day care centers at Metro stations, an innovative idea in and of itself. If these day care centers come to pass, however, they also will represent an unprecedented opportunity to dramatically change our commuting patterns and traffic modes.

In a recent study of the Orange line, the Virginia Department of Transportation determined that many commuters who use Metro parking lots live within 3 miles of the stations. That is a short commute by bike, and bike parking is already available at nearly every Metro station in the system.

However, people don't want to go to work sweaty. They need access to a shower, and that's where the day care centers come in. Shower and changing facilities could be incorporated into their design. With a shower available, more people would choose a healthy and non-polluting commuting option such as biking or even jogging to Metro. Metro ridership might even increase as commuters who "may as well drive all the way in if I am going to drive to Metro" switch modes.

Shower and changing facilities at Metro station day care centers make sense because, they would be:

Low Cost: Metro is providing the land free to local jurisdictions, which will construct, manage and regulate the day care centers. These jurisdictions could offset the costs of operating shower and changing facilities through user fees, locker rentals or even by permit fees issued to dry cleaners and laundries to provide delivery and pick-up service to commuters.

The facility could be staffed only in the morning rush hour or not at all if security systems were adequate. Facility management services, janitorial services and liability insurance could be combined with the day care management contracts, further reducing operating costs and increasing efficiencies.

Congruence With Regional Planning Objectives: The Council of Governments' bicycle element for the Washington Regional Transportation Plan calls for a 5 percent modal share for bicycles by the year 2000 to reduce traffic flow and the use of nonrenewable energy resources and to improve air quality. To facilitate such an increase, supporting infrastructure -- such as showers -- must be provided.

Low Risk: Shower and changing facilities could be incorporated into day care center designs in such a way that if the commuting program were discontinued, the space would be usable by the center.

The notion of public showers and changing facilities at Metro is progressive. However, we must reduce our dependence on the automobile. Showers at Metro will do exactly that by making more attractive the bike-to-Metro or run-to-Metro option, a pollution-free step toward solving our traffic and environmental woes.

Bonnie Nevel

is director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.