By John Golden
Commercial office landlord George T. Constantin thinks much of the current profusion of "green" talk amounts to a lot of hot air. The president and CEO of Heritage Realty Services LLC in Manhattan wants to do something more concrete for the environment and humanity – or something "green" anchored in concrete-at the office park his company owns in Westchester.
At Gannett Office Park in Harrison, Constantin this spring plans to build a glass and metal bicycle shelter for tenants' use. Commuting cyclists will also have complimentary use of the shower in the office parks nearby health club before mingling with co-workers. And the pedal-pushing landlord plans to give away two top-brand bicycles in a drawing for office-park employees.
The shelter, with racks accommodating at least six bicycles, will cost about $35,000. Constantin, a long-time cyclist and runner from Scarsdale, thinks it's a healthy investment.
"There's no more direct benefit than seeing someone on a bicycle." He said last week at the Westchester County Bike Summit in White Plains, where the prevailing absence of surplus body fat and conspicuous love handles among speakers and attendees testified to bodies regularly bend over bicycle handles. "To be proactive, this is probably one of the best things we can do."
Constantin, who acquired the three-building Gannett Drive property in 2005 in his company's first venture into Westchester County, thinks he is the first landlord along the I-287 Platinum Mile corridor to add a bike shelter as an amenity for tenants. "I don't know why no one has picked up on that," he said.
It might be because few commuters dare a bicycle along Westchester Avenue. Constantin knows intimately the perils of cycling on Westchester's more heavily trafficked streets. A collision with an automobile while biking at Bryant and Mamaroneck avenues in White Plains left him with four broken rips and other injuries.
Speaking at the bike summit organized by the 1,200-member Westchester Cycle Club and East Coast Greenway Alliance, cycling advocate and urban transportation planner Julie Bond said a 2007 New York City study found the most common reasons why commuters did not bike to their jobs were automobile driver behavior and traffic and lack of safe storage for their green machines at workplaces. More than 1.5 million bicycles are reported stolen yearly in the U.S., she said.
Westchester County officials have been stymied in their efforts to create a bicycle and pedestrian path on Westchester Avenue that would connect downtown White Plains and the Metro-North railroad station with the office parks on I-287 and extend to Rye. It would be part of the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000-mile system of local trails that ultimately will create a continuous cycling route from Maine to Florida. Lukas Herbert, an associate county planner who commutes by bike from the Bronx to White Plains said the county last week was denied federal transportation grant funding for the Westchester Avenue project for the fourth time. Among initiatives to make the entire county accessible to cyclists, Herbert said planners try to get the state Department of Transportation to add bike lanes on road reconstruction projects and work with private developers to include bike and pedestrian facilities in their projects. Officials at the Cross County Center in Yonkers were encouraged to install internal bike lanes as part of the $250 million redevelopment project there, he said.
David Wilson, president of the Westchester Cycle Club and recent founder of the Westchester Biking and Walking Alliance, said the county needs bike racks on business and secure storage at train stations to make cycling "more a part of the transportation here." The county has bike lockers at the Metro-North station in Cortland "and that's about it," he said. The state DOT office in this region should "come up to speed" with their regional colleagues on Long Island, where 16 Long Island Railroad stations have bike lockers, Wilson said.
Andy Clarke, president of the 129-year-old League of American Bicyclists, said biek routes should be built into infrastructure projects such as that proposed for the Tappan Zee Bridge. Federal stimulus funding is available to develop energy-conserving biking facilities, he and other speakers said.
"Certainly bike commuting isn't for everyone," Wilson said. "But there are thousands of Westchester residents who commute less than three miles to get to work or the train stations." With a little push form cycling advocates, those targeted commuters might switch to bikes, he said.
Constantin, the amenity-pioneering landlord, said with a Westchester Avenue bike trail, "We're creating a huge campus where people can interact just biking" between Rye and the White Plains train station. "All there office parks lack one large social component and that is the social interface with people." Cycling provides that.
You can't text on your BlackBerry when you're riding a bike," Constantin said. "It forces you to be human again."