When Alexander Grgurich and his development team sat down to design Bici Flats, no one was allowed to cut any corners — and it shows. Des Moines’s cyclist-geared apartment complex, which breaks ground in May, will have wider hallways so bikes don’t gash the drywall. There’s also a bike washroom. A repair room. A balcony in every unit designed for convenient bike storage. “It’s not like we just put bike racks out front and called ourselves bike friendly,” Grgurich says.
While everything about Bici Flats’ architecture and amenities has been deliberate and strategic, so was the timing. Or at least convenient: Bici Flats, though not solely dedicated to cycling, is the latest testament to a growing interest in cycling in Des Moines. Although not even 1 percent of the population claims the “bike commuter” title, there are plenty of initiatives to help make the city more bike friendly. And Bici Flats is proof that developers are noticing.
“There is a really active cycling community in Des Moines,” Grgurich says, “both from a competitive standpoint to an everyday rider leisure standpoint, hitting the trails for fitness.”
Strategically located at the junction of three bike trails and across from the popular cyclist bar Mullets, Bici Flats will function as the central recharge station for the avid, outdoorsy trailblazers. There are roughly 550 miles’ worth of trails tightly wound in and around a city only 82 square miles total, according to Des Moines Parks and Recreation. And in the city government’s long-term, 20-year “Bicycle and Trail Master Plan,” the goal is to add 170 more miles of on-street bikeways, 23.3 miles of paved shoulders, and 58 miles of bicycle boulevards.
Des Moines Bike Collective, a nonprofit promoting the cyclist lifestyle, is one of the initiative’s biggest supporters. Executive Director Jeremy Lewis has been commuting by bike for 15 years, even when temperatures drop below zero. He made the switch to cycling when he was 19, after discovering he could easily get by without a car. And today, at Des Moines Bike Collective, his job is to encourage people to make the same choice. Bici Flats is making his job easier, taking that lifestyle decision a few steps further.
“They’re able to hit two different age groups,” Lewis says. “There’s the growing number of 20- to 30-year-olds that I talk to all the time that want to live and play closer to the same spot where they work. But on the other side of that is the baby boomer generation that are looking for more ways to be active. Both these groups are embracing more walk-able and bike-able lifestyles. And I think it’s pretty cool that developers are really picking up on that.”
They’re doing so all over the country, too. Over the past decade, American Community Survey data show that bike commuting has increased by 62 percent in the U.S. Fluctuating between No. 1 and 3 in Bicycling magazine’s top bike-friendly cities, Minneapolis has been a model city for the cycling movement. By law, every office building in the city must provide bicycle storage. Since 2011, 19 miles of bicycle boulevards have been installed, making it easy and safe for cyclists to navigate the city. And since 2014, 19 floor plans, all named after bikes, have made up the Vélo North Loop, a luxury apartment complex that Bici Flats will ultimately resemble. “Everything that we do is bike themed,” says Property Manager Amanda Kelzenberg. “So everything from our logo to the way we decorate—every corner that you turn, it has something to do with bikes.
Des Moines landed at No. 49 on Bicycling magazine’s same list of bike-friendly cities. And so although the city has quite a bit of catch-up to play, the city’s biking community is steering the momentum. Des Moines Bike Collective co-founder Carl Voss is particularly looking forward to the city’s downtown initiative and the potential for more bike traffic lanes and a safer commute. As an avid bike commuter since 1971, he’s looking forward, also, to how projects like Bici Flats will continue to encourage the active, two-wheel lifestyle.
“I think it’s fabulous,” he says. “Whether you’re living there because you want to do something for the environment and leave your car parked to save Mother Earth, or you’re trying to save dollars and bike more, there is a great sense of community when you ride a bike. We like to say that Des Moines looks best from behind handle bars.”