Commuter Profile: Janet Liff

Image courtesy of Andrew Hinderaker

Occupation: Commercial Real Estate Broker. I’m also the co-chair of T.A.’s Advisory Council.

What’s your commute like? It changes depending on the customer. I live in the middle of the Village, and I focus on Midtown South—from Tribeca to the Garment Center—so every day is a little different.

But you bike? I do. It’s the fastest way to get around, and I think it is a great conversation starter. I know the biking habits of all of my customers.

Have you always biked? Yes, as a kid, then through high school and college: I was always on my bike. I just never thought of myself as a “biker” until someone told me I needed a better bike. That’s when I got serious. I also never liked cars. I grew up in New Haven, where I could walk and bike and take the bus. We moved to Long Island when I was a teenager, and I hated it. I hated having to drive everywhere, and I haven’t changed my mind about that. I don’t like waste: driving seems like such a waste, of time and resources. I also don’t like being still; I’d rather be moving.

So you’ve always ridden a bike in the city? Yes, but I only started commuting by bike two years ago. When I moved to the city in the mid 80’s, I was more of a weekend/pleasure cyclist. I’d train for these long distance bike trips, and I used my bike to get from the Village to visit friends uptown. I was more of a renegade then, cutting through the cars and all that.

Not much of a daredevil cyclist anymore? No. Now I ride slowly and in the bike lanes as much as possible. It’s a lot nicer to be a cyclist in New York now.

Do you have customers who bike? I do. I have a wonderful customer who runs a fashion PR firm. She bikes everywhere. When we started looking for her space, I showed up on a bike, and she was so mad that she didn’t have hers that day. Every meeting after, we rode together.

Do your clients care about bike parking? With all the new tech companies and young design firms, bike parking has become a standard question on the checklist. They all want office space in buildings that, at the very least, accept bikes.

You went back to school recently for an Executive MPA in Urban Planning. Can you tell me about your research? I recently did a research project that looked at real estate values between Union Square and Times Square. Since the bottom of the recession, in that area, with all the bicycle and pedestrian amenities, the vacancy rate has rebounded by about 30 percent, whereas the Grand Central area has improved by only about 5 or 10 percent. The corridor between Union Square and Times Square now has the lowest vacancy rate in the country, and the rents have gone up accordingly. Real estate values in the city are absolutely being influenced by what’s happening at the street level. You can see it all over. Closer to home, I’ve been watching Christopher Street: since the bike lanes went in, the storefronts have leased up. The flow of bikes going west to the river has added activity, slowed the traffic and improved the experience for pedestrians, all of which makes for a better retail street.

Do other people in commercial real estate see that connection? People that own property—if they own buildings near the new bike and pedestrian improvements, they’re happy. They see it. Even if they didn’t like it at first, they do now. I’ve heard that the Macy’s at Herald Square now has customers who come in and shop, then go sit in the pedestrian space outside, then come back in to shop more. And the stores near Union Square, those retailers were concerned, but when they see the upside, the minor inconvenience of deliveries is quickly forgotten.

Do you think bike share is going to have a big impact on commercial real estate? I know it has in Paris. There, people want space near bike share stations, and I’m sure something similar will happen here. Think about all the spaces in West Chelsea: bike share will make those more desirable. It’ll make whole pockets of Manhattan easier to get to. It’ll also get so many more people on bikes, especially other real estate brokers. I think they’ll decide that hopping onto a bike makes more sense than hailing a cab. Bike share is going to be a big success.