Archive | January, 2012

The Economic Case for Bike-Friendly Business Districts

13 Jan

Happy 2012, everyone!

As we embark on a brand new year, and the City of Long Beach’s Bike-Friendly Business District program draws to a close (the pilot ends March 17; Green Octopus manages the program), lets review some of the ways bicycling helps business districts become more economically vibrant.

But first: What’s that photo above? That’s Jeremy West, co-owner of Primal Flower – an art, gift and flower shop in Long Beach, California’s East Village Arts District – shown here embarking on a customer delivery of plants, using the bike trailer he custom-designed to hook onto the back of one of the district’s shared bikes. Part of the Long Beach Bike-Friendly Business District program includes an informal merchant bike share for errands and deliveries. For more info, visit the January 17th issue of my Bikes Mean Business column for Women on Bikes SoCal!

Now, back to business – how bicycling helps business districts:

–        There’s a strong bike local/buy local connection: A driver may go straight across or out of town to shop and dine and end up missing the offerings in his or her own neighborhood. Bicycling introduces us to those shops, restaurants, and cafes within a few miles of our home and work. Bicyclists are also more likely than drivers to notice businesses they pass because they are moving slower and are more closely connected to the street. At the Los Angeles County Bike Summit, Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster remarked, “I see parts of the city on my bike that I would never even notice if I was just driving. And I love it. So it’s not only great exercise, it’s a way for me personally to get closer to the city.”

–        Most trips are short trips: 40% of U.S. trips are 2 miles or less – an easy distance for most people to bicycle – yet 68% are driven, 26% are walked, and only 2% are biked  (source: “National Household Travel Survey,” 2010). This high percentage gives districts a strong reason to both incentivize bicyclists to their district and also convert current driving customers to bicyclists.

–        Bicyclists have more disposable income: A shift in modal choice from auto to bicycle typically means more discretionary income, because the typical cost for a commuter to own and operate a bicycle in the U.S. is less than $300/year. A California Bay Area bike commuter saves an average of $7,000 per year over owning a car. People who live ‘car light’ save money, too. (Source: “The Economic Effects of Traffic Calming on Urban Small Businesses,” 2003.)

–        Businesses on bike lanes report more “feet on the street” and increased sales: A 2009 study of Bloor Street in Toronto showed that bicyclists and pedestrians spent more money in the area than drivers. The study concluded that bicycle facilities would increase commercial activity on the street. (Source: “Bike Lanes, On-Street Parking and Business: A study of Bloor Street in Toronto’s Annex Neighborhood,” 2009.) Two-thirds of merchants along San Francisco’s Valencia Street say the new bike lanes have a positive economic impact on their business. Two-thirds support more traffic calming measures on the street and all of the merchants say they’d be supportive depending on the project. (Source: “The Economic Effects of Traffic Calming on Urban Small Businesses,” 2003.)

–        Safety: More “feet on the street” makes a district safer and friendlier, thereby attracting more people and potential customers.

–        It gives districts more car parking: “We need more parking” is a common demand business districts make on their city governments. Converting some of a district’s drivers to bicyclists opens up car parking, thereby decreasing the need to build more.

–        It’s taxpayer-friendly: Bike parking is less expensive to build and maintain that car parking. It is more efficient and affordable to taxpayers. It is also cheaper for customers since it’s free!

–        Bicycle Tourism: Using the bicycle as a mode of transport for vacations is on the rise, both for weekend getaways and multi-state road trips. These cyclists spend money at hotels, restaurants, shops and other places of businesses. Business districts that welcome them are seeing increased sales. Out-of-state bicycling tourists traveling to Wisconsin generate $532 million a year in economic activity. (Source: University of Wisconsin, 2010) A similar study from Oregon is expected to come out by 2012. The creation of bike-only hotels, hostels and campsites are on the rise to attract riders and spur economic development. (Source: Adventure Cycling.)

–        Increased Worker Productivity: In the U.K., regular bicyclists take 1.3 fewer sick days per year, saving around $200m through reduced absenteeism – a projected savings of $3.2bn over the next 10 years. (Source: London School of Economics, 2011) U.S. businesses could incentive their employees to bike to work, and U.S. business districts could become more welcoming to them.

–        It’s All-American: Bicycling is something that appeals to a wide variety of people, of diverse ages, races, genders, and political backgrounds. It’s refreshingly old-fashioned. It’s as conservative as it is radical, since it’s efficient and individualistic.

Lets make this a great year for bicycling and business!