Evan Patrick Kelly
Imagine a place where business owners bicycle to meetings, employees commute by bike and customers receive a discount for riding to their favorite shops. A Bicycle-Friendly Business District (BFBD) is such a place.
To establish North America’s first BFBDs, the City of Long Beach hired sustainable urban planning expert April Economides of Green Octopus Consulting. Four districts – Bixby Knolls, Retro Row, East Village Arts District and Cambodia Town – participated in the pilot, sponsored through a grant from Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s RENEW (Renew Environments for Nutrition, Exercise and Wellness) initiative.
The Long Beach pilot included installing more bike racks and buying bikes and cargo bikes for business owners, association leaders and employees to use. Other program initiatives were creating the Bike Saturdays discount program, adding stencils reading “Walk Your Bike” on sidewalks, giving 195 free bike tune-ups at 19 clinics, and hosting free community bike rides. Combined, these actions create a healthier, livelier business area for all to enjoy. Though the Long Beach pilot program came to a close early in 2012, BFBDs live on under the direction of individual districts.
According to Economides, each BFBD is unique, because each district is tailored to suit the needs of the specific area. In BFBDs, business association leaders, owners and employees also use bikes to commute, run errands and grab lunch. This is a good thing: “People who bike to work are healthier and happier, and they take fewer sick days,” said Economides. Happy, hardworking employees directly translate into financial gains for business owners.
A concern for most businesses, said Economides, is not being able to provide enough parking. Replacing cars with bicycles helps alleviate these concerns. “If a business can get some existing customers on bikes, suddenly more spots open up. The bottom line is bikes help to decrease parking problems.” An increase in bicyclists – who can easily park their ride and pop into a store – also means more eyes and ears in the community, making BFBDs safer places. Businesses also gain what Economides calls “the intangible benefit of learning more about bicycling and how biking benefits their community.”
According to Economides, the ideal BFBD should have ample free, convenient bike parking, offer discounts for customers who arrive by bike and integrate bikes into district events. “In car-dominant cities, people depend on their vehicles to drive out of their neighborhood and go to the mall for food, shopping and services. A lot of times people don’t even realize what great services are in their own neighborhoods.”
Keep an eye out for more BFBDs in the future. Seven districts in San Diego just launched programs in the summer of 2012. Miami, FL, Oakville, ON, Minneapolis, MN, and New York, NY are also embarking on programs. With tangible benefits for all shareholders in the community, it is easy to see why BFBDs are popping up everywhere.