In a growing number of communities, retailers are going beyond individual efforts and banding together to find ways to appeal to cyclists. In 2010, Economides oversaw the development of the first Bicycle-Friendly Business District (BFBD) in Long Beach. Put simply, Economides said, a BFBD is a commercial district where merchants encourage people to bike to the area and integrate bikes into their district’s promotions, events and operations. The concept is catching on in other cities, too, including Oakville, ON, and New York City.
After all, being more bicycle-friendly provides solutions to vexing problems like parking. Motch, of the Blind Lady Ale House, suggested a then revolutionary idea to encourage more people to attend the annual street fair in his San Diego business district. Because of limited space and massive crowds, attendees had to park in a distant lot and take a shuttle to the festivities. At first, when Motch suggested offering a bike valet service, his fellow retailers scoffed. How would they find the space? And would people really use it? “I found eight parking spaces I could do it in, set up a bike valet and we had more than 100 bikes,” Motch said. Needless to say, bike valet is now a standard offering at the annual street fairs.
And, while bicycling clearly brings business to retailers, the equation works both ways. In the Long Beach BFBDs, business owners like Proum Ry, owner of Wa Wa Restaurant, have access to an informal bike share. Thanks to the use of the communal bike, Ry is now able to take his business directly to customers, extending his take-out service to delivery, too. “I love the district bike,” he said. “It’s so useful for my business, from making fast and easy deliveries to running business errands. Plus, when business is slow, I take it for a cruise along the beach!”
Investment in Infrastructure Is Investment in the Economy
Nestled along the Vancouver, BC, seawall, with stunning views of the Vancouver Harbor, De Dutch restaurant has more to offer its patrons than delicious pancakes. There’s just one potential problem with the picturesque setting: facing the water, the cozy café has no street storefront, no opportunity for passing motorists to see the restaurant and stop in for brunch. But De Dutch has an even better type of thoroughfare, bringing countless hungry diners right to its door.
The Trans-Canada Trail, a walking and biking path, runs directly in front of De Dutch. With marked bike lanes, secure parking, a bike rental shop, and a seawall built to accommodate herds of cyclists, the area has become a hub of activity. “The trail has done wonders for bringing people down to the local businesses that are on the water,” De Dutch’s general manager, Michael Prince, said. “Local businesses in Vancouver, especially new ones like us, depend on local traffic. People being given a reason to find you and be around your business is gold.”
Vancouver isn’t the only city where business owners are seeing the benefits of bike infrastructure. In San Francisco, a survey found that nearly two-thirds of business owners along the Valencia Street bike lanes thought the facilities had a positive impact on their sales. More than half thought that the bike lanes help area residents spend more locally and more than 40 percent believed they bring new customers into the neighborhood.
A recent report from the New York City Department of Transportation found significant evidence of the economic benefits of bike infrastructure, too. According to the NYC DOT, retail sales on Ninth Avenue are up 49 percent since the street’s protected bike lanes were installed – that’s 16 times the area growth rate. And on First and Second Avenues, where cycling is up 177 percent thanks to new cycle tracks, commercial vacancies are 47 percent lower than the rest of the area.
And painted lanes aren’t the only type of bike facilities that are proving lucrative for businesses. In Washington, DC, the Capital Bikeshare system has won widespread support and ridership, with more than 18,000 annual members and 225,000 casual riders. That’s good news for businesses close to the nearly 200 stations. According to a recent survey, 83 percent of Capital Bikeshare users said they were more likely to shop somewhere close to a bike share station.
Those types of amenities are now influencing where new businesses set up shop. Just ask Lauren Lilly, owner of Yellow 108, which sells sustainable headwear and accessories. Originally, Lilly intended to locate in Los Angeles but shifted her focus to nearby Long Beach when she learned of the city’s investment in bike infrastructure. “We chose to move our office and store to a great building on the bike lane on Third Street because our core demographic would be passing by regularly,” she said.