By Camilo Lopez, RMA Urban Designer
In a time where information is proliferated in all corners of earth, we become more and more conscious of the decisions that shape our cities and how they affect the quality of the spaces that surround us. We realize, more than ever, that traditional modes of transportation, such as bicycling, not only can improve physical, mental and social health, but also helps the environment while increasing local business potential.
BICYCLE INFRASTRUCTURE: CREATING AN ENVIRONMENT FOR MORE FOOT TRAFFIC AND THEREFORE MORE BUSINESS
It’s no secret that when you’re on a bicycle, you travel at a slower speed compared to driving a car. By default, you may pay more attention to the details around you, including the businesses you’re passing. You may be more tempted to get a delicious coffee at a local business because of the easy access you get from being on a bicycle, unlike when driving in a car, where you may not even see the coffee shop (unless you already know of it), or even if you do, you have the burden of finding parking and, in some cases, pay for parking. Creating bicycle infrastructure is an invitation to bicycle, which brings about a chain of positive effects that facilitate economic development.
For example, the Outdoor Industry Association released a study in 2017 on The Outdoor Recreation Economy, which found that bicycling participants spend $83 billion on trip-related sales (bicycle tourism), and generate $97 billion in retail spending. Each year, bicycle recreation spending also contributes to the creation of 848,000 jobs.
The numbers are clear, bicycling and bicycle infrastructure is a positive economic tactic that improves quality of life and benefits businesses. It brings a healthy equilibrium to city life dynamics.
How else can bicycle infrastructure drive the economy?
- Increases spontaneous business purchases
- Provides something that is in demand by millennials (population ages 20 to 35 as of 2016); the next biggest and more impactful generational population since the baby boomers (Richard Fry, 18)
- It’s taking over the transportation industry— Bicycling is becoming more popular across America and among all types of people. More than 100 million Americans rode a bike in 2014, and bicycles have out-sold cars most years in the US since 2003.
- Shows business attitudes toward solutions that care about the environment—According to the Queensland Government, promoting your environmentally friendly methods can set your business apart from your competitors and attract new customers who want to buy products and services from an environmentally friendly business
- Expands the bicycle industry—people who ride bicycles need to buy bikes and related equipment, and that opens an opportunity for bicycle businesses, which in turn creates jobs
- Saves people money compared to the expenses of having a car, which can benefit local businesses because money saved on transportation can be invested elsewhere
- Helps private developers reduce parking requirements and costs—Building bicycle infrastructure reduces the cost of building and maintaining parking spaces because it is an invitation for an alternative mode of transportation, people may only need one car instead of two or three, and cities may have parking exemptions
- Increases the area’s desirability by improving its visual aesthetic and flow – and that spurs property value
Armed with the knowledge that supporting the bicycling industry is a proven economic driver, RMA is actively incorporating the creation of bicycle infrastructure into their projects. Recently, in the City of West Palm Beach, RMA experts participated in the redesign of Broadway corridor (currently a four-lane road). In the proposed streetscape improvements, the team suggested doing a road diet: eliminating one lane in each direction, widening the middle space and creating a linear park with a shared bicycle and pedestrian path. These changes would provide shade from trees for bicyclist and pedestrian comfort, and on-street parking as a protective buffer. The improvements also create locations for successful businesses to thrive, which will generate positive economic development and an improved quality of life for the area’s residents.
Bike-Friendly Cities are Happier Cities
In a National Geographic magazine article from October 2017, rating the 25 happiest cities in the US, the author Dan Buettner noted, “There’s a high correlation between bikeability and happiness.” Even people who never hop on a bike benefit from bike-friendly improvements — a safer environment for walkers and drivers, less traffic and more active neighborhoods and business districts.
Neighborhoods also become more desirable when traffic slows down and residents have more transportation choices.
When cities build and support bike infrastructure, they are making some of the highest return investments in their community. The rise in popularity of biking, and its positive physical, environmental and economic benefits, are a signal that its time to take this mode of transportation seriously and recognize its enormous potential for creating more economically strong places and a happier community overall.
Adventure Cycle Association, Economic Impact
https://www.adventurecycling.org/bicycle-tourism/building-bike-tourism/economic-impact/ Richard Fry, Millennials projected to overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation, March 1 2018, Pew Research Center, Fact Tank News in Numbers
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/01/millennials-overtake-baby-boomers/The benefits of an environmentally friendly business, Queensland Government, Business Queensland, 2014
https://www.business.qld.gov.au/running-business/environment/environment-business/benefitsDarren Flusche, Bicycling Means Business: The Economic Benefits of Bicycle Infrastructure, July 2012, League of American Bicyclists
https://bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/Bicycling_and_the_Economy-Econ_Impact_Studies_web.pdf Scott Shelter, Seeing Indianapolis via the Cultural Trail, Quirk Travel Guy
https://quirkytravelguy.com/seeing-indianapolis-via-the-cultural-trail/ 10 Reasons Bicycling Will Continue to Soar in Popularity