The Growing Importance of Bicycle Infrastructure

Why more cities need to embrace bike lanes, bike parking and other bicycle infrastructure in their urban cores.

  • “The Bohemian Guide to Urban Cycling,” by Sean Benesh, provides basic but valuable information on cycling in the city and discusses the need for more bicycle infrastructure in North American cities.
    Cover courtesy Urban Loft Publishers
  • Building more bicycle infrastructure can increase retail visibility, improve commuters' health and further develop urban neighborhoods.
    Photo by Fotolia/Sergii Figurnyi

Using the bike-crazy city of Portland as a backdrop, The Bohemian Guide to Urban Cycling (Urban Loft Publishers, 2014), by Sean Benesh, covers the basics needed to bike comfortably in the city by teaching you what to ride, how to ride, what to wear and more about cycling on busy city streets. The following excerpt from Chapter 4, “The Economic Benefits of Bicycle Facilities,” shows how more bicycle infrastructure can boost local businesses, make real estate more desirable and pull workers into the downtown area.

More than simply a piece of recreational equipment, the bicycle is increasingly viewed as a viable mode of transportation for work trips and non-work trips alike. With the increase of cyclists on the road it is becoming clearer that they are having an economic impact in regards to the consumer choices and even location choices for businesses catering to the bicycling passersby or for their own bike-oriented employees. I offer a very brief survey of some of the current literature surrounding this topic. Four categories emerge that will provide the trajectory and parameters of this survey: bicycle lanes and thoroughfares, the impacts of bike parking on local businesses, travel mode and consumer spending, and the influence of bike-friendly business in recruiting talent.

The Value of Bicycle Lanes and Thoroughfares

There is a growing connection in the relationship between amenity- or service-oriented businesses and the proximity to bicycle thoroughfares. These kinds of businesses would include restaurants, coffee shops, pubs, boutiques, and the like. Michael Andersen, who writes for BikePortland and People for Bikes, has written numerous articles that detail this trend. “Bikes, it turns out, seem to be a perfect way to get people to the few retail categories that are thriving in the age of mail-order everything: bars, restaurants and personal services. And in Portland, where an early investment in basic bikeways has made bikes a popular way to run errands, retailers are responding by snapping up storefronts with good bike exposure.”

Locally, an example of these changes taking place is North Williams Avenue (and North Vancouver Avenue) which carries thousands of bicyclists towards and away from Portland’s downtown. Over the past few years many of the businesses that have cropped up strategically cater to these pedal-powered consumers ranging from the Hopworks BikeBar, coffee shops (Ristretto Roasters), eateries, yoga studios, United Bicycle Institute, Portland Design Works (which makes accessories for bikes), and more. In one building alone there are three businesses owned and operated by women who cycle, a bike shop catering to women cyclists and their interests (fashion and otherwise ... which just moved up to Alberta Street), a bicycle frame builder, and a bicycle wheel builder. All of this bicycle traffic has influenced businesses here significantly.

What is revealed is that bicycle traffic equates revenue for places like coffee shops, boutiques, pubs, and other specialty shops. “It’s not just that a potential customer on a bike is just as valuable as the same potential customer in a car. It’s that good bike access is disproportionately good for the core customers of bars and restaurants.” The thriving service sector benefits greatly from bicycles. Cycle tracks, bike lanes, and buffered protected bike lanes are good for business. A recent article highlights the benefits of protected bike lanes:

• Protected bike lanes increase retail visibility and volume. It turns out that when people use bikes for errands, they’re the perfect kind of retail customer: the kind that comes back again and again. They spend as much per month as people who arrive in cars, require far less parking while they shop and are easier to lure off the street for an impulse visit.
• Protected bike lanes make workers healthier and more productive. From Philadelphia to Chicago to Portland, the story is the same: people go out of their way to use protected bike lanes. By drawing clear, safe barriers between auto and bike traffic, protected bike lanes get more people in the saddle “burning calories, clearing the mental cobwebs, and strengthening hearts, hips and lungs.”
• Protected bike lanes make real estate more desirable. By calming traffic and creating an alternative to auto travel lanes, protected bike lanes help build the sort of neighborhoods that everyone enjoys walking around in. By extending the geographic range of non-car travel, bike lanes help urban neighborhoods develop without waiting years for new transit service to show up.
• Protected bike lanes help companies score talented workers. Workers of all ages, but especially young ones, increasingly prefer downtown jobs and nearby homes, the sort of lifestyles that make city life feel like city life. Because protected bike lanes make biking more comfortable and popular, they help companies locate downtown without breaking the bank on auto parking space, and allow workers to reach their desk the way they increasingly prefer: under their own power.

7/10/2020 3:04:18 PM

now if only we could get the manufactures to return to the USA.

7/24/2019 11:11:09 AM

Why do people riding bicycles threaten you so, rcfjr? Get out on one and get some sunshine and fresh air and exercise and see how great it is. And I'll willingly pay any fines I get for going 10 mph over the speed limit. :) In this age of the remarkable physical decline of the population and the explosion of costs in treating ailments that are often preventable, anything that gets people to enjoy movement is a good thing.

4/30/2019 10:31:37 AM

Bike lanes are important to everyone. I live in the Coachella Valley of California, a small piece of the state, but the incidence of cyclists being hit by cars is appalling. To make matters worse, the cities of Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells are resisting the passage of a bicycle/walking trail through those cities. The tourism business is the foundation of the valley and safe biking would be very beneficial to residents and the retail sector. Finally, we talk about the obesity crisis, but do little to encourage safe exercise for children and adults

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