How bicycling is transforming business

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A city willing to attract and retain companies and companies willing to attract  and retain the “creative class” have every interest in bicycling. A recently growing trend, it illustrates how, the (per economic forecaster Richard Florida) 16-34 year old sought-after young talent of today prefer bicycling and a life in central locations, over owning a car and a big house. Why?

Keeping their money for expensive electronics (smartphones, tablets, laptops…), living in the heart of city vs the suburbs (to cut commute to work time and be closer to recreation places), or the cost of gas, are all valid reasons. Even as they start a family, they value the presence of bicycling lanes to push their children’ strollers and remain car-free if they wish to:

  • Per the “Frontier Group” think tank study, annual miles traveled by car among all 16-34 year olds dropped 23% from 2001 to 2009. This does not even include the past 3 years of recession and $4-a-gallon gas!
  • Per the Federal Highway Administration, miles traveled by drivers under 30 dropped from 21 to 14% of the total between 1995 and 2009.

In the last 5 years, better opportunities for biking, walking, and transit became key for cities and businesses’ appeal alike. Many cities got inspired by Northern Europe where bicycling trips account for 10-30% of trips,  and started investing in one or many of the following options: building miles of bike lanes, bike-share programs, off-street trails or Green Lanes (lanes physically protected from motor traffic).

A few illustrating examples include big cities, but not only:
  • In NYC, 33 executives at New York high-tech companies (including Foursquare, Meetup, and Tumblr) got Mayor Bloomberg to support a bikeshare system to attract and retain the investment and talent int he city and keep it competitive in the fast-growing digital media and internet-oriented economy. As of March 2013, 7,000 bikes will be available for rent.
  • Chicago built its first Green Lane and so did Austin, TX (it opened in Spring 2012 and is to be followed by 10 more).
  • Memphis was honored by Bicycling magazine the 2012 “most improved” city for bicycling after being in the bottom of the “Worst Cities for Cycling in America” ‘s ranking (alongside Dallas and Miami). It was also named as one of six cities (along with Portland, San Francisco, Washington, Chicago and Austin) to receive support from the Bikes Belong Foundation’s Green Lane Project to create a network of protected bike lanes. The foundation hopes that these will serve as best practices for other cities to follow.

Icing on the cake: Bike infrastructure is cheap compared to new sports stadiums and light-rail lines and much faster to build. The bicycling boom also creates opportunities in the real estate sector as great urban spaces are all about choices, including in transportation.

Another bonus for bicycling adepts and companies: Insurers are looking into ways to reward healthy (bicycling) employees since they cost less, and the current gift certificates and discount on gear already offered by some could turn into lower benefit costs in the near future if companies maintain their health-conscious orientation and results.

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Credit photo:  DDOT DC (Kevin Kovaleski)


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