Thursday, October 10, 2013

IDA Recap: Bike Friendly Business Districts and their Impact on Local Business

Yesterday marked the close of the International Downtown Association World Conference! What a fantastic event - and I'm so pleased that Larisa Ortiz Associates was able to participate as a contributing sponsor.

One of my favorite panels was on Bike Friendly Business Districts (BFBD). One speaker, April Economides of Alta Planning + Design spoke to the impact of bike infrastructure on local businesses. The successful launch of Citibike in New York is but one testament to the pent up demand - and opportunities - that more bike infrastructure unleashes. What made this session particularly powerful was the economic case for Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts that can be made - and measured! In San Francisco, new lanes led to increased sales by local merchants. In Fort Worth, restaurant sales increased 200% after lanes were introduced. In Toronto along Bloor Street, bicyclists spend more money in the area than drivers...and the list goes on. Some good links to research on this include:
Another speaker, Tifanny Bromfeld, CEO of the BID Council in San Diego spoke to the incredible impact that the effort has had in business districts throughout San Diego. It was wonderful to hear their real life stories and I know other attendees came out as inspired as I was!

Unfortunately, not every community gets the link between businesses and bikes - and so there is clearly a lot of work to be done. One recent example...I recently developed a downtown plan for a community where the local Mayor expressed serious misgivings about encouraging bicycle usage. He didn't want to have to spend the money to maintain bike infrastructure (including lanes, bike parking, etc.) and didn't quite see how it was a smart downtown revitalization strategy. In fact, he saw bikes as a nuisance and was pushing for legislation that would make locking bikes to sign posts illegal. This without providing bike parking. This despite the fact that the town's experience during Hurricane Sandy (and the lack of available gas) made biking and walking a vital necessity. This despite the fact that downtown businesses do deliveries and need the parking and access. This despite the inherently walk-ability of the surrounding residential community that would make biking a perfect fit. It still confounds me, but armed with more information I know that a stronger case for a Bike Friendly Business District can be made!

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