|The Growing Importance of Bicycle Infrastructure
Why more cities need to embrace bike lanes, bike parking and other bicycle infrastructure in their urban cores.
Building more bicycle infrastructure can increase retail visibility, improve commuters' health and further
develop urban neighborhoods.
More than a quarter of the U.S. population over the age of 16 rides a bicycle. This
mode of transportation is important and growing in popularity. Bikes are a
convenient, environmentally friendly, energy efficient and healthy choice for
travel. Members of Generation Y, adults age 18-33, are moving toward urban areas
where they rely less on driving and instead look for modes of green transportation,
such as cycling.
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.
|This is what a bike route lane should look like. Well defined, separated from parked cars and traffic.
- 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
- 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.
|Bike racks should be placed on the street - not on the sidewalk. Two head in parking spaces or
one parallel space per city block. Guaranteed to attract more cyclists and more business for retailers
The Impacts of Bike Parking for Local Businesses
Not only do bike lanes add benefit to local businesses, but so do bike corrals. What is a bike corral? “On-
street Bicycle Parking Corrals make efficient use of the parking strip for bicycle parking in areas with high
demand. Corrals typically have 6 to 12 bicycle racks in a row and can park 10 to 20 bicycles.” This uses
space otherwise occupied by one to two cars. Bikeways are great ways to get people to businesses or at
least pass them by, but having ample bike parking can be the difference between cyclists stopping or
continuing on. Here are a couple of reminders from the article “3 Reasons Portland Retailers Have
Embraced Bike Parking:”
• Bike corrals make businesses more visible to everyone.
• Bike corrals improve the pedestrian environment.
• Bike corrals increase parking capacity.
While certainly important, that is not the only consideration when installing bike parking in front of
businesses. “But as more Americans use bikes for their daily errands, more retailers are thinking twice
about their assumptions and realizing that once biking becomes easy and comfortable, busy
neighborhoods are actually the perfect places to swap out auto parking.” There is a wait-list in Portland
for businesses applying to have car parking removed in favor of installing bicycle parking in the form of
bike corrals. Clearly, local businesses see the importance of bike parking over car parking, and they are
willing to give up precious auto parking out front to cater to the needs and demands of bicycling
Alison Lee in her Master’s thesis What is the Economic Contribution of Cyclists Compared to Car Drivers
in Inner Suburban Melbourne’s Shopping Strips? noted that businesses have a higher return on
investment when they forgo car parking for bike parking. In an analysis of the economic return on a
parking spot in front of a business, Lee noted that in the end bicycling customers collectively will spend
more than motorists in the same time period. A 140-square-foot parking space can hold either one car
($27 per hour parked, according to shopper behavior), or up to six bikes ($16.20 each per hour parked).
It comes out to 19 cents per square foot: retail revenue per hour of occupied on-street auto parking, or
69 cents per square foot: retail revenue per hour of occupied bike parking. “So it’s not just out of the
kindness of their hearts,” Andersen writes, “that retailers in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Portland and
Chicago are happily swapping on-street auto parking spaces for bike parking corrals, sometimes in the
face of steep bureaucratic obstacles. For them, efficiently functioning neighborhoods are a matter of
On-street bike parking (bike corrals) does more than provide a space to park bicycles. It also helps
bolster a vibrant sidewalk scene that is good for pedestrians. “Bars and restaurants have capitalized on
this new infrastructure, which provides a buffer from moving traffic, by adding outdoor seating for
sidewalk cafes. Because demand is so high, the city must place future corrals strategically and may
institute a fee for installation.” All of this supports the same outcome of boosting localism which entails
spending locally and supporting neighborhood businesses. Particularly for small businesses, gaining a
better understanding of consumer choices and spending is essential not only for their survivability, but
Consumer Choices and Spending of Bicyclists
A perceived detriment of doing such things as removing auto parking in favor of bike corrals would be the
fear of losing a valuable customer base, especially those who drive autos who could conceivably buy
more due to their larger carrying capacity. This is a legitimate concern for businesses considering the
possibility of foregoing a car parking spot in front of their business. However, recent research reveals the
differences in spending between customers who arrive at businesses via bicycle, auto, or on foot (to
build on what we just explored).
- When trip frequency is accounted for, the average monthly expenditures by customer modes of
travel reveal that bicyclists, transit users and pedestrians are competitive consumers and, for all
businesses except supermarkets, spend more on average than those who drive.
- The built environment matters: We support previous literature and find that residential and
employment density, the proximity to rail transit, and the amount of automobile and bicycle parking
are all important in explaining the use of non-automobile modes. In particular, provision of bike
parking and bike corrals are significant predictors of bike mode share at the establishment level.
Writing for The Atlantic Cities in her article, “Cyclists and Pedestrians Can End Up Spending More Each
Month Than Drivers,” Emily Badger notes, “bikers actually out-consumed drivers over the course of a
month. True, they often spent less per visit. But cyclists and pedestrians in particular made more
frequent trips (by their own estimation) to these restaurants, bars and convenience stores, and those
receipts added up.” What this preliminary research reveals about consumer choices and spending by
bicyclists and their economic impacts is that as a grouping they spend just as much as auto-users. One
of the key points of difference is that shoppers traveling via bicycles are apt to stop more frequently.
What this highlights is that not only are bicyclists just as robust in their shopping as those who arrive in
autos, but the fact bicyclists stop more frequently reveals one of the biggest incentives for businesses to
offer on-street bike corrals: It is good for business. But what about the employees themselves? How do
bike lanes and bike parking impact them?
The Influence of Bicycle Infrastructure in Recruiting Talent
The article “Good Bike Access Helps Score Greater Workers, Portland Firms Say” shows that bicycle
access was influential in site selection for businesses relocating to parts of the city that have an ample
bicycle infrastructure (bikeways and bike parking).
In 2010, Jay Haladay, owner and CEO of Portland-based construction software firm Coaxis,
invested $17 million to redevelop a central-city warehouse so his company could move from the
side of a suburban highway to a location on central Portland’s riverside bike loop. “This is all part
of an effort to differentiate ourselves as an employer of choice,” Haladay said. “You can't just throw
benefits at people. You can’t just have pizza at lunch.” Bicycle access, Haladay said, lets a
Portland employer play to its location’s strengths. In this labor market, he’s concluded, “any
company that doesn't include it in its fabric of company culture is making a mistake.”
That is not the only consideration on the part of businesses relocating to districts and neighborhoods
that are bike amenity-rich. Portland employers have indicated that bicycle commuting tends to boost
productivity. But they’ve also found that locating in a bikeable part of the city is a great tool for workers.
“But more than anything, most agreed, the benefit of a bike-friendly worksite is simply that these days,
valuable workers seem to prefer it.” It is an urban amenity that appeals to a growing number of workers.
Bicycles are beginning to reshape the landscape of American cities. Bicycling as a mode of
transportation brings with it a certain amount of economic benefits ranging from the influence bike lanes
have on adjacent businesses, the value of real estate, the recruitment of talent, and easier access for
customers who ride bikes. The economic benefits of bike lanes, bike parking, and other bicycle facilities
and infrastructure is positive for businesses who are trying to woo not only customers but top-notch
employees as well.
Reprinted with permission from The Bohemian Guide to Urban Cycling, by Sean Benesh, and published by Urban Loft