For a long time, bike racks and bike lanes were viewed as a waste of space. They annoyed drivers and weren’t believed to increase traffic and revenues much at local businesses. But these days accommodating cyclists appears to be a win-win as community leaders across the country are changing their tunes.
Omaha, Nebraska’s Benson neighborhood rolled out a pilot program recently that is turning parking spots into “bike corrals” with each holding up to 12 bikes. The idea is to retrofit existing parking spots into bicycle parking so that bike racks don’t block sidewalk traffic. Several local business owners who support the program are even offering discounts to customers who pull up on two wheels: Jake’s Cigars & Spirits gives cyclists $1 off tap beers, while Taita, a seafood restaurant, offers them $1 off sushi rolls, according to the Omaha World-Herald. Self-service bike repair stations are also being set up for cyclists who need more air in their tires or need to fix a flat.
Omaha isn’t the only city that’s starting to recognize the appeal of building cyclist-friendly communities. Many cities including New York, Washington D.C. and Minneapolis have introduced bike-sharing programs over the past couple years. (Check out this fascinating infographic by The New Yorker that looked at how New York’s Citi Bike program was utilized over the course of one month.)
While cycling enthusiasts have long claimed that supporting bike riders is good for local communities, data has been hard to come by. Elly Blue of Portland, Oregon tries to quantify the benefits bicycling has on local communities and businesses in her book “Bikeconomics: How Cycling Can Save The Economy.” Blue points to a 2011 study by Australia's University of Melbourne that found bike parking brings in more revenue than auto parking, and a 2007 study by the organization CEOs for Cities that found that Portlanders who bike spend more money at local businesses.
Cyclists save money because they’re not spending as much on gas and auto repairs (or health care, for that matter). That savings ultimately ends up getting spent in other ways, such as supporting local businesses.
“The $1.1 billion Portlanders don’t spend on car travel translates into $800 million that is not leaving the local region,” a summary of the CEOs for Cities study says. “Because this money gets re-spent in other sectors of the economy, it stimulates local businesses rather than rewarding Exxon or Toyota.”
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