Quite recently, there has been a push to understand the economic relationship between bicyclists and businesses. This recent subject of study can be linked to many contemporary topics: our nation’s current economic downturn; society’s increased emphasis on environmental awareness, sustainability, and both individual and public health; the economic effects of the “creative class”; the housing shift towards urban living and the resulting need for alternative modes of transportation. Many articles on the subject have been showing up in scholarly journals, periodicals, newsletters, magazines, blogs and other various internet sources.
At the forefront of this conversation is the topic of “Bikenomics”. Coined by blogger Elly Blue, bikenomics, “explores the scope of impact, from personal finance to local economies to the big picture of the national budget” (http://grist.org/series/bikenomics/). Blue argues that “the bicycle is emerging as an effective engine of economic recovery”. Along with the grassroots efforts on Elly Blue, experts in urban planning have even begun to take notice of the subject. University of Portland professor Kelly J. Clifton’s research titled, Business Cycles: Catering to the Bicycling Market, was recently published in TR NEWS 280 May–June 2012. This article argues that significant investments in bicycle infrastructure have lead to substantial growth in the number of people taking to the streets on two wheels and provides anecdotal evidence that points to an increasing awareness of the benefits that bicycles bring to local businesses.
Bike Racks vs. Car Parking
Although, both authors offer a lot of tantalizing and compelling data, for the purposes of this blog, I’m going to focus on the potential benefits of increasing the share of bicycle parking in Tucson.
Businesses and their concerns: Although there is evidence to support the assertion that bicycling is good for business, many business owners express concern that cyclists are not a lucrative market compared to customers who arrive by automobile. The subject of removing parking spaces to make way for bike parking is often controversial because many business owners fear that the removal of parking spaces will lead to a loss of their customer base.
What the data is saying: Recent studies in Melbourne, Australia; Toronto, Canada; and Portland, Oregon (to name a few), have found that bike parking spaces are better at generating revenue than car parking spaces. In part, this is because bicycle parking can provide more opportunities for paying customers to park right at a business’ front door. Typically, one or two automobile parking spaces can be converted to on-street parking for 20 to 40 bicycles. This clearly broadens the consumer base. Along with this, bicyclists are more inclined and motivation to spend locally. And, when it comes to spending money at an establishment, researchers have found that people who tend to bike and/or walk to local businesses spend more money than those arriving by car. See Table 1.
Not only do local businesses see an increase in their customer base; their establishments promote their commitment to the bicycling community, and to a sustainable and healthy lifestyle. “Pioneered in Portland, bike corrals have become so popular with local businesses that the city cannot keep up with the requests” (Clifton). Oh Portland, we often talk about their successes when it comes to walkability and cycling issues, but there are many other major cities across the country that have see the benefits of investing in bike parking too such as Chicago, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Austin and Salt Lake City.
So here’s a question to Tucson businesses… are you willing to support more bicycle parking?
And, Tucson bicyclists… are you willing to support these businesses if they do provide safe and sufficient parking?
I know I would!
Although a new and progressive topic, the economics of bicycling seem to have an overall positive outcome for businesses. Clearly, the topic is a prime area for more research as outcomes will vary between cities, states, and countries. However, I believe with Tucson’s already established bicycle community, our progressive local businesses, our love for this amazing environment, and with proper bike infrastructure investments (that are supported by local businesses), our local economy will see a great return on investments.
This blog post was written by LSA volunteer, Mandia Gonzales.