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    Bicycling Means Better Business

    “Biking
    is definitely part of our strategy to attract and retain businesses in order to
    compete in a mobile world,” says Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak as we glide
    across the Mississippi river on a bike-and-pedestrian bridge–one of two that
    connect downtown to the University of Minnesota. “We want young talent to come
    here and stay. And good biking is one of the least expensive ways to send that
    message.”

    As
    we turn onto to a riverside bike path to inspect another span the mayor wants
    to convert to a bike-ped bridge, he recounts a recent conversation. “I was
    having dinner with a creative director that a local firm was eager to hire for
    a key post. He was an American living in Europe, and we spent most of the
    evening talking about the importance of biking and walking to the life of a
    city,” Rybak says, smiling. “He took the job.”

    Minneapolis
    has invested heavily in biking–creating a network of off-street trails
    criss-crossing the city, adding 180 miles of bike lanes to city streets with
    plans to double that, launching one of the country’s first large-scale
    bikeshare programs, and creating protected lanes to separate people riding
    bikes from motor traffic–which is why it lands near the top of all lists
    ranking America’s best bike cities. 

    That
    “ratchets up” the city’s appeal to businesses in many fields, Rybak says.

    “We moved from the suburbs to downtown
    Minneapolis to allow our employees to take advantage of the area’s many trails
    and to put the office in a more convenient location for commuting by pedal or
    foot,” explained Christine Fruechte, CEO of large advertising firm Colle +
    McVoy, in a newspaper op-ed. “Our employees are healthier, happier and more
    productive. We are attracting some of the best talents in the industry.”

    David
    A. Wilson, who directs 1,600 employees at the Minneapolis office of the
    Accenture management consulting company, says good biking opportunities are
    important to the well-educated 25-35 year-olds he seeks to hire. “Five years
    ago, I don’t think business people were even thinking about bikes as a part of
    business. Today it’s definitely part of the discussion.” He notes that Accenture
    recently relocated their Boston and Washington, D.C. offices from suburbs to
    the city to offer employees better opportunities for biking, walking and
    transit.

    A Creative
    Generation Loses Its Car Keys

    Young
    people today are driving significantly less than previous generations,
    according to a flurry of recent reports. Even Motor Trend magazine notes that young professionals flocking to
    cities today are less inclined to buy cars and “more likely to spend the money
    on smartphones, tablets, laptops and $2,000-plus bikes.” Annual miles traveled
    by car among all 16- to 34-year olds dropped 23 percent from 2001 to 2009
    according to a study from the “Frontier Group” think tank–and that
    does not even count the past three years of recession and $4 gallon gas. The
    Federal Highway Administration found the miles traveled by drivers under 30
    dropped from 21 percent to 14 percent of the total between 1995 and 2009.

    These
    young people represent the “creative class” talent pool that many companies
    covet.  That’s why civic, business and
    political leaders in cities around the country are paying attention to the next
    generation’s wishes for lively, livable places to work and play. This means
    diverse cultural opportunities, plentiful cafes and restaurants, a tolerant social
    climate, a variety of housing choices and ample transportation options like
    biking–not only for commuting to work, but also for recreation after work and,
    in some cases, over the lunch hour.

    Richard
    Florida, the economic forecaster who coined the phrase “creative class,”
    recently described these sought-after workers in the Wall Street Journal as “less interested in owning cars and big
    houses. They prefer to live in central locations, where they can rent an
    apartment and use transit or walk or bike to work.”

    Florida
    sees bicycling as critical for thriving cities, which is why he joined New York
    City’s heated debate last year about the proliferation of bike lanes across the
    city. “New York has became a haven for creative-class professionals,” he wrote
    in the Daily News, which makes good
    biking facilities important to the city’s future. He added that biking remains
    important to workers in creative fields even as they grow older. “When they put
    their kids in child seats or jogging strollers, traffic-free bike paths become
    especially important to them.”

    Thirty-three
    executives at New York high-tech companies–including Foursquare, Meetup and
    Tumblr–also weighed in on biking issues, urging Mayor Bloomberg to “support a
    bikeshare system as a way to attract and retain the investment and talent for
    New York City to remain competitive in the fast growing digital media and
    internet-oriented economy.” Bloomberg agreed, and the bikeshare program begins
    next March with 7,000 bikes for rent. 

    The City That
    Bikes

    Chicago
    Mayor Rahm Emanuel was elected last year on an aggressive platform of bringing
    new tech and creative businesses to the city. When he scored a major coup this
    summer with Google-Motorola Mobility’s announcement that it was moving more
    than 2,000 jobs from a suburban campus to the heart of the city, Emanuel
    explained,” One of the things that employees look [at] today is the quality of
    life and quality of transportation because of the ease that comes with it. And
    that ease is having trains as a choice, buses as a choice and bikes as a choice
    getting to and from work.”

    The
    City of Chicago’s Chief Technology Officer John Tolva says it’s no coincidence
    that Google-Motorola Mobility’s new home in the Merchandise Mart is right next
    to Kinzie Street, the city’s first green lane–where bike lanes are physically
    separated from rushing traffic to make riders feel safer and more comfortable
    on the road. This idea of creating protected space for people on bikes,
    borrowed from Northern European countries where bikes account for 10-30 percent
    of trips, is now spreading throughout the U.S.

    Martha
    Roskowski–director of the Green Lanes Project, which promotes protected bike
    lanes across the country–explains, “Cities that want to shine are building
    these kind of better bike facilities as part of a suite of assets that attract
    business. And they find that bike infrastructure is cheap compared to new
    sports stadiums and lightrail lines, and can be done much faster.”

    George
    Washington University business professor Christopher Leinberger, a leading
    authority on real estate who predicted the current urban boom in a series of
    articles for the Atlantic magazine,
    points out “Biking is no longer just a niche for the macho guys.  It’s for a lot of people now. Ideally, we
    should have a 20-25 percent mode shift for bikes in cities. Great urban spaces
    are all about choices, including in transportation.”

    Leinberger
    marvels at how bicycles are changing Washington, D.C., where he lives.  “Bikes have been a critical part of D.C.’s
    turnaround. They are putting in protected bike lanes which does a lot more to
    encourage riding than just a white line of paint between people and a one-ton
    vehicle.”

    Ellen
    Jones, director of Washington’s Downtown Business Improvement District, says,
    “It’s just crazy how biking has taken off here, especially the new bikeshare
    system which a lot of people are using for commuting.” We spoke after she
    returned from an appointment with managers of a high-tech company wanting to
    rent an old warehouse downtown. “A lot of their employees bike to work and they
    were concerned about whether they could easily get their bicycles upstairs.
    When bicycling is part of the final decision on where a company relocates, then
    we know its impact.”

    The
    boom in biking is also creating opportunities in the real estate sector. Jair
    Lynch, founder and CEO of a DC real estate development and construction
    company, declares, “We don’t work in places that aren’t near bike lanes.” Even
    in the slow economy, $200 million in new apartments are currently under
    construction adjacent to the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis, a bike “freeway”
    cutting through the south side of the city.

    Another
    benefit businesses see for locating in bike-friendly locations is a break on
    health insurance costs. QBP, a bike parts distributor in the Minneapolis area
    employing 600, offered a series of incentives for employees to commute by bike
    and discovered an unexpected bonus–a 4.4 percent reduction in health care
    costs, totaling $170,000 a year. Tracy Pleschourt–partner at Carmichael Lynch,
    an ad agency in downtown Minneapolis that promotes biking–is excited about the
    possibilities of the just-launched Zap program, which electronically documents
    bike trips using on-bike RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) devices and
    trail-edge sensors. Right now the program offers only gift certificates and
    discount gear as prizes for frequent biking, but insurers are looking at it as
    a way to reward health-conscious companies with lots of employees riding bikes.

    Boosting the
    Business Climate Beyond Big Cities & Bike Meccas

    Bikes
    are improving the business climate even in cities not ranked as bike capitals
    or large metropolitan regions. Mayor Lee Leffingwell of Austin, Texas, said, “I
    certainly recognize the environmental, public health and quality of life
    benefits that more bicycling can bring our city, but I also value the
    contribution to the economy that comes with the provision of smart
    transportation options that attract major employers to Austin.”

    Austin
    is ambitiously expanding its bike infrastructure; its first green lane opened
    last spring, one of 10 planned for the city. Cirrus Logic, a computer chip
    company that depends on specially trained engineers, moved to downtown Austin
    last summer from an outlying location “to become more attractive as an
    employer,” says PR director Bill Schnell. “We can’t just pluck anybody for our
    jobs. The people we want are mostly younger, and biking is part of the equation
    for them.” 

    CEO
    Tyson Tuttle relocated Silicon Labs, which designs integrated circuits for
    computers, to downtown Austin five years ago to be close to the city’s bike
    trail system. It was one of the first of many tech companies that are now in
    the area. Tuttle, who himself sometimes rides to work, says it was a smart
    move. “Biking on the trails is something a lot of employees enjoy, and when
    people think about joining the company it’s a big draw. It also helps with
    wellness and fitness.”

    You
    might think that Memphis would be the last place in America to believe bikes
    can take us down the path to prosperity.

    In
    2008, with not a single bike lane inside the city limits, Memphis was named one
    of the three “Worst Cities for Cycling in America” by Bicycling magazine (alongside Dallas and Miami). That prompted the
    city to stripe a few lines of bike lanes, but it landed on the three worst
    cities list again in 2010 (this time joined by Birmingham and
    Jacksonville).  This year Bicycling honored Memphis as the “most
    improved” city for bicycling. It was also named as one of six cities (along with
    Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Washington, Chicago and Austin) to receive
    support from the Bikes Belong Foundation’s Green Lane Project in creating a
    network of protected bike lanes to serve as best practices for other cities to
    follow.

    What
    happened?

    For
    one thing Mayor A C Wharton became a champion of biking, announcing, “We
    believe in the power of bicycle facilities to enhance the health, economy and
    safety of our community.”  He hired a
    bike-pedestrian coordinator for the city and put plans into motion that led to
    more than 60 miles of bike lanes.

    Memphis
    business leaders began talking about the importance of biking to city’s future.
    Shepherd Tate–an attorney at the large Bass, Berry & Sims law firm–puts it
    plainly. “There’s no question about it. Biking makes a difference in attracting
    talent.” Eric Matthews, CEO of Launch Memphis and two other initiatives to
    nurture and attract new businesses, notes, “Biking correlates with
    entrepreneurs.”

    The
    city, already home to the world famous St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,
    is positioning itself to become a center for new biomedical firms. “My job is
    to convince emerging companies that they can get the workers they want to come
    here,” says Dr. Steven Bares, President of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, an
    initiative to bring emerging health companies to Memphis. “The bike is part of
    the overall strategy to compete for talent.”

    Jay Walljasper, author
    of
    The Great Neighborhood Book and All That We Share: A Field Guide to the
    Commons, chronicles urban life for a variety of publications. His website: www.JayWalljasper.com. This article was originally published on GreenLane Project.

    Photo courtesy Spencer Thomas, licensed under Creative Commons.

    Published on Oct 26, 2012

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