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Unexpected Ways That Bicycling Is Proving a Boon for Business

Cities across the U.S. are discovering that good biking attracts great jobs and top talent to their communities.

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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.”

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