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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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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.

 
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