Pro Walknomics/Pro Bikenomics

CicLAvia  10-9-11
Increased business for a cafe on CicLAvia route benefiting from higher foot traffic and bicyclists stopped for a break.

In order for our society to tackle the challenge of creating a more walkable and bikeable North America, with the appropriate devotion of money, resources and public space, we have to build a solid political consensus. Unfortunately, some of the compelling reasons to prioritize active transportation have been unnecessarily politicized into partisan issues. We can approach this dilemma by attempting to trek up the hill of overturning deeply imbedded political opinions, or we can find universal common ground and build up from there.

The fact that issues like deliberate policy measures to cap or tax carbon dioxide emissions as part of climate change mitigation are untouchably controversial in much of the United States doesn’t mean we can’t move forward on an active transportation agenda sold under less controversial banners. This is why I love the growing dialogue around the economic benefits of bicycling and walking.

When it comes to walking, many businesses understand pretty intuitively the value of fostering good foot traffic — the ones that are surviving, anyway. With bicycling, however, a lot of business owners and political decision-makers just don’t get it at all. When Elly Blue wrote “Why an additional road tax for bicyclists would be unfair,” which was later followed by a series of posts on Grist under the banner of bikenomics, I started to view bicycling under a completely different lens. This view and emphasis on economics has influenced my own writing and advocacy ever since.

Elly Blue (left) & April Economides (right) At Pro Walk-Pro Bike

April Economides, principle of Green Octopus Consulting, who headed up the program to create bicycling friendly business districts in Long Beach, is another voice in the bike movement who has been emphasizing economics. She was recently hired by Bike Nation to manage their bike share program proposed in Long Beach. Blue and Economides got together for the first time for a presentation at Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike titled “Bikenomics & the Business Case for Bike-Friendly Business Districts”.

Their presentations complimented each other very well, with Blue setting up some of the conceptual framework for why looking at the economics of bicycling is important, while Economides outlined the nuts and bolts of the outreach and programs done so far in Long Beach. April encouraged people early on in her talk “to engage the business community; we can’t just preach to the choir”.

Some of the most well known aspects of the Long Beach bicycle-friendly business districts are the discounts participating businesses offer for those arriving on bike, and the themed bike racks selected by and installed for businesses. Each business district also received its own cargo bike to be used by businesses for whatever use they may find for them. Given the difficulty of finding places to either buy or rent such utilitarian bicycles throughout most of Southern California (although there is Flying Pigeon LA of course), any program that enables access to and promotion of such bikes is a great thing.

Cargo bikes are a big part of the Bike Friendly Business District Plan

Almost as valuable as Elly and April’s talks themselves were the stories from the advocates and planners in the audience of both struggles and local success stories around the country. My favorite was the story of a business in Maryland that had a lease expiring soon and was considering closing up shop. A bike lane road diet treatment was done to their street, and their business grew by about 30%. They decided to renew their lease.

There were other memorable moments that touched upon economic themes at the conference as well. In a later session titled, “Doubling the Number of Women and Girls Who Ride Bikes,” Elly Blue presented another angle to the economics discussion regarding the gender gap. She pointed out the economic inequality generally between men and women as well as the division of unpaid labor, and the role those factors may be playing in accounting for the significant gender gap within cycling. Given the disproportionate number of trips women make in service of passengers and performing shopping errands — and the sprawled nature of much of urban development — Blue may be on to a new way of thinking about this issue.

Mark Gorton PlenaryMark Gorton

Streetblog Publisher Mark Gorton delivered a fiery closing plenary speech that hammered hardest on the issues of safety and economics in our transportation system. My favorite quote of the morning was, “Birds fly, fish swim, people walk,” and that our built environment being hostile to walking represents a “human rights violation.”

The most eye-opening portion of Gorton’s plenary was his discussion of a chart comparing United States and foreign metro regions by percentage of their GDP spent on transportation. Much of the United States is using a dramatically higher proportion of it’s economic output on transportation than multi-modal cities, but our system has not produced a higher quality of life, better travel efficiency, or better safety record.

Total Transportation Costs as Fraction of Metropolitan GDP
Similar to America’s healthcare situation, the U.S. is spending a lot more of our metro region wealth on transportation than the rest of the world, but without good results. The poor maintenance conditions of our transportation system receives low marks across the spectrum. Spending more is no real fix, however, if what we are spending our resources on simply creates more liability later, a theme repeatedly pointed out by  Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns.

We should be asking ourselves, does all this spending reflect our values? Should we be spending more of our collective public and private budgets on transportation than other industrial societies, and in exchange incur greater environmental costs, worse health outcomes, reduced social connections and more fatalities?

With an honest look over our situation, I think for many the answer would be no. It’s time to take a time-out on all the automobile capacity expansion and reassess what we are doing and where we are going as a society.

  • Anonymous

    Why should retailers embrace bicycling customers? Because it will increase their turnover per square foot. Parking a bicycle takes only a fifth the space of parking a car, and most of the time people don’t buy more than can be taken on a bike anyway.

    It’s nice to see this issue getting more attention.

  • Billynola

    I’d love to get a citation for the Mark Gorton metro transportation cost estimates. This seems like a powerful way to change the discussion. Any thoughts on where these numbers came from? Thanks

  • I got in touch and the complete source data for that chart is behind a rather steep price wall in the UITP’s Mobility in Cities Database:
    http://www.uitp.org/publications/index2.cfm?id=5

    The full document of slides used in Mark Gorton’s presentation can be found here:
    http://rethinktheauto.org/national-presentation/

  • king

    Да, стирать Парики можно. И для стирки париков не существует определенного расписания. Их стирают по мере загрязнения. Определить, пришло ли время постирать парик, достаточно просто.
    Искусственные волокна, также как и натуральные волосы, в чистом состоянии легко расчесываются, пышные на вид и мягкие на ощупь.
    Загрязненное синтетическое волокно,париков как и естественные волосы слипаются, теряют пышность и приобретают жесткость.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

STREETSBLOG SF

Advocates Call on Gov. Brown to Prioritize Biking, Walking in State Budget

|
This article is cross-posted from the blog of former Streetsblog SF editor Bryan Goebel, who’s aiming to launch a new website “devoted to sustained coverage of biking, walking and transit issues in Sacramento, both at the Capitol and locally.” You can also follow Bryan on Twitter. A proposal in Governor Jerry Brown’s budget that would change how the administration doles […]
STREETSBLOG USA

Why It Makes Sense to Add Biking and Walking Routes Along Active Rail Lines

|
This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh. You’ve heard of rail-trails — abandoned rail lines that have been turned into multi-use paths for biking and walking. There are more than 21,000 miles of rail-trails across the country, in urban, suburban, and rural areas. […]

120 Groups Call for More Funding for Active Transportation Program

|
A broad coalition of organizations called today for California to increase funding for walk and bike projects. More than 120 organizations signed a petition urging the state to increase its investment in the Active Transportation Program (ATP), citing cost savings and health benefits from better bike and pedestrian infrastructure and the low level of funding […]