Pedaling the Economy: Bike Lanes Offer Growth to Businesses, Safety & Savings to Consumers

If you were to ask folks their feelings about constructing new or improved bicycling infrastructure in Austin, you would likely get a mixed-bag of responses. Opinions aside, recent studies are showing significant economic impacts from improvements to bicycling infrastructure. In 2009, New York City completed the first protected bike lanes physically-separated from its “sister-road.” Initially, this project was met with concern from both cyclists and potentially-affected business owners. However, a 2012 study found at 49% increase in local retail sales near the newly separated bike lanes, compared to an only 3% increase borough-wide.  Additionally, the study found a 35% – 58% decrease in injuries on streets with the bike lanes.

A 2012 Portland study also revealed that customers who cycle tend to spend more at the businesses they frequent than drivers. However, bike lanes’ economic impact is not solely limited to development of local businesses. According to a 2011 University of Massachusetts study conducted over 11 cities, bike lane construction ranked first in job creation among public works projects when comparing jobs created to tax dollars spent. Furthermore, a 2008 study by the University of Cincinnati found there was a direct relationship in home values and the distance of homes from cycling infrastructure. Namely, every foot of increase between a home and bicycling infrastructure directly correlated to a decrease in home price by $7.05. Home owners were willing to pay $9,000 more for a home that was 1,000 feet closer to a trail.

Bike lanes also offer the possibility of savings to cyclists.`. In 2011 Long Beach, CA, in recognition of the untapped economic potential of cycling, established “Bike Saturdays,” the largest citywide discount program for cyclists in the country, consisting of more than 170 shops and eateries. Bike Saturdays focuses on the proven “bike local, buy local” concept—folks traveling on foot or by bicycle are generally more aware of local businesses and more likely to patronize them. Businesses in Cleveland, OH, have also been on the forefront of encouraging cycling through discounts, where eateries like the Buckeye Beer Engine and Deagan’s Gastropub offer discounts to cyclists, and Nano Brew, a brewpub partnered with a local bike shop, offers half-off beers to riders, as well as full-use of a shop’s worth of bike tools (complete with a rack to place your beer while you work).

Some local companies in Austin already offer discounts to those who arrive on a bicycle. For example, Bird’s Barbershops offer a free hair wash to those who cycle in. St. Roch’s Bar in East Austin offers cyclists happy hour prices during non-happy hour times for their first two drinks, and Gusto Italian Kitchen + Wine Bar gives free Bellini’s to those who cycle to brunch. These Austin businesses are in the vanguard when it comes to recognizing the potential partnership between local companies and cycling consumers. If local businesses encourage the City of Austin to develop and improve bicycling infrastructure and incentivize cyclists to shop with them, they will be better prepared to take advantage of this growing and valuable consumer segment.

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