Emerging Trend: Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts

BFBD Long Beach. image – Allan Crawford.

An intriguing new trend is emerging in some communities: bicycle-friendly business districts (BFBDs). A handful of cities have created or are exploring the creation of BFBDs.

We’re fortunate to have perhaps the nation’s expert on BFBDs, April Economides, educate us about this trend.  Economides created the nation’s first Bike-Friendly Business District program for the City of Long Beach and has launched similar efforts in San Diego and Oakville (Canada).  She speaks around the U.S. and Canada about “The Business Case for Bicycling” and Bike-Friendly Business Districts. Her complete bio follows her story below.

In this first story, Economides explains the concept of BFBDs.  In the next installment Economides will discuss the multitude of economic benefits BFBDs can bring to businesses and neighborhoods.

We hope you find this intriguing for your community.  Also, view our recent bike-ped stories.

Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts

by April Economides

Americans are starting to realize the strong connection between bicycling and shopping local. When we hop on a bike instead of in a car, we tend to stay closer to home and support small businesses. We also notice more businesses since we’re traveling at human-scale speed. In addition to supporting our local economy, bicycling tends to bring less stress, more joy, and increased health.

April Economides, evangelist for Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts. Image – Evan Patrick Kelly.

These are a few of the reasons behind the new development of bicycle-friendly business districts (BFBDs) – districts where merchants actively encourage people to bike to area shops and restaurants, and where merchants and employees ride, too. BFBDs integrate bikes into a district’s operations, events and promotions.

The City of Long Beach piloted four BFBDs in 2011, which included: bikes and cargo bikes for merchant deliveries, errands, and commutes; the integration of bicycling into existing events, including bike repair clinics, community rides, bike valets, and bike portraits; the creation of the nation’s largest citywide discount program for bicyclists (called “Bike Saturdays”); bike rack installations; ‘Walk Your Bike’ sidewalk stencils; a diversity of promotions, including print ads, media outreach, websites, e-blasts, social media, doorstep flyers, posters, videos, and cross-promotion; business and community education about the economic benefits of bicycling; and a strong business support base for bicycling infrastructure and programs. After the pilot ended in March, most of the above activities continue and new ones have sprouted up, like a monthly Kidical Mass ride in the family-oriented BFBD of Bixby Knolls. The media attention the program continues to receive is significant – the New York Times, Sunset, Momentum, and more.

Seeing merchants and business association leaders make regular use of the commuter bikes (outfitted with baskets) is particularly impressive. One business association uses its bike in place of a car to carrying its anti-graffiti equipment and another uses theirs to disseminate event flyers. Some take-out restaurants that previously didn’t deliver are now able to easily and affordably do so. Merchants who hadn’t ridden in decades now conduct their errands to the bank, post office, art supply store, and lunch meetings via bicycle.

San Diego, impressed by this program, just launched its own BFBD effort in seven business districts and will expand to an additional eleven in the fall of 2013. Oakville, Ontario (near Toronto) was inspired to create a community bike organization, organize regular community rides to business district restaurants and cafes, and include ‘how to get here by bike’ information on its association websites.

One of the best things about BFBDs is they can be created by business associations fairly quickly and often at very low cost. Some things are even cost-free.

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April Economides is the principal of Green Octopus Consulting and created the nation’s first Bike-Friendly Business District program for the City of Long Beach. Part of this effort was the creation of  the nation’s largest citywide discount program for bicyclists called Bike Saturdays. April speaks around the U.S. and Canada on “The Business Case for Bicycling” and Bike-Friendly Business Districts. She recently accepted the position of General Manager of Bike Nation’s Long Beach bike share system, set to roll out by March 2013. April holds an MBA in Sustainable Management and is a car-free bike commuter. She and her daughter can often be seen riding around Long Beach on their “bike limo” – the fancy name they gave their tandem.