Nine Reasons to Create a Bicycle-Friendly Business District

Image – Erika Schultz, Seattle Times

There is compelling evidence for the economic and livability benefits Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts (BFBDs) can bring to businesses and neighborhoods.

We asked a national expert, April Economides, to educate us about those benefits.  Earlier this week Economides explained the concept of BFBDs and how they are spreading throughout the community earlier this week in our story “Emerging Trend: Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts.” 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.

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

The Economic Case for Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts

by April Economides

Last week, I described what Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts (BFBDs) are and some of the cities creating them in the U.S. and Canada. This week, lets look at why they’re important.

Most people understand bicycling is healthy for individuals because it’s a form of exercise and brings joy and fresh air. Many folks probably realize bicycling is good for communities because, compared to cars, it’s non-polluting and increases social interaction and public safety. However, fewer people make the connection between bicycling and local economies. But it’s undeniable that bikes mean business. Here are some reasons bicycling is good for our local business districts:

There is a strong bike local/shop local connection: In contrast to driving out of town to a mall, bicyclists tend to shop closer to home – and more often. As a result, they often notice and try out new shops and restaurants.

People traveling at human-scale speed are more likely to notice businesses they pass: “I see parts of the city on my bike that I would never even notice if I was just driving,” Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster said. Matt Berman of Bolt Barbers in Los Angeles said, “Having just 100 people go by your shop on a bike or by foot is significantly better than 1,000 speeding by in their cars.” Bicyclists not only notice more businesses than car drivers, they can also easily hop off and stop, and their parking is right in front of their destination – and free.

Most trips are short trips: Forty percent of U.S. trips are less than two miles. Sixty eight percent of these are driven (and only two percent biked).[i] BFBDs help convert some of these trips into bicycling trips, which increases sales for local businesses.

Bicyclists have more discretionary income: Car-free bicyclists save an average of $8,000/year[ii], and car-light bicyclists save, too. Why is this important? Because bicyclists tend to shop closer to home and more often, which in turn benefits local businesses.

April Economides, evangelist for Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts

Businesses along bike lanes see increased sales: San Francisco’s Valencia Street merchants reported increased sales when new lanes were installed.[iii] Fort Worth’s Magnolia St.’s restaurants saw sales go up nearly 200% after bike lanes and racks went in.[iv] On Bloor Street in Toronto, bicyclists and pedestrians spend more money in the area than drivers.[v] Often, merchants assume their customers arrive via car. However, studies that track this data are proving this assumption incorrect.

Bicycle-friendly districts attract tourists: Bike tourism is on the rise, and it’s lucrative to cater to. Bike tourists spend about $1 billion annually in Colorado[vi] and $1.5 billion annually in Wisconsin.[vii] In 2005 in Quebec, bike tourists spent an average of $83/day compared to non-bike tourists, who spent an average of $66/day.[viii] Making your business district attractive to bike tourists is a wise economic strategy.

Increased bicycling reduces the need to create more car parking: “Not enough parking” is often a top concern of business districts. However, incentivizing drivers to instead bicycle opens up car parking. The average cost to create and install a parking space is $15,000 (this is street, garage and lot parking averaged), compared to a bike rack, which costs about $200.[ix] Bicycle parking is taxpayer-friendly. It’s also customer friendly, as it’s in front of a destination and free.

Bicycling brings joy, and joyful workers bring higher earnings: Similar to Bhutan’s term “Gross National Happiness” (“GNH”), happy workers could gain the U.S. $300B/year.[x] How is this? Happy workers raise sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, and task accuracy by 19%.[xi] In the U.K., regular bicyclists take 1.3 fewer sick days per year, saving around $200 million through reduced absenteeism – a projected savings of $3.2 billion over the next 10 years.[xii] So think of BFBDs as a way to increase “Gross Local Happiness” (or “GLH”), and this is definitely good for employers.

Bicycling brings more vibrant Main Streets: Bicyclists, just like pedestrians, add more ‘eyes and ears’ to the district, making it safer, friendlier, and more vibrant. This attracts more women, families, and a diversity of customers, thereby increasing sales.

Small businesses and our local business districts are the backbone of our economy. They’re “All American,” just like the old-fashioned bicycle. It’s no surprise they go together well.


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.


[i] FHWA Office of Policy, National Household Transportation Survey, 2009; summarized by the League of American Bicyclists here

[vi] Center for Research on Economic and Social Policy, “Bicycling and Walking in Colorado,” 2000

[vii] Grabow, Hahn & Whited, “Valuing Bicycling in Wisconsin,” 2010, as reported in this Advocacy Advance paper

[viii] League of American Bicyclists, “The,” 2009

[x] Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, “Do Happier People Work Harder?” 2011

[xi] Shawn Achor, “The Happiness Dividend,” 2011

[xii] Alexander Grous, London School of Economics, 2011


Additional Sources: