There is compelling evidence for the economic and livability benefits Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts (BFBDs) can bring to businesses and neighborhoods. A national expert on BFBDs, April Economides, recently toured a New York City BFBD to learn what’s working. We asked April to write a guest story about what she learned, in order to benefit communities who may be considering a BFBD.
Earlier this year Economides explained the concept of BFBDs and how they are spreading throughout the community in her guest stories “Emerging Trend: Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts,” and “Nine Reasons to Create a Bicycle-Friendly Business District.” Her complete bio follows the story.
NYC: A Look at the Nation’s Newest Bike-Friendly Business District
By April Economides
Spending Autumn in New York is one of my favorite experiences. This October’s visit was especially enjoyable, because it included touring the nation’s newest Bike-Friendly Business District (BFBD) – the third, after California’s Long Beach and San Diego programs. It was less than a year ago when Miller Nuttle of Transportation Alternatives called to ask me for advice about creating BFBDs, and it was great to finally meet him in person and tour the district with him. Here’s what we talked about:
April: I love the separated bike lanes in the Lower East Side and East Village. Tell me about starting NYC’s first BFBD in this area.
Miller: The Lower East Side and East Village BFBD is a network of more than 150 bike-friendly businesses, cultural institutions, and community organizations committed to encouraging safe bicycling in their neighborhood. The District was founded in September 2012, and includes most of Manhattan’s East Village and Lower East Side. Participating businesses offer discounts to customers who arrive by bike, advocate for bike infrastructure (like bike lanes and bike parking), and educate customers and working cyclists on the benefits of safe bicycling. Transportation Alternatives and these bike-friendly businesses host a wide range of events, including food tasting bike tours of participating businesses, “date nights” that feature discounted dinner and a show, and commuter stops at businesses located on bike lanes. We’re also working with a cargo bike company – Revolution Rickshaws – to help business owners share the cost of renting and storing cargo bikes.
Wonderful! I especially love those creative event ideas. How did the idea of starting a BFBD come about at Transportation Alternatives?
The BFBD grew out of our Bike Friendly Business program, which recognizes business owners who support safe bicycling. New York, at its best, is a city of neighborhoods, so the next logical step was to develop a neighborhood-based network of bike-friendly businesses and cultural organizations committed to standing up for safer streets. We heard a lot of demand from East Village and Lower East Side business owners for better bicycling amenities, so we decided to focus there first. With Citi Bike, New York’s public bike sharing program launching next spring, we wanted to use the district to orient all those new potential customers to locally owned businesses and arts destinations.
What obstacles did you face in your efforts to create the BFBD?
There weren’t many. The Lower East Side and East Village have had an extensive bike network for a few years and most business owners have come to associate safe, vibrant streets with more people and healthier retail space. Usually business owners thank us for helping them request a bike rack or bike safety information. Elected officials are excited because the district supports local businesses and encourages healthy transportation choices.
I understand you conducted a study about the impact of bicycling on retail. How does this study overlap with the BFBD?
We published the East Village Shoppers Study the week after we launched the BFBD. The study documents how people get to the neighborhood, how much they spend, and how often they visit. Not surprisingly, people who walk, bike, or take public transit visit the neighborhood more often and spend 95 percent of retail dollars. Sharing those results with skeptical business owners is helping turn them into supporters.
The studies conducted in San Francisco and Toronto have also helped educate business owners that a high percentage of their customers arrive via bike or foot. What else is working well for you that others can learn from?
Partnering with neighborhood-based groups makes the BFBD a lot stronger. One of our partners, Local Spokes, is a coalition of nine neighborhood organizations from the Lower East Side and Chinatown. It provides a voice for local residents in the discussion around bicycling infrastructure. Working with the coalition, we learned that neighborhood residents and business owners need a lot more bike parking. With that in mind, we prioritized collecting applications for bike racks and corrals from local businesses throughout the district. Our other partner, Fourth Arts Block, recruited almost 20 of their member theatres and galleries to join the BFBD and encourage more of their patrons to experience local art on two wheels.
Also, holding events that draw people to the district and directly to local businesses is one of our most effective promotional strategies.
Lastly, cast a wide net! You’d be surprised at the diversity of businesses – from nail salons to rubber stamp shops – that signed up for our program, so make sure to ask every business in your neighborhood to support the cause.
What isn’t working as well as you hoped?
Offering flat discounts, like 10 percent off for customers who arrive by bike doesn’t seem to bring as many people to the district as we had hoped. While customers still occasionally take advantage of the discounts, we find that temporary bigger discounts or organized events drive more people to local shops.
What’s next for NYC’s BFBD?
We’re excited to see the hard work of our Bike Friendly Businesses start to pay off. Over 50 businesses have submitted applications for bike racks and several more have applied for on-street bike corrals. As the neighborhoods’ bike infrastructure grows, we’ll host more events and bike tours of the district. And when Citi Bike gets here next year, we’ll hit the streets to bring all those new two-wheeled customers into the district. From there, we’d like to grow this program to neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs.
Excellent! Thanks for chatting. See you at the National Bike Summit in March!
April Economides is the principal of Green Octopus Consulting and speaks around the U.S. and Canada on BFBDs and The Business Case for Bicycling. She created the nation’s first Bike-Friendly Business District (BFBD) program for the City of Long Beach and helped launch BFBD programs in San Diego, CA, and Oakville, ON. She recently accepted the position of General Manager of Bike Nation’s soon-to-launch Long Beach bike share program. A car-free bike commuter, she holds an MBA in Sustainable Management and has helped make U.S. business districts more eco-friendly since 1999.