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Bicycling for Better Business

Jay Walljasper / Oct 31 2012

For Release Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Citiwire.net

Jay WalljasperCities across the U.S. discover that good biking attracts great jobs and top talent to their communities

“Biking is definitely part of our strategy to attract and retain businesses in order to compete in a mobile world,” says Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak as we pedal across the Mississippi River on a bike and pedestrian bridge. “We want young talent to come here and stay. And good biking is one of the least expensive ways to send that message.”

“I was having dinner with a creative director that a local firm was eager to hire for a key post,” Rybak adds. “He was an American living in Europe, and we spent most of the evening talking about the importance of biking and walking to the life of a city. He took the job.”

Minneapolis has invested heavily in biking. It has created a network of off-street trails, added 180 miles of bike lanes to its streets, launched one of the first U.S. bikeshare programs and created protected lanes that separate cyclists from motor traffic. All those help explain why it lands near the top of lists ranking America’s best bike cities.

“We moved from the suburbs to downtown Minneapolis to allow our employees to take advantage of the area’s many trails and to put the office in a more convenient location for commuting by pedal or foot,” explained Christine Fruechte, CEO of large advertising firm Colle + McVoy, in a newspaper op-ed, “How biking can help a company’s bottom line.” “Our employees are healthier, happier and more productive. We are attracting some of the best talents in the industry.”

David A. Wilson, who directs 1,600 employees at the Minneapolis office of the Accenture management consulting company, says good biking opportunities are important to the well-educated 25- to 35 year-olds he seeks to hire. “Five years ago, I don’t think business people were even thinking about bikes as a part of business. Today it’s definitely part of the discussion.”

Young people today drive significantly less than previous generations, according to a flurry of recent reports. Even Motor Trend magazine notes that young professionals flocking to cities today are less inclined to buy cars and “more likely to spend the money on smartphones, tablets, laptops and $2,000-plus bikes.” Annual miles traveled by car among 16- to 34-year olds dropped 23 percent from 2001 to 2009 according to a study from the “Frontier Group” think tank. The Federal Highway Administration found the miles traveled by drivers under 30 dropped from 21 percent to 14 percent of the total between 1995 and 2009.

These young people represent the “creative class” talent pool that many companies covet. That’s why civic, business and political leaders in cities around the country are paying attention to their wishes for lively, livable places to work and play. That includes biking – for commuting and for recreation.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was elected last year on a platform of bringing new tech and creative businesses to the city. He scored a major coup last summer when Google-Motorola Mobility announced it was moving more than 2,000 jobs from a suburban campus to the heart of the city. Emanuel explained, “One of the things that employees look [at] today is the quality of life and quality of transportation, because of the ease that comes with it. And that ease is having trains as a choice, buses as a choice and bikes as a choice getting to and from work.”

Martha Roskowski – director of the Green Lane Project, which promotes protected bike lanes across the country – explains, “Cities that want to shine are building these kind of better bike facilities as part of a suite of assets that attract business. And they find that bike infrastructure is cheap compared to new sports stadiums and light rail lines, and can be done much faster.”

George Washington University business professor Christopher Leinberger, a real estate expert who predicted today’s urban boom in a series for the Atlantic magazine, marvels at how bicycles are changing Washington. “Bikes have been a critical part of D.C.’s turnaround. They are putting in protected bike lanes which does a lot more to encourage riding than just a white line of paint between people and a one-ton vehicle.”

Ellen Jones, director of Washington’s Downtown Business Improvement District, concurs. “It’s just crazy how biking has taken off here,” she said, “especially the new bikeshare system which a lot of people are using for commuting.” We spoke after she returned from meeting managers of a high-tech company wanting to rent an old warehouse downtown. “They were concerned about whether they could easily get their bicycles upstairs. When bicycling is part of the final decision on where a company relocates, then we know its impact.”

Bikes are improving the business climate beyond big cities. Austin, Texas, is ambitiously expanding its bike infrastructure; its first green lane opened last spring, one of 10 planned. CEO Tyson Tuttle relocated Silicon Labs to downtown Austin five years ago to be near the bike trail system. “Biking on the trails is something a lot of employees enjoy,” said Tuttle, who sometimes rides to work. “And when people think about joining the company it’s a big draw.”

In Memphis, Eric Matthews echoes those comments. He’s CEO of Launch Memphis, an initiative to nurture and attract new businesses to city. He says, “Biking correlates with entrepreneurs.”


Jay Walljasper, author of The Great Neighborhood Book and All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons, chronicles urban life for a variety of publications. His website: www.JayWalljasper.com. This article is adapted from one from the Green Lane Project (http://greenlaneproject.org/blog/view/198).

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5 Comments

  1. Marc Brenman
    Posted October 31, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    Only a tiny percent of people commute to work by bicycle. So why do this, “Minneapolis has invested heavily in biking,” when what is needed is more funding for good ol’ public transit, to help the people of color and low income people already there? Investing in bicycle infrastructure becomes just one more way of benefiting young white middle class males.

  2. Ken Wood
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:26 am | Permalink

    I cannot believe there would be so many biking to work in Minneapolis from roughly November through March.

  3. Bill Bailey
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Excellent. A relatively inexpensive way to promote heatlh of citizens and recruitment of young individuals and families. A win-win and tax money well spent.

  4. Posted November 1, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Marc:
    Perhaps our societal image of a “bike commuter” is a spandex-clad middle-class white guy, but I wouldn’t underestimate the importance of the bike to lower-income groups. I love in a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis (Richfield), and I can say from personal observation that most people I see on a bicycle are non-white teenagers. Oftentimes these riders are riding very unsafely (on the sidewalks or against the flow of traffic) specifically because the street lacks specific bike accommodations. Richfield and Minneapolis are both on the same urban grid, but as you go farther south, blocks get longer, destinations get farther apart, and transit service becomes less and less viable. While I agree with Jay’s article that bicycling benefits a city, it provides a valuable, free mode of transit to poorer groups in suburbs as well.

  5. Posted November 1, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Ken:
    City of Minneapolis plows all major bike paths (like the Midtown Greenway and the Cedar Lake Trail) just the same as they do streets. Some bike lanes end up narrowed or hidden by snow, but most are rideable. Bicycling during the winter requires more effort, and there are fewer riders this time of year, but many ride all the same.