Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts

A couple of weeks ago, I was kvetching to a small business owner in Alexandria about the lack of bicycle parking near their location (yeah, I’m a joy to travel with). He shrugged, gestured to the adjacent storefronts, and said, “These guys don’t think it projects a good image. And you’re the first biker I’ve seen today!”

A quicker-witted advocate might have responded by regurgitating the high points of Bikenomics, or sputtered something about the economic impact of bikeshare stations. Instead, I grunted resignedly, paid for my coffee, and retrieved my bike from the trashbin it was lashed to.

Welcome to our Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community. Why didn’t you drive?

A wonderful contrast was profiled a couple of days ago in Transportation Issues Daily. The Bicycle-Friendly Business District (BFBD) concept is a bicycle encouragement program, primarily in California, that provides equipment, programming, and promotion (“carrots”) to get merchants and their customers using bicycles to get to, from, and around a business district. Cargo bikes for moving merchandise, bicycle-centric events, plentiful bicycle parking… I found this presention (pdf) online that provides a bit more detail, and some wonderful pictures of the scheme in action. I would undoubtedly strain a hip contorting to do all of my shopping in such a DC-area neighborhood. Though, my own neighborhood comes pretty darned close to the BFBD standard of encouraging bicycle transportation, as do the NoMA, Downtown DC, and Capitol Riverfront BIDs (that last one features a particularly dashing bloke in some of their advertising).

But, as a foot soldier in the supposed “war on drivers,” I couldn’t help noticing a lack of mention of the demand management side of things (“sticks”). In other words, the BFBD concept gives patrons and employees plenty of reasons and opportunities to ride a bike to, from, and around the BFBD. But it does not appear to give patrons and employees any reasons NOT to drive a car.

The ease and price of car parking greatly influences (even distorts) our travel choices. A recent study of Washington DC showed, for example, that the availability of free car parking at a worksite reduces the predicted odds of an employee bicycle commuting by 70%. And in all matters parking, we look to The Oracle. Dr. Shoup has spent decades showing us the many ways that free parking results in many negative externalities (pdf). He provides us with a solution highly complementary to the BFBD — the Parking Meter Zone concept (pdf) is at work in Old Pasadena, CA. By charging a variable rate for parking that encourages street parking spots to turn over, more people are able to access the business district. And a sustained revenue stream is given to the Business Improvement District (BID) to fund programs like BFBDs.

I love the Bicycle-Friendly Business District concept. But coupled with some measures to tilt the playing field to reward a choice to bike (or walk, or take transit) to/from/around a business district, perhaps DC can inaugurate some Bicycle-Preferred Business Districts. The upcoming expansion of DC’s performance parking pilot program provides such an opportunity in several of the BIDs I mentioned above, assuming that the budgetary discipline exists to reserve significant portions of the revenue for the neighborhoods.

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5 Responses to Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts

  1. Brian Pate says:

    We have the budget to do this in the Cap Hill/SW Waterfront Performance Parking Pilot area (approx $500K to $1M a year from the non-automotive transit improvement budget generated in the PPP). What would the district look like in terms of infrastructure, promotion, etc.? Happy to work with you to make this a reality on Cap Hill.

    • bikepedantic says:

      Brian – I’m on the board of a new organization called “Friends of DC Trails”, we would love the opportunity to sit down and chat about some possibilities. I’ll have our chair contact you offline

  2. Rootchopper says:

    As someone who’s been riding through Alexandria for 20+ years, I think the bronze bike friendly award is demonstrably bogus. The fact that it is given through 2013 is farcical.

  3. andreahamre says:

    I wrote to the Mayor and City Council after last weekend’s King St art festival about bike parking not only for special events but for everday use. I encourage everyone to write in on your experiences in Old Town and throughout the City, one click gets your message sent to the Mayor and Council

  4. Pingback: Changes in Natitude, Changes in Rackitude | bikepedantic

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