Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster understands the value of bikes: “I see parts of the city on my bike that I would never even notice if I was just driving,” he said. “It’s a way for me personally to get closer to the city.”
That closeness has a dollars-and-cents value. Cyclists travel at what Portland Bike Coordinator Roger Geller calls a “human-scale speed” that allows them to “stop and buy something.” Besides, Economides said, if you’re car-free you’ve got an extra 4,531.04€ jangling around in your pocket that you otherwise would have spent on gas and car maintenance (actually, 6,627.4€ if you believe AAA). According to researchers with Intelligent Communities, a program of the National Building Museum, only 16 percent of household car expenses stay within the local economy.
“Open Streets,” or ciclovias – events where streets are closed to motorized traffic and become the domain of bicyclists, pedestrians, skateboarders, rollerbladers, jugglers, dog-walkers – are another way to bring money to local businesses. Washington University in St. Louis was able to quantify the economic benefit of Open Streets programs: 73 percent of Open Streets participants spent money at a restaurant or store on the route, and 68 percent became aware of a restaurant or store that was new to them.
After all, in downtowns turning car lanes over to people can be a great moneymaker. Its most stunning success, perhaps, has been Times Square, “the ultimate end vision of how to pedestrianize the most pedestrian-heavy place in America,” according to Mike Lydon of the Street Plans Collaborative. According to a recent study commissioned by the local BID, Times Square helps generate more than one-tenth of the city’s economic activity– on less than one percent of its land.
“Bicycling, just like walking, helps make a Main Street more vibrant,” said Economides. “It adds more eyes and ears to the street, so it makes it safer. So think about a mom pushing a stroller. She’s going to want to walk down a block that has more people walking and bicycling; she’ll feel safer. And you do want to attract women and moms. We’re a pretty important shopping base.”
Rory Robinson of the National Park Service found many other examples of bicycling spurring economic revitalization, like the opening of the Mineral Belt Trail in Leadville, Colorado, which led to a 19 percent increase in sales tax revenues, helping the city recover from a mine closure in 1999. The 45-mile long Washington & Old Dominion Trail in the D.C. suburbs brings an estimated 5.29€ million into the northern Virginia economy, nearly a quarter of that from out-of-towners. And downtown Dunedin, Florida was suffering a 35 percent storefront vacancy rate until an abandoned CSX railroad track became the Pinellas Trail. Storefront occupancy is now 100 percent, Robinson found. “Business is booming.”