Are bicyclists good for business?
The Tampa Bay area, with its flat terrain and mild climate, is a haven for recreational cyclists, with many clubs and group rides that not only make riding safer but build social networks, whether at the coffee shop after a ride or online with Facebook pages that cater to different segments of the cycling community.
Yet challenges remain to make bike riding not just a recreational activity but a commuting alternative and a business generator.
The League of American Bicyclists, or LAB, has a program called Bicycle Friendly Business, also known as BFB, that encourages local businesses to adapt to the needs of their bike-commuting employees and customers who arrive on two wheels. At this moment, Tampa is ahead of St. Petersburg in developing a local program, but the two cities are sharing information as both look to develop programs based upon the best practices of other communities.
Fort Collins, Colo., is rated the No. 1 BFB city in the country, with nearly 40 LAB-certified bike-friendly businesses and plans to double that number this year. The city has lessons to impart.
Jeff Nosal, co-chairman of the Fort Collins BFB Peer Network, said BFBs become more than simply attractive destinations for cyclists. "Not only can they encourage their employees to bike to work by providing showers and other amenities, businesses can become partners advocating for better bike infrastructure," he said.
Bevin Barber-Campbell, Nosal's former co-chairwoman, emphasizes the need for a ground game that's labor intensive and includes such things as helping businesses complete BFB applications, encouraging mentoring among businesses and conducting workshops. "It was definitely a one-on-one approach, leveraging our connections to people," she wrote.
Karen Kress, director of transportation and planning for the Tampa Downtown Partnership, which leads a bicycle-friendly business initiative effort there called Bike-Friendly Tampa, echoes the need for a personal approach.
"The biggest challenge for small businesses is the lack of time," Kress said. "They are so busy, we've had to interrupt our workshops while a small businessman takes a call." So Kress has one person who beats the bushes looking for businesses to join the local Tampa program, which has a simpler application process than the LAB certification requires.
She has had success. Twenty-nine businesses have joined Bike-Friendly Tampa, mostly ground-level establishments in the downtown area. Phase 2 will target larger companies, and Phase 3 will look to recruit cultural organizations, all of which must be downtown. Businesses outside the downtown area can apply directly to LAB if they're interested.
Businesses in Tampa's program usually offer some benefit to bike riders in addition to convenient and safe bike parking. It may be a small discount or a free drink but it also includes repair services, patch kits and air pumps.
Benefits for employees include secure long-term parking and cleanup facilities.
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It's sometimes a harder sell to convince businesses that catering to bicyclists can be profitable, especially if it means giving up even one parking space for cars, but the evidence is compelling.
A study by Oregon's Portland State University found that for restaurants, bars and convenience stores, for example, consumers who arrive by bicycle actually spend more per month at those businesses than motorists do.
Oregon also has found that there's more to being bicycle friendly than catering to the locals.
Thirty-one percent of visitors to the state rode a bike at some time during their stay and spent more than $1 million a day. Research also found that bike travelers spend 20 percent more than the typical visitor.
Such statistics should have St. Petersburg salivating. Its BFB program is in the development stages. Jessica Eilerman, the city's small-business liaison, is heading up the effort and learning from Tampa's first steps. She also is looking at other cities' programs and asking for input from various stakeholders. She believes the BFB program must be integrated with larger efforts, such as improving residents' health and a "Complete Streets" program with business arteries that calm motor traffic and encourage other forms of transportation, including walking. "We've got to move around the city in a lot of different ways," she said.
Bicyclists experience neighborhoods and street-level businesses differently than motorists, lingering at shop windows and reading signage that might offer special items or discounts, something motorists can't do easily.
Eventually, many businesses recognize the benefits. A survey in Portland found that 68 percent of businesses thought that "promoting bicycling and walking helps market their business."
Of course, each city is unique and must find what works best there, giving consideration to climate, street patterns, population, etc. But both St. Petersburg and Tampa are well positioned to emulate Fort Collins, which also claims to be the largest producer of craft beer in Colorado. Our region, of course, is proud of its burgeoning craft beer reputation. Jeff Nosal said the Fort Collins New Belgian Brewery is the "spiritual leader" of the BFB program there, offering meeting space for workshops and events for the cycling public with, of course, free beer.
Now if that idea doesn't attract the cyclists I know, you might as well roll up the sidewalks and turn out the lights.
Bob Griendling is president of the St. Petersburg Bicycle Club and a member of the Mayor's Bicycling and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.