Bicycling Means Better Business – Utne

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 glide
across the Mississippi river on a bike-and-pedestrian bridge–one of two that
connect downtown to the University of Minnesota. “We want young talent to come
here and stay. And good biking is one of the least expensive ways to send that

we turn onto to a riverside bike path to inspect another span the mayor wants
to convert to a bike-ped bridge, he recounts a recent conversation. “I was
having dinner with a creative director that a local firm was eager to hire for
a key post. 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,” Rybak says, smiling. “He took the job.”

has invested heavily in biking–creating a network of off-street trails
criss-crossing the city, adding 180 miles of bike lanes to city streets with
plans to double that, launching one of the country’s first large-scale
bikeshare programs, and creating protected lanes to separate people riding
bikes from motor traffic–which is why it lands near the top of all lists
ranking America’s best bike cities. 

“ratchets up” the city’s appeal to businesses in many fields, Rybak says.

“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. “Our employees are healthier, happier and more
productive. We are attracting some of the best talents in the industry.”

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 25-35 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.” He notes that Accenture
recently relocated their Boston and Washington, D.C. offices from suburbs to
the city to offer employees better opportunities for biking, walking and

A Creative
Generation Loses Its Car Keys

people today are driving 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 all 16- to 34-year olds dropped 23 percent from 2001 to 2009
according to a study from the “Frontier Group” think tank–and that
does not even count the past three years of recession and $4 gallon gas. 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.

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 the next
generation’s wishes for lively, livable places to work and play. This means
diverse cultural opportunities, plentiful cafes and restaurants, a tolerant social
climate, a variety of housing choices and ample transportation options like
biking–not only for commuting to work, but also for recreation after work and,
in some cases, over the lunch hour.

Florida, the economic forecaster who coined the phrase “creative class,”
recently described these sought-after workers in the Wall Street Journal as “less interested in owning cars and big
houses. They prefer to live in central locations, where they can rent an
apartment and use transit or walk or bike to work.”

sees bicycling as critical for thriving cities, which is why he joined New York
City’s heated debate last year about the proliferation of bike lanes across the
city. “New York has became a haven for creative-class professionals,” he wrote
in the Daily News, which makes good
biking facilities important to the city’s future. He added that biking remains
important to workers in creative fields even as they grow older. “When they put
their kids in child seats or jogging strollers, traffic-free bike paths become
especially important to them.”

executives at New York high-tech companies–including Foursquare, Meetup and
Tumblr–also weighed in on biking issues, urging Mayor Bloomberg to “support a
bikeshare system as a way to attract and retain the investment and talent for
New York City to remain competitive in the fast growing digital media and
internet-oriented economy.” Bloomberg agreed, and the bikeshare program begins
next March with 7,000 bikes for rent. 

The City That

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was elected last year on an aggressive platform of bringing
new tech and creative businesses to the city. When he scored a major coup this
summer with Google-Motorola Mobility’s announcement that 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.”

City of Chicago’s Chief Technology Officer John Tolva says it’s no coincidence
that Google-Motorola Mobility’s new home in the Merchandise Mart is right next
to Kinzie Street, the city’s first green lane–where bike lanes are physically
separated from rushing traffic to make riders feel safer and more comfortable
on the road. This idea of creating protected space for people on bikes,
borrowed from Northern European countries where bikes account for 10-30 percent
of trips, is now spreading throughout the U.S.

Roskowski–director of the Green Lanes 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 lightrail lines, and can be done much faster.”

Washington University business professor Christopher Leinberger, a leading
authority on real estate who predicted the current urban boom in a series of
articles for the Atlantic magazine,
points out “Biking is no longer just a niche for the macho guys.  It’s for a lot of people now. Ideally, we
should have a 20-25 percent mode shift for bikes in cities. Great urban spaces
are all about choices, including in transportation.”

marvels at how bicycles are changing Washington, D.C., where he lives.  “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

Jones, director of Washington’s Downtown Business Improvement District, says,
“It’s just crazy how biking has taken off here, especially the new bikeshare
system which a lot of people are using for commuting.” We spoke after she
returned from an appointment with managers of a high-tech company wanting to
rent an old warehouse downtown. “A lot of their employees bike to work and 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.”

boom in biking is also creating opportunities in the real estate sector. Jair
Lynch, founder and CEO of a DC real estate development and construction
company, declares, “We don’t work in places that aren’t near bike lanes.” Even
in the slow economy, $200 million in new apartments are currently under
construction adjacent to the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis, a bike “freeway”
cutting through the south side of the city.

benefit businesses see for locating in bike-friendly locations is a break on
health insurance costs. QBP, a bike parts distributor in the Minneapolis area
employing 600, offered a series of incentives for employees to commute by bike
and discovered an unexpected bonus–a 4.4 percent reduction in health care
costs, totaling $170,000 a year. Tracy Pleschourt–partner at Carmichael Lynch,
an ad agency in downtown Minneapolis that promotes biking–is excited about the
possibilities of the just-launched Zap program, which electronically documents
bike trips using on-bike RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) devices and
trail-edge sensors. Right now the program offers only gift certificates and
discount gear as prizes for frequent biking, but insurers are looking at it as
a way to reward health-conscious companies with lots of employees riding bikes.

Boosting the
Business Climate Beyond Big Cities & Bike Meccas

are improving the business climate even in cities not ranked as bike capitals
or large metropolitan regions. Mayor Lee Leffingwell of Austin, Texas, said, “I
certainly recognize the environmental, public health and quality of life
benefits that more bicycling can bring our city, but I also value the
contribution to the economy that comes with the provision of smart
transportation options that attract major employers to Austin.”

is ambitiously expanding its bike infrastructure; its first green lane opened
last spring, one of 10 planned for the city. Cirrus Logic, a computer chip
company that depends on specially trained engineers, moved to downtown Austin
last summer from an outlying location “to become more attractive as an
employer,” says PR director Bill Schnell. “We can’t just pluck anybody for our
jobs. The people we want are mostly younger, and biking is part of the equation
for them.” 

Tyson Tuttle relocated Silicon Labs, which designs integrated circuits for
computers, to downtown Austin five years ago to be close to the city’s bike
trail system. It was one of the first of many tech companies that are now in
the area. Tuttle, who himself sometimes rides to work, says it was a smart
move. “Biking on the trails is something a lot of employees enjoy, and when
people think about joining the company it’s a big draw. It also helps with
wellness and fitness.”

might think that Memphis would be the last place in America to believe bikes
can take us down the path to prosperity.

2008, with not a single bike lane inside the city limits, Memphis was named one
of the three “Worst Cities for Cycling in America” by Bicycling magazine (alongside Dallas and Miami). That prompted the
city to stripe a few lines of bike lanes, but it landed on the three worst
cities list again in 2010 (this time joined by Birmingham and
Jacksonville).  This year Bicycling honored Memphis as the “most
improved” city for bicycling. It was also named as one of six cities (along with
Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Washington, Chicago and Austin) to receive
support from the Bikes Belong Foundation’s Green Lane Project in creating a
network of protected bike lanes to serve as best practices for other cities to


one thing Mayor A C Wharton became a champion of biking, announcing, “We
believe in the power of bicycle facilities to enhance the health, economy and
safety of our community.”  He hired a
bike-pedestrian coordinator for the city and put plans into motion that led to
more than 60 miles of bike lanes.

business leaders began talking about the importance of biking to city’s future.
Shepherd Tate–an attorney at the large Bass, Berry & Sims law firm–puts it
plainly. “There’s no question about it. Biking makes a difference in attracting
talent.” Eric Matthews, CEO of Launch Memphis and two other initiatives to
nurture and attract new businesses, notes, “Biking correlates with

city, already home to the world famous St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,
is positioning itself to become a center for new biomedical firms. “My job is
to convince emerging companies that they can get the workers they want to come
here,” says Dr. Steven Bares, President of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, an
initiative to bring emerging health companies to Memphis. “The bike is part of
the overall strategy to compete for talent.”

Jay Walljasper, author
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: This article was originally published on GreenLane Project.

Photo courtesy Spencer Thomas, licensed under Creative Commons.

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