Business for Bikes

By Henri Venable, Bicycle Initiative Intern

I had an interesting conversation with an IU staff member regarding the latest bicycle infrastructure around Bloomington. He voiced two of the same complaints that people usually voice when bike infrastructure comes into town: 1) bike lanes make the roads too narrow and 2) reduced parking/vehicle space is bad for local businesses.

The first is a culturally driven expectation. Roads in Europe have been narrow for centuries and, somehow, vehicles manage. Bicycles in this country have historically been marginalized road users who are finally receiving the recognition they deserve and the infrastructure they need. Any normal sized car will continue to fit in the new sized lanes. If you’re concerned about your Ford F150, Hummer, or Tank not fitting comfortably in the lane, maybe it’s time for a re-evaluation of your transportation needs.


In fact, with this beautiful winter weather one can see how little of the road surface is commonly used by vehicles. An interesting concept known as “sneckdowing” (a combination of “snow” and “neckdown” – another name for a curb expansion) uses snow formations on the street to reveal the spaces cars don’t use. If you were to convert these spaces for pedestrian or cycling purposes drivers would be up in arms. But what value is the space if you don’t use it?

The second argument has to do with limiting vehicle space in downtown areas and, supposedly, reducing economic activity. The Guardian newspaper, however, has found that businesses are increasingly supporting and encouraging bicycle infrastructure and reduced vehicle space. This sudden change of heart from the business sector is surprising and welcomed. There are four reasons for this change.

  • First, bike routes increase the visibility and sales volume of retail stores. This is in part because the slower speed makes it easier to lure cyclists and pedestrians in for impulse buys. “If you’re driving by at 35mph, you’re not going to stop.”
  • Second, bike infrastructure attracts young talent. Those of us who grew up in the 1990s influenced by Seinfeld and Friends and the allure of the culture and activity of the big city are increasingly seeking out places with lively down-towns. Cities and employers alike are competing to meet these demands. Companies like Yelp and Zynga (social-gaming developer) consider their office locations in major cities like Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco as essential in attracting better employees.
  • Bike infrastructure makes employees healthier, happier, and more productive. Businesses no longer have to spend money to provide a company gym when they can encourage employees to bike to work.
  • Bike infrastructure is a big boon to real estate. There are strong correlations between the “walkability” score of a neighborhood and the value of real estate in the area. The better the bike/ped infrastructure and the closer one is to amenities, the more valuable the property. “By extending the geographic range of non-car travel, bike lanes help urban neighborhoods to develop without waiting years for transit services. By calming traffic and creating an alternative to car lanes, protected bike lanes help to build the sort of neighbourhoods that people enjoy walking around.”

Please check out the Guardian article for more on this interesting read.


5 thoughts on “Business for Bikes

  1. People are incredibly attached to their cars, though. Big purchases like that form identity for people, you’d just have to wonder what kind of person needs a Hummer to form an identity! Nevertheless, I agree the infrastructure for bicycles needs to be improved along with better teaching for riders to learn how to navigate the roads properly

  2. Great post, Henri! I’ve definitely noticed my inclination to stop in to a local business if I’m on foot or bike…. in my car- not so much. I’d be interested in seeing a study on this.

  3. Bike infrastructure is great, trendy, and necessary, and I am sure it will keep being implemented to a greater extent in metropolitan areas for all the economic, social, and health reasons listed above. However, as someone with a “tank” vehicle who has no intention of changing, I actually am concerned with road narrowing. I have every right to my vehicle preferences, and quite frankly, I go far above obeying road laws than the vast majority of cyclists I interact with while driving. I would prefer to see more motorists and cyclists who actually understand and follow laws involving road biking in conjunction with infrastructure improvements.

  4. I agree that everyone should obey the rules of the road and it’s frustrating to see cyclists and motorists alike not respecting those rules.

    I also respect your right to your vehicular preference but there is a phenomenon known as induced demand whereby demand expands to fit increased supply (especially for road ways and motor vehicles). That is, if you widen lanes and roads to meet demand, more and larger vehicles will stretch the new infrastructure limits – requiring yet more expansion.

    Large vehicles were the fashion of the 80s and 90s when the economy was good, gas was cheap, environmental concerns were low, and there was plenty of money to waste on road expansion and urban sprawl.

    1. In no way am I advocating widening roads, but along the same vein, road narrowing infringes upon my personal rights even if you make empty claims to respect them.

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