Bicycles and Economic Development

by James A. Bacon

Richmond is gaining traction as a bicycle-friendly region but it is a slow and arduous process. Public and private investment in biking infrastructure remain limited, almost non-existent outside the City of Richmond. It is commonly said among cycling enthusiasts that if you build the biking amenities, the cyclists will come.  The challenge is persuading government, business and civic decision makers to put money into bicycle amenities at a time when resources are scarce and public needs are many.

The selling proposition for bicycle infrastructure varies from region to region. In California, for instance, green gets the green. Any amenity that reduces automobile traffic and carbon-dioxide emissions moves up the list of priorities. Other than a few enclaves like Arlington and Charlottesville, however, saving the planet from the scourge of global warming doesn’t elicit much enthusiasm in Virginia. In the Old Dominion, people tend to get more stoked about jobs and wealth creation. If you want more bike lanes, parking spaces for bikes, bike-friendly traffic laws and the like, make the link to economic development.

With those thoughts in mind, Bacon’s Rebellion hosted an idea jam at Acorn Sign Graphics last night, attended by a dozen or so cycling activists. Our goal was to bolster the connection between bicycles and economic development. Several themes emerged from the conversation.

Cycling stimulates tourism. As the 50-mile Virginia Capital Trail between Richmond and Williamsburg nears completion, cycling advocates contend that the trail will be an amenity that will draw visitors to the Richmond region. Many look to the example of the Virginia Creeper Trail near Abingdon and biking trails in other states, which have given rise to clusters of outfitters and restaurants. The traffic isn’t exactly in the same league as Las Vegas or Disney World, but bike trails do generate stays at hotels, B&Bs and nearby attractions.

In addition to the Virginia Capital Trail, Richmond MORE and other groups are working to build the existing network of trails along the James River in downtown Richmond into a 40-mile trail network of mountain bike trails. Winning an International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) desgination as a “ride center” will entice mountain bikers to drive four hours or more to stay “just to ride our trails,” says Greg Rollins, president of the volunteer organization.

Cycling trails and property values. Insofar as people regard cycling trails, bike-ped paths and bicycle lanes as desirable amenities, bicycle infrastructure enhances property values. Once upon a time, people paid a premium to live on a golf course, observed Jay Paul, an entrepreneur who has recently rolled out a line of cycling insurance. Today, he suggested people are more likely to pay a premium to live on a bike trail or bike-friendly street.

Investing in bicycle infrastructure can generate a payback for local governments in the form of higher property assessments and stronger tax revenue.

Cycling, place making and livability. Communities across the country are paying increasing attention to the art of “place making,” creating the kinds of places where people like to gather and interact. Great places, which locals cherish and out-of-towners come to visit, have many common elements, including a mix of residential, commercial and retail uses, walkable streets, cool public areas and, increasingly, bicycle access.

An abundance of great places makes a region a fun place to live — and more economically competitive. In the knowledge economy, a relatively small segment of the population — call them knowledge workers, the creative class, whatever you will — contribute disproportionately to wealth creation. A region’s ability to compete depends as much upon its ability to attract these young, educated and often-entrepreneurial workers as it does upon recruiting corporate investment. Indeed, corporations increasingly tend to locate in regions where they can access workers with valuable skill sets.

Young professionals and entrepreneurs are gravitating to Richmond’s urban core not just to work and play but to live. Far fewer own cars than did the previous generation, preferring to rely for mobility upon walking, biking and mass transit. Many won’t consider living anywhere but a walkable, bikable community.

Recruiting these young, foot-loose workers, said Jack Berry, executive director of Venture Richmond, requires “creating an image of a city and community that young people are attracted to. Right now, we’re seen as lagging cool places” like Portland and Boulder, he said. Cycling is a big part of the attraction.

Champe Burnley, president of the Virginia Bicycling Federation, put it another way: “If you want to recruit talent, you don’t do it by taking people to the country club and buying them a martini.” You need to show young people the fun things there are to do.

13 Responses to Bicycles and Economic Development

  1. A place where children can get themselves to and from baseball practice, friends’ houses, etc on safe bicycle trails would be worth it weight in gold. Something tells me the days of helicopter parents are drawing to a close.

  2. there needs to be bike transportation networks. they won’t be cheap but they will be heavily used especially by young educated workers and they will be powerful amenities in attracting same.

    right now such transportation networks – they are the black sheep of the transportation world.

  3. Pingback: Build it and they will come!

  4. Both VDOT and Fairfax County are working to expand bike access. It seems like a reasonable thing to do when feasible from economic, engineering and safety perspectives.

    I road my bike everywhere when I was a kid growing up in the Twin Cities. The neighborhood had grid streets that got me about everywhere I wanted and needed to go. Once, two friends and I road our bikes halfway across the city to see some other friends who had moved away. It was a long, but fun trip.

    • I don’t know, TMT … they don’t seem to be trying all that hard. I run the W&OD from time to time. I’ve tried to use the County Inter-Connector trail. Unfortunately, the trail is a bunch of muddy trails. How much would it cost to level the trail (a little) and use either asphalt or blue dust to provide a reasonable surface for anything other than hikers and horses?

      A few bridges over small streams would complete the project.

      The big problem – land for the trails – is solved in large tracts of the county.

      It doesn’t seem to me that Fairfax County or VDOT are particularly aggressive in this endeavor.

      I wish they would try harder. A lot of people would commute via bike – especially if employers priovided shower and changing facilities. Given that bike commuting reduces traffic maybe the county and/or state ought to provide some tax incentives for employers who can prove that a substantial number of employess use their bikes to commute to work.

  5. Bicyclist Demographics

    Demographics / Behaviors of Cycling Tourists (2003)
    • Professional, middle ranking and senior white collar workers, most with annual incomes over $60,000: 47% had annual incomes of $60,000 to $80,000,18% had annual incomes over $80,000, 12% had annual incomes of $40,000 to $60,000, and 23% had incomes under $40,000.
    • They’re likely to live with one other person, suggesting they’re a group with a high disposable income. 70% have no children living at home.
    • Primarily age 30 to 55: 44% are age 30 to 45, 33% are age 46 to 55, 6% are age 56 to 65 and 17% are under age 30.
    • Their average age is increasing: the number of cyclists has increased from 34% to 41% in the 55-64 age group, and from 12% to 21% among those aged 65 to 74. This is significant because by 2010, 43% of the growth in consumer spending will be in the generation of 50 to 64 year olds, an age group that spends considerably more on leisure, recreation and travel, and who participate in cycle tourism both as part of organized rides and independent tours.
    • Their most popular interests in declining order of frequency include: eating out, canoeing, camping, hiking, theatre, shopping, museums/historic sites, water sports/swimming/beaches. Other interests include sightseeing, golfing, skiing and walking.
    Cycle Tourism Research Summary, 2004

    Momentum Magazine Reader Demographics
    • 23 percent of readers in Census highest income bracket of over $75,000, 100 percent over $45,000 annual income
    • 53 percent have bachelors degree, 22 percent masters, 5 percent doctorate
    • 78 percent own more than one bike at an average cost of $2,240
    Momentum Magazine, 2007

    “Bicycling magazine is bucking that downward (magazine) advertising trend. PIB reported that Bicycling’s ad revenue in the first quarter was up 2.4 percent from $7.16 million to $7.33 million. And Adweek just named Bicycling for the third year to its annual Hot List, which recognizes magazines with consistent growth in revenue and page count.
    Bicycle Retailer, April 2008

    “Access to a bicycle rises along with household income. Just 29 percent of those with household incomes under $15,000 reported regular access, increasing to nearly half (47%) of those with incomes of $30,000 to $49,000, and two-thirds (65%) of those with household incomes of $75,000 or more.”
    National Survey of Bicyclist and Pedestrian Attitudes and Behavior, NHTSA, 2002

    “In the 1980s and 1990s mountain biking grew much faster than the population…Cycling is relatively inexpensive and does not have to be ‘hardcore.’ Probably cycling will at least keep pace with population growth.”
    Outdoor Recreation in America, 2006

    IN ADDITION, CANADIAN RESEARCH INDICATES THAT BICYCLE TOURISTS ARE OVER TWICE AS LIKELY AS CAR TOURISTS TO RETURN TO A DESTINATION.

    • These sorts of statistics are proofs that monies spent wisely on bike friendly improvements are wise investments for our collective future.

      On a related point, one that’s been said many times many ways: biking offers a wide array of health benefits to a wide variety of people. From the fittest of us all down to those who are unfit and want to change, whatever their age or income or appetite, from light to extreme workouts.

      The health benefits of the bike are equally obvious. Aerobic fitness, heart, circulatory and joint health, and weight control – all are key building blocks to overall, constant and long term health. Biking provides this health in spades to people with all sorts of interests and goals, whether they strive to be a world class mountaineer, a weekend soccer or tennis player, or a week long tourists through a French countryside, or whatever.

      Perhaps the key advantage to biking is that if done in a safe place, one can bike easily, moderately or extremely hard with far less chance of sustaining the far too typical athletic injury of weekend or everyday athletes – the tore ligament, a sprain, chronic tendinitis or a bone stress fracture, or the like.

      And, as a biker ages, his bike’s configuration can be altered to accommodate the rider’s age and condition without diluting the sports’ pleasure.

      The bike as exercise reminds me of the apple as food – perfect.

  6. Great data, Salz, thanks for pulling it all together.

  7. we’ve done some biking. We’ve done the Creeper Trail plus the Greenbrier trail and the C&O (not all)… then have biked out west in various National Parks (like Natural Bridges, not Arches) and similar and even in some towns that were bike-friendly.

    but also have tried to bike in and around other parts of Va and some rural roads – but in my view, it’s damned dangerous and when I’m in a car encountering a bike on rural roads, I think the guy is a damned fool… because while I give them a lot of consideration – others do not and between those other drivers and hills and curves – most rural roads in Va are simply not safe and the arterials are a joke… as they have bike lanes where they can put them – then they end… so many are discontinuous…

    there is no safe way, that I can get from my house to the post office – 3 miles away much less the food store that is 5 miles away or the library or anything else.. it’s just folly to take a bike out on those roads – even though every Spring we get NoVa bike clubs down our way.

    the shame of it is – that many of us have a few too many pounds (more or less with “more” often the case) that regular bike riding would not hurt but riding one mile to the subdivision entrance and back again just don’t get it.

  8. Jack Berry has recently actively campaigned against bike lanes on the 2nd St. connector project. So much for his insight re bicycling.

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