Does bicycle friendliness contribute to a city’s economic development? City planners and economic development specialists are spending increasing amounts of time trying to make their cities attractive to younger, educated workers and the companies that wish to hire them. They often focus on creating river walks or revitalizing downtowns through cleaning up crime and supporting retail and restaurant businesses.
Dave Atkins (of the Dave Writes blog) argues that reducing obstacles to everyday bicycle travel — to using a bike instead of a car — should also be priorities. According to Dave, cycling around Boston is challenging:
we have a lot of work to do in Boston. I found it ironic that my effort to attend this workshop [on making Boston more bike friendly] illustrates just how much of a fanatic you need to be right now to bike Boston…first, I rode my bike in to work–13 miles dodging potholes, being ever vigilant for crazy drivers, constantly watching for right-turners who would cut me off, timing things to avoid running over oblivious pedestrians, choosing to ride on the sidewalk at times, running stop signs and red lights as a lesser of evils choice to get out of traffic-pinching situations and, after riding a short stretch of interstate onramp that is the only way to get from the South End to Southie, finally arriving at work where I changed clothes in the bathroom and tried not to sweat too much.
At lunch, I rode over to Government Center through the financial district. Again, pedestrians everywhere, delivery trucks, one way streets…I hardly ever run lights, but I found that the safer course of action for me was to run the red lights and go the wrong way a few times. Then I got to government center with its many, many steps on the plaza that I got to carry my bike across.
He connects bicycle friendliness to the overall atmosphere that he, his family, and friends or associates desire. He insists that bikes shorten distances between interesting commercial and pedestrian-oriented areas, and between residential neighborhoods and various city amenities.
The bike component is a key feature for any city to achieve the kind of living balance that so many of us want these days. We don’t want to commute by car in from the suburbs. We want to be a part of where we live and work. The bike can really help that feeling of connectedness.
Dave makes a compelling point. Being able to travel by bicycle somehow makes a giant metro area seem more friendly and relaxed. And, I agree could be a factor in attracting and retaining talented people. A further reason that he doesn’t raise is how cycle travel can contribute to better home affordability. If families can get by with only one vehicle or even no vehicles, this allows them to spend more on their mortgage (and housing is expensive in many vibrant cities) or on other lifestyle expenses like lattes, restaurant meals, etc.