The Business of Becoming Bike Friendly
This story originally appeared in our Spring 2015 American Bicyclist Magazine, and it is written by Bevin Barber-Campbell, a bike advocate and co-chair of the Fort Collins Bicycle Friendly Business Peer Network. If you’d like the magazine in your mailbox, become a League member today!
Admittedly, we have an unfair advantage in Fort Collins. With New Belgium Brewing Company being the drum major of the literal and metaphoric bike parades in our town, the bar was set high a long time ago for what it means to be a bicycle friendly business. To a large degree, New Belgium is responsible for the creation of our city’s bike culture and identity, and for demonstrating that bikes are good for business.
For Kim Jordan and Jeff Lebesch, founders of New Belgium, this was a key part of their corporate plan and culture goals when they founded the company nearly 25 years ago. And, now in its 16th season, the company’s Tour de Fat festival — taking places in 11 cities in 2015 — has raised nearly $4 million for bicycle non-profits nationwide. So, in a spirit of fairness, perhaps Fort Collins should have been issued a handicap before we were announced as the new top-ranked city for the most Bike Friendly Businesses.
In April, 18 new local businesses and organizations were awarded the BFB designation, bringing Fort Collins to a grand total of 39. Our 2015 goal is another 40 applicants. To the local advocates who are working on the BFB initiative, our new ranking feels like destiny. With more than 100 businesses and organizations who are station hosts for Bike to Work Day, and 350 partners in our city’s ClimateWise program, a goal of 200 BFBs seems realistic.
So two years ago, when former Bike Coordinator Molly North expressed this ambition, we smiled and thought, “Why not?” Even though there’s a strong commitment to bicycling here in people’s personal lives and within businesses, our city still needed to launch an outreach campaign to inform organizations about the designation and to encourage them to apply. To start this systematic effort, we formed the Fort Collins Bicycle Friendly Business Peer Network a year ago. Last year, we focused mostly on the “low hanging fruit” businesses, resulting in more than 30 applications. Want to start a coordinated effort in your city? Here are some tips on how to launch a grassroots BFB push!
FORM A BFB COMMITTEE
We call ours the Bicycle Friendly Business Peer Network. It began with two local advocates who shared a mutual interest in the BFB program. We added city staff from FC Bikes and the ClimateWise program and someone from New Belgium. Then I asked a few passionate rides and local professionals whom I had met doing bike safety presentations at their workplaces or who had experience completing the application. We even have our “church guy,” who reaches out to places of worship!
IDENTIFY WELL-POSITIONED PARTNERS
Our main partner has been the City’s ClimateWise program, which is part of the environmental services department. Through them, we’ve been able to communicate with their large list of participants. Other potential partners and outreach opportunities could include the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Business Association, and the Society of Human Resource Managers.
We used a simple, on-the-ground outreach technique. As a bike advocate in Fort Collins, I saw it as an easy ask. All we needed to do was talk to the many people that we already had relationships with in the bicycling community. It was definitely a one-on-one approach, leveraging our connections to people.
IDENTIFY THE “LOW-HANGING-FRUIT”
The list of high-potential businesses can include Bike to Work Day sponsors and station hosts; workplaces where you’ve done bike safety presentations; places of worship engaged with biking initiatives and events, your own employers; business and organizations focused on sustainability; retailers like outdoor stores, food co-ops, and Whole Foods; and large corporations with strong wellness programs.
HOST A WORKSHOP AND INFO SESSION
Host an evening informational session followed by a workshop at which participants can begin working on their applications with the assistance of your BFB committee members.
PROVIDE ON-GOING SUPPORT TO YOUR APPLICANTS
Remind them several times about the deadline and offer to sit down with them to complete the application.
OFFER TO REVIEW THEIR APPLICATIONS
Our committee members were able to offer helpful feedback for additions and clarifications. I even caught several instances in which the applicant forgot to include a major contribution to bicycling in our community!
Ask each existing BFB to encourage one other business or organization to apply. Make someone your BFB poster child. My boss at the local kitchen store has been offering a cash incentive to his employees for bicycling to work since 1987. I’ve been pushing him to share this idea with fellow downtown business owners.
FINALLY, THROW A PARTY!
When the awards are announced, or once a year, host a celebration for the new awardees. Ask the applicants if one of them would like to host. It can be a potluck. Collect photos and logos for a slideshow. Make each applicant a framed award poster. Have a bicycle cake! And make sure you alert the local media. We hope your city will join us in the national push to get more businesses to apply for the BFB designation. The more Bicycle Friendly Businesses we can develop in our communities, the closer we will come to the culture shift and critical mass needed to make bicycle friendliness the new norm.