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Where the Ride Takes Us: How Bicycles Brings Business
In honor of National Bike Month, we’re spotlighting how bicycles are tools for personal empowerment, social justice and community development with our “Where the Ride Takes Us” web series. Today’s post is an excerpt from a feature I wrote for the March-April issue of Momentum magazine on the impact of bicycles on local business. This section is particularly fitting as League staff is in Memphis today attending the Tennessee Bike Summit!
Pat Brown was just hoping to hang on in a tough economy. When she relocated her art gallery in 2008, it was the rock-bottom rent that drew her to a still struggling strip of downtown Memphis, TN. “We were just trying to survive,” she said.
Brown (pictured right) was betting on a small core of community members determined to transform Broad Avenue from a fast-moving thoroughfare, where traffic whizzed past boarded-up storefronts at 50 mph (80 km/h), into a bustling arts district. Little did she know that they would hit the jackpot with bicycling.
Shortly after Brown opened T Clifton Gallery, Sarah Newstok walked in. The local nonprofit Newstok led, Livable Memphis, had a vision for Broad Avenue, too. They wanted to build a protected bike lane that would pass right by Brown’s door, creating a vital connection between a popular multi-use trail and the city’s largest park. “We’re a retail business, so any time there’s a concept to bring additional traffic directly by your storefront, it’s very easy to say ‘yes,’” Brown recalled with a laugh.
In 2010, after garnering support from city officials and surrounding businesses, Livable Memphis and the Broad Avenue Arts District rolled out the idea in a dramatic way. They painted temporary bike lanes and crosswalks and invited the community to “A New Face for an Old Broad,” a celebration, complete with live music, street vendors and a kids’ bike parade down the freshly striped cycle track (photo below).
“Until then, the area had been doing art walks once a year and, at best, those were bringing in 1,000 people,” Brown said. “Our goal for this day-and-a-half event, where the street itself would be a sort of theatrical performance, was maybe 5,000 people. We had 15,000 show up. The energy level was incredible. It was a huge tipping point for us – it changed the trajectory of the revitalization efforts.”
The energy didn’t wane once the event was over and bicyclists started taking advantage of the temporary lanes. Since then, the promise of permanent facilities has drawn more than $6 million in private investment. More than 15 new businesses have opened and nearly 30 properties have been renovated. Traffic has slowed, new customers are arriving on two wheels and, suddenly the rock-bottom neighborhood is one of the hottest spots in town.
Memphis isn’t the only city where bicycling is bringing business. Increasingly leaders in the public and private sector are realizing that being bike-friendly makes good business sense, boosting the bottom line and promoting community-wide economic development. Bicycling in the United States is a $6 billion national industry and one study estimates that the spillover effects of recreational bicycling alone could be as large as $133 billion. But that’s just the beginning, barely scratching the surface of the economic impact of transportation bicycling in communities across North America…