Bik­ing in­fra­struc­ture on streets key to fu­ture

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - BY SAM SLATON Sam Slaton of Ben­tonville is di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the Bike Al­liance of North­west Arkansas, a non­profit ad­vo­cacy group.

In late June, thanks to a Wal­ton Fam­ily Foun­da­tion grant, more than two dozen North­west Arkansas busi­ness lead­ers, city en­gi­neers, phi­lan­thropists, ac­tivists and elected of­fi­cials — in­clud­ing may­ors Peter Christie of Bella Vista, Greg Hines of Rogers and Doug Sprouse of Spring­dale — joined their coun­ter­parts from across the coun­try for Peo­pleForBikes’ in­au­gu­ral PlacesForBikes con­fer­ence in Madi­son, Wisc. Our mis­sion? To dis­cover how places like Madi­son, Austin, Den­ver and oth­ers blos­somed into health­ier, wealth­ier, hap­pier cities by em­brac­ing bikes.

Over the course of the con­fer­ence, we learned time and again that with re­spect to pro­tected bike lanes, the old adage is true: build it and they will come. Not only that, they’ll come and they’ll build some­thing new, too, whether it’s a fam­ily, an in­dus­try or a busi­ness.

We’ve al­ready seen this play out with the Ra­zor­back Green­way and our moun­tain bik­ing trails. Fam­i­lies are flock­ing to the in­creas­ingly valu­able ar­eas close to these ameni­ties, a new tourism in­dus­try has sprung up seem­ingly overnight, and bike shops, cafes, brew­eries and restau­rants have cropped up to serve tourists and res­i­dents alike. And so the cy­cle goes.

To en­cour­age the con­tin­u­a­tion of this growth trend, we must com­ple­ment our ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture with an ex­ten­sive net­work of on-street, pro­tected bike lanes, like Fayetteville’s cy­cle track (funded through a 50/50 match­ing grant from the Wal­ton Fam­ily Foun­da­tion) that will soon be built on Old Wire Road be­tween Ash Street and Gul­ley Park. This kind of in­fra­struc­ture makes bik­ing ac­ces­si­ble to a broad range of ages and abil­i­ties, and it con­nects peo­ple to where they work, live, play and ex­plore, thereby em­pow­er­ing Arkansans to ride not just for re­cre­ation, but for trans­porta­tion as well.

Don Marr, chief of staff for Mayor Lioneld Jor­dan of Fayetteville and a mem­ber of the North­west Arkansas delegation, un­der­stands this. Upon re­turn­ing from the con­fer­ence, he said, “We need to put the same em­pha­sis on build­ing bi­cy­cle in­fra­struc­ture that we put on build­ing trails back at the be­gin­ning of the trails pro­gram.” To that end, Marr says Fayetteville “needs to hire a full­time bike/pedes­trian co­or­di­na­tor to look for safe bi­cy­cling op­por­tu­ni­ties, work to pro­mote bi­cy­cle rid­er­ship, seek fund­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to build needed in­fra­struc­ture, cre­ate a master plan for safe on-street bike con­nec­tions, and build cham­pi­ons on the City Coun­cil and in our cit­i­zenry as to why these are good eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in­vest­ments.”

If Fayetteville and other cities through­out the re­gion do what Marr pro­poses, we can ex­pect big results. Dur­ing his key­note at the PlacesForBikes con­fer­ence, John Burke, pres­i­dent of Trek Bi­cy­cle Co., pointed out sales fig­ures for in­de­pen­dent bike deal­ers were eight times higher in Boul­der, Colo., than in Bloom­ing­ton, Ill. The two cities are de­mo­graph­i­cally sim­i­lar but for one met­ric: bike in­fra­struc­ture. Boul­der boasts more than 300 miles of it, while Bloom­ing­ton has very few.

And the eco­nomic boon associated with bike in­fra­struc­ture ex­tends far beyond bike shops. Af­ter all, peo­ple who ride bikes to get from A to B spend less money on gas and less time stuck in traf­fic, which means they have more money and time to in­vest in their com­mu­ni­ties. (They also in­flict less wear-and-tear on ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture, thereby ex­tend­ing the life­span of ex­tant in­vest­ments.) It’s a well-es­tab­lished that “bikes mean busi­ness,” and those cities that take it to heart are thriv­ing. Take Den­ver, for ex­am­ple. Ac­cord­ing a Den­ver Busi­ness Jour­nal in­ter­view with Tami Door of the Down­town Den­ver Part­ner­ship, the Mile-High City is “the num­ber one desti­na­tion for Mil­len­ni­als in the coun­try.” Why? Door ex­plains that “the num­ber one thing they want is bike lanes,” and Den­ver is build­ing them. Ay­lene McCal­lum, also of the DDP, sim­pli­fies the for­mula thusly: Busi­nesses want Mil­len­ni­als; Mil­len­ni­als want pro­tected bike lanes; Pro­tected bike lanes at­tract Mil­len­ni­als; Mil­len­ni­als at­tract busi­nesses.

But they don’t just at­tract busi­nesses — they also cre­ate busi­nesses of the sort that in­fuse a place with cul­ture, cre­ativ­ity, in­no­va­tion and ex­cite­ment, and these el­e­ments in turn at­tract new tal­ent. And so the cy­cle goes.

Kelly Syer, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Down­town Spring­dale Al­liance, ap­pre­ci­ates the ap­pli­ca­bil­ity of McCal­lum’s for­mula: “If we are in­ten­tional about iden­ti­fy­ing and cul­ti­vat­ing ways to en­cour­age bi­cy­cling through our down­town, Spring­dale’s ef­forts to re­vi­tal­ize the area will see a mea­sur­able ben­e­fit re­sult­ing from in­creased bi­cy­cle traf­fic.”

Later in that Den­ver Busi­ness Jour­nal in­ter­view, Door goes on to ex­plain that “ten years ago, we never would have thought that walk­a­bil­ity or bike lanes would be eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment tools.”

So why wait a decade and get left be­hind? Let’s start rolling now and stay ahead of the curve.

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