Building a Better Business District

Note: This was originally posted on the Urban @ ABQ website on 5/19/13.  I am posting this here so I can have a copy on my site.  The original post also had a different picture.  Find the original post here.  Thanks for reading and please comment!  

bfbd article

Picture this: it’s a beautiful spring Saturday morning in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Paseo del Bosque multi-use trail is filled with families and other users. A few blocks away, Downtown Albuquerque is empty. Most of the businesses are closed; the few open ones are struggling. What if the trail users, many of whom are on bikes, could be drawn into Downtown? What if we could combine pedal power and people power into a boost for small local businesses?

The Bicycle Friendly Business District (BFBD) initiative aims to accomplish this. Connecting bicycle users to small businesses is a great way to incubate the local economy, encourage people to use their bicycle and activate previously underutilized places.

What is a BFBD?
According to Green Octopus Consulting, a pioneer of this initiative, “a BFBD is a commercial district where the merchants encourage people to bike to the area to shop and dine – and where merchants and employees ride, too. BFBDs integrate bikes into a district’s operations, events, and promotions.” (Economides, April).

In Albuquerque, this treatment could easily be applied to these existing business districts:

Downtown
Old Town
South 4th St. (Barelas)
Nob Hill
The Bricklight District
Silver at UNM
EDo (East Downtown)
San Pedro (between Lomas & Constitution)
+ a handful of other corridors scattered around the city.

Urban at ABQ is targeting Downtown as the location of the first BFBD in Albuquerque.

Is there proof of bicycles being good for business?
Yes! The NYC DOT recently released a report about the impacts of bicycle and pedestrian oriented infrastructure changes. It showed retail sales increasing between 49%-172% in areas where bicycle or pedestrian infrastructure was created or improved (Measuring the Streets: New Metrics for 21st Century Streets). In addition, the impacted corridors became much safer. Injuries and fatalities declined dramatically for all road users, especially automobile drivers. Safer streets are better for businesses too.

The typical response to this would be, “New York City has nothing to do with Downtown Albuquerque! There is no way this would work in Albuquerque!” In that case, let’s examine an example that’s closer to home: Long Beach, CA. Long Beach is the pioneer of the BFBDconcept. In areas where the BFBD treatment has been applied, 18 new bike related businesses opened over the course of one year (Green Octopus Consulting). Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster understands the value of bikes: “‘I see parts of the city on my bike that I would never even notice if I was just driving,’ he said. ‘It’s a way for me personally to get closer to the city’” (Streetsblog, 3/13/12; Snyder, Tanya).

Bicycle tourism is also on the ride. People come from all over the world to bicycle tourism hubs to spend time and money. In Colorado, our neighbor to the north, bicycle tourism is a $1 billion/year industry (Economides, April).

It’s the Parking Stupid!
One of the major complaints about visiting Downtown is the difficulty of parking. It’s not necessarily an issue of quantity but the ability to find a reasonably priced parking space. Bike corrals, a key part of the BFBD formula, can help to alleviate this issue. A bike corral replaces a single curbside parking space with a bike rack.

This can be a game changer for a local business. Why? Where 1-4 customers previously parked, up to 14 customers can now park! Did I mention that bike parking is also free? Developers in other American cities understand that “it’s a lot easier to install 127 bicycle parking spaces than to build a parking lot.” (Jacklet, Ben; Oregon Business; 1/11)

The visibility of a large bike parking rack on the street edge communicates to cyclists that the local businesses value their support. Encouraging more people to cycle frees up parking spaces for the people who really need them (EX: the elderly). Urban at ABQ is currently working on an initiative that would permit this type of infrastructure. According to current city law, it is illegal to build a bike coral.

Albuquerque is on the cusp of being the ultimate bicycle friendly city. For decades, we were on the cutting edge of bicycle infrastructure, building miles of trails along the river and along our arroyos. However, much of this infrastructure is oriented around recreation vs. commuting. Across America, cities are quickly realizing that encouraging bicycling for transportation can be the best solution to reducing traffic congestion, obesity and transportation costs for citizens. It can also stimulate local economies.

Building on Our Existing Strengths
Albuquerque is already far ahead of many mid-sized American cities in this regard. All of our buses have racks for 2-3 bicycles on the front. A huge percentage of our roads have bicycle lanes and bicycle route signage. We had one of the first bicycle boulevards in the country; the portion of it closest to the university is typically filled with a wide variety of cyclists on a vast array of bicycles. Old Town Farm, which is close to the Paseo del Bosque trail, sees hundreds of cyclists on the weekends at the Bike-In Coffee truck on the property (visit oldtownfarm.com for more information). Marble Brewery, a Downtown bar, typically has far more bicycles parked outside than cars. Every weekend in the spring and summer, the various paths and trails around the city are packed with families cycling and walking. The time has come to connect the dots, build upon our existing assets and move Albuquerque to the next level.

Where are we in the process?
This past month, members of Urban at ABQ have been walking around Downtown collecting data. We are assessing the existing infrastructure in order to guide the development process. Our assessment is taking stock of existing bike racks, bus stops, bike shops and other supportive elements of a BFBD (bicycle friendly businesses such as restaurants, coffee shops, etc. as well as potential areas for new bike racks and more).

Once we have processed all of this data, we will prepare a report identifying the improvements that must be made in order to create a Bicycle Friendly Downtown. This will include recommendations for both the public and the private sector. For example, we might recommend bicycle racks for certain areas (public sector) and targeted bicycle oriented promotions (private sector). We will present these to the Downtown Action Team and the City of Albuquerque.

Building a Bicycle Based Business Boom
Albuquerque continues to struggle from economic woes. The states surrounding us have recovered from the recession while New Mexico continues to stagnate. In order to compete, we must use our existing assets to build a new economy.

In urban areas across the nation, a tangible transformation is occurring. After decades of divestment, downtown America is once again the “place to be”. As the Great Recession stopped sprawl in its tracks, city cores continued to grow. “College-educated professionals between the ages of 25 and 34” are driving this growth. (Forbes; Brennan, Morgan; 3/25/13).

The future of real estate and value creation in cities is oriented around enhancing existing build environments. High-density infill is the most efficient use of our limited resources. Orienting these new developments around bicycles, mass transit and walking for transportation is key to their success. It’s time for Albuquerque to become Albikequerque.

-Dan

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