This congress actually gets things moving

George Knight, founder of the Boise State Bicycle Congress, now in its ninth year, with guest speaker April Economides, founder of Green Octopus Consulting, which focuses on sustainability issues.

Patrick Sweeney

George Knight, founder of the Boise State Bicycle Congress, now in its ninth year, with guest speaker April Economides, founder of Green Octopus Consulting, which focuses on sustainability issues.

The tangible bonus of a thriving cycling community--health and environmental benefits aside--is that fewer wheels help fuel the economy.

"Bicyclists shop closer to home and shop more often," April Economides told attendees of the so-called "Bicycle Congress" May 30 at Boise State University--a gathering meant to spur conversation about bike-friendly business districts, a subject she's been studying for more than a decade.

Economides--who founded Long Beach, Calif.-based Green Octopus Consulting—which works at the intersection of local economic development and sustainable urban planning—added that cyclists tend to spend more money, cumulatively, when compared to their driving counterparts. She cited a Fort Worth, Texas, restaurant row (Magnolia Street) that saw sales rise by 200 percent following the installation of bike lanes and racks outside.

After helping to create bike friendly business districts in Long Beach and numerous other cities in the United States and Canada, Economides was anxious to share evidence that she insisted proved that a greater proportion of cyclists support their local economies when compared to motorists.

Bicyclists are exposed to more "spending temptation," Economides said, because of more frequent and smaller trips to the store. Rather than heading to a big box or chain retailer, cyclists often frequent small, local businesses, she said.

But local congress attendees cautioned that accessibility and bike parking remains an issue.

Karen Gallagher, transportation planner with Boise Planning and Development Services, discussed a perception shared by some businesses that any expansion of bike access could mean a loss of parking spots, causing a potential conflict in heavy bike areas.

"We know we have a need for bikes on the streets," said Gallagher. "You can see that because of the bikes, what with all they're attached to, but business owners are very attached to the idea of parking spaces for driving purposes; so it's a trade-off."

Economides was quick to point out that approximately 40 percent of all trips in the United States are two miles or less, and more than two-thirds of those trips are driven--even when car parking is an obvious concern. That's reason enough, Economides theorized, for merchants to provide storefront bike parking.

"A lot of it comes down to habit," Economides said. "There are so many times we could easily hop on a bike and get that gallon of milk."

As a car-free bicyclist, Economides claims to save $8,000-$10,000 annually. She rents a vehicle when necessary, but primarily gets around with her 7-year-old daughter on a tandem bike, which they affectionately refer to as their "bike limo."

The goal: bike local, shop local.

Congress attendees split to different corners of Boise State's Simplot Ballroom, forming into groups representing their efforts: advocacy, business, government and university. But they were all similar in that each discussed ways to grow Boise's business districts in cyclist-friendly ways.

Karen Ballard, administrator of the Division of Tourism at the Idaho Department of Commerce, proposed adding a bike icon to maps in the tourism map database.

"Anything that's bike-friendly," Ballard suggested. "Be it an event or attraction such as a hotel that has loaner bikes or even bikes to rent on the property, it could be able to have a bike icon right there."

Ballard and most local attendees of the bike congress agreed that infrastructure (more bike parking, bike lanes) was key to making Boise bike-friendly, but Economides stressed that perception-busting was also integral.

"So many people think bicycling is unsafe and car driving is safe, when the numbers are completely the opposite," she said.

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