Bike Saturdays

Bike-Friendly Business Districts: An Innovative Pilot Program from Long Beach, California by April Economides

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Kathleen Schaaf owner of Meow Vintage boutique with Diane Gershuny publicist for Long Beach's 4th Street Retro Row - one of the Bike-Friendly Business Districts

In October 2010, the City of Long Beach embarked on the nation’s first Bike-Friendly Business District program with grant of $72,000 from the Los Angeles County Department of Health. The city wanted to increase bicycle trips to local business districts and, hopefully, as a result, increase their number of customers. It hired my company, Green Octopus Consulting, to figure out how to do this, in partnership with the four districts written into the grant – Bixby Knolls, Cambodia Town, the East Village Arts District, and 4th Street Retro Row.

After informing the districts of the grant, educating them on the bike-business connection, and developing, implementing and promoting everything over a 17-month period with as much of their input and time as they were able to contribute – as they tried to stay afloat during a recession and the end of redevelopment agencies – we’re nearing the close of our experiment. And I did run the program as an experiment, testing as many ideas as we had time and money for, so we’d know what works and what doesn’t. Here’s what we did:

Became Educated on how bicycling helps their districts economically. Most business owners had reservations about bikes at the outset and were unaware of the economic benefits.

Started a Discount Program called Bike Saturdays, whereby customers who ride their bike receive a discount every Saturday. Currently, the program has 145 business participants, about 300 known users a month (average of two per business) and 400 Facebook and 200 Twitterfollowers. This program has also brought the businesses new customers on days other than Saturday, customers who forget to ask for the discount, and customers who walk in instead of bike. All of these situations bring the participants new customers, sales and publicity.

Offered free bike tune-ups to more than 195 bikes at 19 clinics. The ones held inside bike shops brought the shops more than 45 new customers (combined) and more than $2,000 in combined sales, because, while waiting, they’d realize they need a helmet, bike lights, or other accessory.

Installed bike racks for more than 50 businesses that didn’t realize the city provides a free bike rack to any business who requests one and that the liability associated with the racks lies with the city, not the business.

Built bike valet kits for each district and parked more than 235 bikes at 16 events. Bike valets are a welcoming touch at events and also a friendly nudge to bike, not drive.

Piloted sidewalk stencils that say “Walk Bikes”to reduce bike-pedestrian accidents and help educate bicyclists that it’s dangerous and illegal to ride on Long Beach business district sidewalks.

Held seven community rides to get new people on bikes and introduce them to the local districts. “The DENGUE FEVER community bike ride, where these rock stars were riding around in our new cargo bike with our Cambodia Town logo, was so much fun. It brought together diverse community leaders, including our councilperson, as well as others from throughout the city that had yet to discover our district. Bicycling has been part of Cambodian culture for decades, and it was neat for us to celebrate this in Long Beach, which is home to the largest Cambodian population in the U.S.” -Pasin Chanou, chair, Cambodia Town, Inc.

Created partnerships and held special events, like the bike-themed March 2010 East Village Arts District Second Saturday event, whereby four shop openings and re-openings were timed for that night, a BMX art installation of rideable Egyptian pyramids was created and ridden, and store discounts and two free bike valets were offered to bicyclists, all of which increased event attendees, business sales, and publicity for the district beyond the event. We also participated in Park(ing) Day, recruited famous bicycling advocate Mia Birk to speak at a BFBD bookshop, promoted Small Business Saturday in the BFBDs, held a bike fair, partnered with photographer Shereef Moustafa to offer free Long Beach Bicycle Portraits, and partnered with Long Beach Pedaler Society to provide new delivery service for a BFBD restaurant and complimentary pedicab rides at our events.

Promotion and publicity to educate the public via print advertising, city and business association websites, flyers, posters, postcards, social media, videos and in-person outreach. We also secured significant media coverage in local and national outlets.

…And last but not least: We started aninformal merchant bike share! Bikes and cargo bikes were purchased for each district’s merchants and employees to use in place of cars for errands and deliveries and to show off in parades. Each district chose its own bike models and colors. Here’s what a few of the stakeholders have to say:

“I'll be honest, at first I was a little scared, because I haven't ridden a bike in about a decade. …But I actually really enjoy it. Turns out riding a bike is a lot like riding a bike. …I will definitely ride it a lot more now that I have usurped my phobia. My nephew [an employee] rides it all the time, too. It has provided a convenient alternative to the three-block walk to Vons (it's a long three blocks and we are lazy) or to give up a good parking spot and drive. Also, both of us being healthy eaters, I appreciate the fact it has increased our mobility and subsequently expanded our range of lunch options, allowing me to spend more money within the community at places I wouldn't normally have time to get to.” -Clay Wood, owner, Clay on 1st

“I love the Arts District bike. It's so useful for my business and me. I can make fast and easy deliveries, take it to the bank, and use it to run business and personal errands. When business is slow, I take it for a cruise along the beach.” -Proum Ry, owner, Wa Wa Restaurant

“As the publicist for 4th Street’s ‘Retro Row,’ our vintage-inspired GT Windstream ‘Streamline’ coaster – dubbed the ‘Rebel Rider’ – is the perfect vehicle for me and my trusty Chihuahua companion Lucie to disseminate posters, postcards and flyers around town to promote our bike-friendly events. It also offers an economical and fun way to cruise the street regularly and check in with our merchants to get the scoop on what’s going on in our ‘hood!” -Diane Gershuny, publicist, 4th Street Business Association

“The BFBD bike has been extremely helpful to my office for when we need to run down the street for an errand or check out an issue. We can put our cameras or even graffiti remover in our basket and zip over to where we need to go. Plus it encourages business owners and residents to get out and ride, too. We get lots of fun looks when we ride around on the cargo bike. We experimented with grocery deliveries at Trader Joes and want to expand this program even more in 2012.” -Blair Cohn, executive director, Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association

The Long Beach program has caught the attention of cities, merchants groups, and media outlets around the U.S., and it is our hope that BFBDs will sprout up around the nation. They’re a healthy solution for our communities and local businesses.


April Economides, principal of Green Octopus Consulting, was hired to create and manage the BFBD program for the City of Long Beach. She gives talks and trainings on BFBDs and the economic case for bicycling to business and civic groups. She holds an MBA in Sustainable Management and is an avid bicycle commuter.

Old School Localism by April Economides

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April in front of the Berlin Coffee House on 4th Street, a "Bike-Friendly" business in the Long Beach East Village "Bike-Friendly Business District

When I was 16, growing up in Long Beach, California, I’d drive – not walk – two very short blocks to pick up a gallon of milk or cuppa joe in a disposable cup. When my friends and I wanted to shop, we drove to a mall on a traffic-jammed freeway to buy clothes made in China from fluorescent-lit chain stores. I ate bagel dogs from CostCo and fried chicken from KFC.

Nowadays….my life in the LBC is a little different. My daughter and I commute everywhere via bike and foot and don’t own a car. We shop locally, eat healthfully, use reusable food and beverage containers, buy most of our clothes second-hand and have everything we need within biking distance. And it’s so much more fun.

None of this impresses my Greek grandparents. In the “old country,” living this way wasn’t a choice but a necessity. Just as they smiled at me when I tried to teach them about ‘the three R’s’ (after all, they explained, they’ve been practicing ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ for decades), I was surprised when a colleague claimed green building was “invented” in the 1970’s. We’re so disconnected from our earth – our home – we forget the very first dwellings were as green as buildings can be: made solely out of materials from the earth and designed strategically with sun and wind in mind (fancy words for “HVAC”).

Aside from the immigrant necessity to live lightly, this is just common sense and economic, my Republican grandparents asserted. Why throw something away you can reuse? Why pay money to drive to buy toxic-sprayed produce when you can grow your own organic and better tasting fruits and veggies at home, for free? Why drive to work and pay for a gym membership when you can bike to work and save time and money and enjoy fresh air along the way? My grandpa biked eight miles to work for years and loved it. These ideas are far from new.

Indeed, what’s old is new again. Green building, bicycle commuting and farmers markets are refreshingly old. That is why those of us seeking to live lightly on our earth must approach sustainable living with humility. What can we learn from our elders? What can we learn from indigenous populations? What can the natural systems of insects, plants, and rainforests teach us about how to design cities? What were the old marketplace models that resulted in lively public squares, supported local farmers and resulted in a congenial populace? If our favorite cities we love to wax poetic about were designed before the invention of the automobile, why do we keep designing and living in cities that are the exact opposite of this?

Contemporary economists, city planners and bureaucrats are finally starting to realize that these issues form an interdependent web. Renovating our cities – like Copenhagen did in the 1970’s – so that people can get to work, school and shopping errands car-free has a tremendously positive affect on our economy, our health, and our communities. And while some of these renovations require large up-front investments (such as new light rail), many of our economic and social woes can be solved by low-tech, inexpensive solutions – such as creating informal bike sharing programs, produce exchanges and parklets. Both are needed to set our cities up for economic success.

Walking and biking is more cost efficient than driving a car – not just because of the direct expenses to car owners but because car infrastructure (including parking) is much more expensive to taxpayers than bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Walking and biking’s direct link to buying local helps keep wealth within the community since many small business owners live in town – in contrast to a corporation headquartered in another city. There is nothing new about the idea of walking down the street and supporting your local shop owner or bicycling your child to school. These ideas are very ‘main street’ and American as apple pie. They are fiscally conservative and efficient.

So before you hop in that SUV to Walmart with your restless kindergartener in tow, consider instead the far-reaching effects that riding a tandem to your local store will have on your child, yourself and your city. For starter’s, your kid will love it – and joyful living is the most important ingredient to any successful community. Imagine if 10 of your friends did the same. This is how the change to localism happens: slowly, intentionally, and humbly. Old school.

April Economides is the president of Green Octopus Consulting, which helps business districts realize triple bottom line success through old school ideas like bike-buy local programs and public space creation. She manages the City of Long Beach’s Bike Saturdays and Bike-Friendly Business District programs.