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Social Connectedness / 2013

What’s the BF(B)D? Connecting Neighborhoods through BicycleFriendly Business Districts

What’s the BF(B)D? Connecting Neighborhoods through BicycleFriendly Business Districts

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Green Octopus Consulting


Green Octopus Consulting will partner with local business associations, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC), and LA Streetsblog to create five bicycle-friendly business districts in Los Angeles. A bicycle-friendly business district is where a community comes together around bicycles to bike to area shops and restaurants – and where merchants and employees ride, too. It’s the integration of bicycling into a business district’s operations, events, and promotions.  

Bicycle-friendly business districts improve local economies by strengthening connections between residents and their local businesses, increasing small business revenues, and improving neighborhood vitality and connectedness, all the while improving public safety, environmental health, and GLH – Gross Local Happiness.  

The ‘alienation’ that has historically defined the LA urban landscape – largely due to fast-moving cars that move through a place but don’t stop and connect with it – is starting to change. Bicycle-friendly neighborhoods are one of the strongest trends to emerge around the U.S. as a way to improve social connectedness in our communities. Getting people out of their cars and onto bikes as a mode of transport – particularly on the weekends for neighborhood shopping, dining and errands – is creating lasting, meaningful change for individuals, neighborhoods, and our local economies.  

At the heart of this idea is to facilitate connections between business owners, local residents, and advocates. These stakeholders will work together to integrate bicycling into the neighborhoods’ existing events, online and print promotions, and business association operations. We’ll:  

• Produce a bike map and destination guide for each district  

• Host community rides through the districts  

• Incorporate bicycling into each district’s events through bike valets, free basic bike repair, bike portraits, and more  

• Outfit the districts with bikes for errands and deliveries  

• Produce two LA Streetsblog videos introducing people to the program and shopping by bike  

• Create a snazzy program website with everything you'd want to know about the program  

• Establish lasting relationships between business districts and their local bike shops and the LACBC  

Through interactive workshops, each district will decide what else they’d like to incorporate into their neighborhood. Business districts will benefit from free publicity as their efforts are recognized in the bicycling community and general media.  

Bicycling goes hand-in-hand with placemaking – creating a ‘sense of place’ for a neighborhood. Increased bicycling in a business district results in more women and children coming to that area, increased small business sales helps retain the diversity of our locally-owned businesses and each area’s unique character, and the increased vitality makes an area more welcoming to people all-around. The result is a socially connected community anchored by vibrant local business districts that are safe and pleasant for residents to bike and walk to.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

 </p>• Working with Business Improvement Districts and community groups in LA and around the U.S. since 1999 on sustainable urban transport and placemaking, urban operations, events, marketing, and public outreach.  </p>• Creating Bicycle-Friendly Business District programs across the U.S. and Canada, including: the first such program in Long Beach, CA, in four districts (video:; the second program in San Diego, CA, in 18 districts (video:; inspiring the third program in New York, NY; creating the fourth effort in Oakville, ON; and starting the creation of many other efforts around the U.S. and Canada.  </p>• Having our work featured in several bicycling, urban planning, and general media publications, and helping Long Beach garner significant media attention. Receiving awards for our Bicycle-Friendly Business District work and being asked to speak around the continent at 30 conferences/cities over the past year and a half.  </p>• Producing free community rides and lasting media, such as this one in Long Beach’s Cambodia Town with the notable band Dengue Fever:  </p>• Being the subject of Copenhagen’s Bicycle Manager, Andreas Rohl’s grant to study our work in Long Beach and San Diego in an effort to implement our ideas in Copenhagen.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

 </p>Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and its local chapters and neighborhood bike ambassadors, L.A. Streetsblog, local Business Improvement Districts and other business associations, small business owners, student interns, and neighborhood councils.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

 </p>We believe in evaluating our projects through both data and personal stories. For this project we will measure in four primary ways:  </p>

  1. Business Perception Survey: Ask business association leaders and business owners how they feel about bicycling, bicyclists, bike lanes, and so on, and what percentage of their customers they think arrive via bike, walking, transit, or car. Survey issued at start of the program and again at the end (same survey, same people).  </p>
  2. Customer Behavior Survey: Conduct intercept surveys of customers to see how they arrived at each district. Survey issued at start of program.  </p>
  3. Program Element Tracking: Track the results of each program element (number of people who park their bikes at bike valets, participate in the free basic bike repairs, attend community rides, and so on).  </p>
  4. Business and Customer Testimonials: Stories gathered from BID leaders, business owners, and other district stakeholders about how bicycling is/has become part of their life/business.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

 </p>There are currently 38 Business Improvement Districts in the City of Los Angeles, several other business associations, and hundreds of other business groups around LA County. Several have approached us, wanting to create bicycle-friendly business district initiatives after seeing our success in other cities, but lacking the seed money to kick-start them. This grant will create five successful programs and serve as examples for others to replicate. Program work will be broadcast by LA Streetsblog to countywide and national audiences and through media releases.  </p>Through this program, we are cultivating future leaders in this emerging sector by building ties between local advocates and business owners and by engaging interns with diverse backgrounds to learn a unique blend of business, planning, and communication skills. Our future economy will rely on individuals who can bridge barriers and collaborate with people in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.  </p>Why is bicycling important for LA’s neighborhoods and local businesses? Bicyclists travel at human scale speed and are more connected to their surroundings than if whizzing by in a car. They can easily stop and say hi to friends, hop off, park for free, and patronize a business. Bicyclists shop more frequently and spend more money cumulatively than those arriving by other modes. Sometimes they become repeat customers and get to know the business owner by name. It’s old-fashioned Americanism at its best. It’s when a family of four chooses to spend its Saturday afternoon bicycling to the local toy or ice cream shop instead of driving across town to a mall.  </p>When businesses make deliveries and run errands via bicycle – whether it’s one company’s bike or shared district bikes – business owners who never met before become acquainted and interact more. Business Improvement Districts who conduct some of their operations and promotions via bike instead of car become more connected to the communities they’re representing.  </p>Bicyclists in business districts bring more ‘eyes and ears’ to keep an area safe, vibrant, and connected. Increased bicycling also correlates to decreased driving, traffic, car speeds, and parking congestion. It brings safer public streets for all users.  </p>Bicycling – exercise, fresh air, and social interaction – improves the emotional, mental and physical health of children and adults. It increases happiness, improves school and work performance, and decreases obesity, heart disease, asthma, depression, and social alienation.  </p>Encouraging human-scale traveling and interaction is key to revitalizing our struggling small business districts and putting LA on the map as a livable place and destination.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

 </p>By 2050, all business districts in LA County will have integrated bicycling into their existing operations and promotions. They will do this after becoming aware – through the success of other districts – that it’s a core part of their emergency preparedness, business revenues, community vitality, and the social fabric that supports their existence. The education and actions by local businesses to integrate bicycling meaningfully into their districts will have created a business advocacy base for safer bicycle infrastructure so that by 2050, LA will have a more developed system of safe bike lanes and increased ridership.  </p> Vibrant local business districts will be at the center of community life, with safe and convenient biking and walking connections to neighborhoods. The 38 BIDs in the City of LA and hundreds across LA County will multiply as the economy shifts to favor local retail, prompting redoubled investment in currently struggling commercial corridors. Bicycling and walking to local destinations will be how families choose to spend their leisure time because it is pleasant and social.