Bike racks along Appian Way in Long Beach, Calif.
Bicyclists can now use one the recently installed bike racks along Appian Way near the Colorado Lagoon. The racks are some of the more than 1,200 new bike racks installed in Long Beach. (Stephen Carr/ Press-Telegram)

Over the past five years, Long Beach has invested more than $20 million from state and federal grants in its bicycle infrastructure.

The city has installed more than 130 miles of bike roadways, established protected bike lanes on major commuter thoroughfares, created bike boulevards to provide safer routes, and installed 1,300 new bike racks.

City officials say that investment is starting to pay off in the business community.

As of May, Long Beach has had 20 new bike-related businesses open their doors, said Allan Crawford, Long Beach's bicycle coordinator.

Other businesses have benefited as well, he says, as riders have taken to the streets to rediscover their neighborhoods.

"Biking is local. We are creating an atmosphere for our residents to use a bike as their main mode of transportation," Crawford said. "In doing this, it increases business to all businesses in Long Beach - the more someone is out-and-about, the more they are shopping or dining."

The city's new bike-friendly shopping districts - the first in the country, officials say - are among the efforts lauded by business owners and bike advocates, and some of the biggest reasons for success.

Bike-friendly shopping districts engage local merchants by showing them how biking can actually bring more customers and vitality to shopping districts, said April Economides, principal of Green Octopus Consulting, which the city hired to provide outreach to local businesses.


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"At first, most merchants didn't think about bikes or even had a negative view of them," said Economides. "My job was to educate them about how biking can put more money in their pockets."

"The bike racks outside shops and stores increase the visibility and bring more customers inside," she said. "People on bikes stop at places they haven't visited before because they don't have to try to find parking. It is easy, quick and convenient."

Boosting cycling reinforces a new narrative for Long Beach as an active city that encourages bicycling and a focus on local businesses, Crawford said.

The Bike Saturday program now has more than 170 participating businesses that offer discounts to all customers who arrive by bike.

"This program alone is driving up business," Crawford said. "And the number alone, 170 participating businesses, speaks to the popularity of being `bike-friendly' and to how important it is to businesses in Long Beach."

Another upward trend in Long Beach is the addition of bike racks. Crawford said the city has installed 1,300 bike racks to businesses that have called and requested them.

"We don't ask businesses to put in bike racks," he said. "They come to us, and that is one of the biggest signs of the enthusiasm of the business community."

What is evident, Economides said, is that Long Beach's investment has attracted new bike-related businesses and has also caused an increase in businesses located near bike lanes and paths.

"If a business district, like Belmont Shore or Bixby Knolls, increases bike lanes and bike racks and offers discounts to bikers, they attract a new customer and higher sales," she said. "New businesses or new customers means increased jobs and tax revenue, and that is all great for the city."

Besides new or expanded businesses, the city's bike-friendly efforts have yielded four retail districts reporting "strong bike-related sales," along with three national bike conferences that will come to Long Beach in 2012 - a direct fiscal impact of $2 million, Crawford said.

Economides said there is a strong relationship between `bike local and shop local."

"Cities know this relationship and connection is strong and necessary, which is why there is such a push on their part to becoming bike-friendly," she said.

Graham Baden, manager at The Workshop, 4242 Atlantic Ave., one of the many new bike shops that have sprouted up in the past year, said that it is obvious that Long Beach's efforts to be bike-friendly have provided an "excellent breeding ground in which bicycle and other health and fitness businesses can grow."

"The city has made its streets easier to ride on, and the businesses have made it easier for cycling traffic to reach them," Baden said. 

But Jeff Quinata, owner of Junky Rusty Bikes, 5955 Cherry Ave., said the increase in bike-related businesses coupled with the economy has only hurt his business.

"What we have now is a market that is flooded with bicycle shops," he said. "A saturated market, on top of a customer that doesn't want to pay over $150 for a bike, equals bad business."

But Baden disagreed.

"The market isn't saturated, simply because there are more and more people out there riding their bikes," he said. "The market for bike sales has increased because the need and demand have increased."

Crawford is on the same page, saying that a bike-friendly Long Beach will have, as it already has, a direct positive effect on local businesses.

He conceded that making Long Beach the most bike-friendly city in America, a goal set by City Hall, is still more an aspiration than a reality.

However, the city's efforts have propelled Long Beach to a higher national ranking, according to Bicycling Magazine.

In May, the publication declared Long Beach the 19th Most Bike Friendly City in the country, up four spots from last year's 23rd ranking.

The ranking - based on data from the Alliance for Biking and Walking and the League of American Bicyclists and input from local advocates and bicycle-pedestrian coordinators - selected cities with populations of 95,000 or more with "a robust cycling infrastructure and a vibrant bike culture."

For more information on Long Beach bike programs, go to www.bikelongbeach.org.

kelsey.duckett@presstelegram.com, 562-714-2128, twitter.com/KelseyDuckett