Kimberly Kinchen, business network writer
Riders enjoy the Church Avenue protected bike lane in Evanston, IL (Image: Wheel & Sprocket)
How do you build business and community? Try a protected bike lane. “It’s better when families and children are out there riding together,” says Liz Durham, co-owner of Everyday Cycles and Motion in Evanston, Illinois. Durham says that a new two-way protected bike lane stretching up Chicago Avenue near Northwestern University is making family- and kid-friendly riding safer and more enjoyable. The lanes, which went in early last summer, pass by or close to several schools. “From my understanding, from various meetings and conversations, the number of children riding to schools has increased pretty dramatically since [the city] put the lanes in,” Durham says.
Family-friendly community building is one reason Durham and co-owner Ben Schapiro have actively supported Evanston’s expansion of a network of protected bike lanes. Schapiro is a veteran of local bicycle advocacy, sitting on Evanston’s citizen advisory committee when it first started planning for bike lanes about 15 years ago. In 2016, when some residents questioned the newly-installed parking-protected lane on Dodge Avenue, Everyday Cycle and Motion was well-positioned to successfully convince the city’s aldermen of the value of keeping the lanes protected.
For the duo, support for high-quality protected infrastructure is partly a professional matter—but it’s also personal. Both ride bikes every day for transportation. “We want to be able to ride through the streets safely,” Durham says. “But also, improved bicycling infrastructure and facilities helps not just our business but, I think, all the businesses in a town.” Schapiro points out that while Evanston has long been a bike-friendly place, protected lanes have made it that much easier for new riders. “I’m seeing even more people riding now than three years ago.”
Wheel & Sprocket employee Pat McBride with Tessa Kegel whose family owns the shops. (Image: Wheel & Sprocket)
The family-owned regional chain Wheel & Sprocket has a long history of supporting better bike infrastructure in the Milwaukee area, where four of its eight stores are located. “We just think that more bike infrastructure makes it easier to get around and it invites more people to feel safe and included,” says co-owner Amelia Kegel.
Kegel says patience is a virtue and a requirement when it comes to advocacy. The chain spent years pushing for legislation that would eventually result in the bridging of a critical two-mile gap in the Oak Leaf system. “Now you can go from downtown Milwaukee up to Sheboygan County on parkway and bike path the entire way. The connectivity issue is really the biggest thing.”
Although their newest store, in Oak Park, Illinois, just opened last month, Kegel says the chain has already aligned with Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance to work on creating better bike connections between the suburb and the city. “There are just a couple of projects that could really leverage something amazing happening.”
The new bike lane at Walmart’s San Leandro, California store. (Image: PeopleForBikes)
At the far end of the size spectrum is Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, headquartered in Northwest Arkansas which is home to a network of world-class bike trails and paths. In late October, Walmart took took the step of incorporating on-street bike infrastructure in front of their San Leandro, California store as part of a remodel. PeopleForBikes advised on the project and the retail chain worked closely with local advocates Bike East Bay and city transportation staff on the changes.
The inside-and-out remodel presented Walmart with the opportunity to better connect the surrounding town to the store—both capitalizing on and helping to expand San Leandro’s bike-friendly features and encouraging individuals and families to arrive by bike. Adding bike lanes to the parking lot improves the experience for people on bikes and on foot, allowing customers and staff to roll up to the storefront with ease. It also better organizes the street so cars and bikes know where to go. By making the changes visible, it should encourage even more biking. Upgrades from the remodel include bike racks and repair equipment at the front of the store.
“San Leandro has a vibrant cycling community and advocacy leader in Bike East Bay. This bike lane is an important step to integrate bicycling into Walmart customers’ lifestyles and to encourage store associates to bike to work,” said PeopleForBikes Vice President of Business Network Jenn Dice. “Our hope is that the San Leandro store inspires other retailers to incorporate bike lanes into development plans.”