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Bikes and the economy

A while back, I saw a piece on Channel 8 about how the High Trestle trail has created a lot more traffic at local businesses in Madrid and Woodward. Bars, restaurants… just about any local business that provides services for cyclists has seen their revenues grow significantly.

A lot of this was the hoopla around the opening of the bridge that connects the Madrid side of the trail to the Woodward side. Local businesses saw seen big increases. Everyone in the town was now welcoming this new bicycle traffic.

But would it last? The short answer is probably yes… if these towns continue to grow services that cyclists need.

How do I know this? This got me thinking about all the businesses in Des Moines that serve the cycling community. Bars, coffee shops and restaurants seem to feel the effect first. But I’m guessing other businesses are affected too. Bed and Breakfasts, hotels, theaters…

El Bait shop caters to cyclists

El Bait shop caters to cyclists

You can look at several business that have benefited from the Great Western Trail and developments at Water Works Park. As you travel this trail in summer, you’ll constantly see bikes parked outside Orlando’s Pizza on Park Avenue or at Cumming Tap in Cumming.

Surprisingly, Iowa is often mentioned when planners put together the words “bike” and “economy”. The benefit that RAGBRAI yields for rural Iowa towns is well known. Below is a YouTube with Jerry Norquist, executive director of Cycle Oregon, which wants to build Oregon tourism around bicycles. He already knows about RAGBRAI’s success and wants to build on them for a year-round impact on towns in his state.

Well… why would you want to build your tourist industry around bicycles? Why wouldn’t you just try to draw in car traffic?

There are a couple of good reasons. A business that relies on bicycle infrastructure is probably going to have more reliable business than a business that relies on car traffic. Cars can move around so quickly that a business would be steaming one day and — when a new attraction opened — near bankruptcy the next.

Bicycle traffic tends to be more local and the attractions a little more fixed, mostly to bicycle infrastructure like trails. If you put in a new trail and you continue to maintain it, cyclists will come. If you have restaurants and hotels and bars and camping sites and entertainment, those cyclists will stick around and spend some money.

Another point too is that bicycle traffic tends to be a little more immune to ups and down in the price of gas. It’s good to remember that most of those gas dollars don’t stay in the community. Actually, much of the revenue ends up in Saudi Arabia. By contrast a cyclist’s fuel is food and that type of expenditure tends to stay longer in the local economy.

Of course, this is all great. But we should remember that all these booming businesses need to get their act together. They need to get together and figure out what would be a “total experience” for a cyclist. For example, a cyclist who has a place to stay overnight — either camping or at a hotel — is going to spend much more money than one who just rolls in for the afternoon.

So… to all those towns out there… especially Madrid and Woodward, get your thinking caps on. There’s more revenue to be garnered and more growth to experience.

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