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Bike racks in Long Beach

Bike racks in Long Beach help attract customers to local businesses.

One of the truly encouraging trends we’ve seen the past few years is the gradual uptick in urban cycling around Sarasota. Many new bicycle parking racks have been installed and people are slowly catching on to the fact that the bike may just be the best way to get around the downtown area. Plus, the sight, smell, and sound of people riding bikes and walking is just so much more pleasant than those of cars, especially on Main Street. Even during a severe economic downtown, life in the heart of our fair city has become more vibrant, not less.

An article crossposted on Grist and The Nation took a look at Long Beach, California, as it works to better integrate the bicycle as a regular means of transport. Like Sarasota, Long Beach has a climate that accommodates year-round cycling (the only thing required in SRQ during the worst heat of summer is more shade from street trees), a high number of older and retired residents, and way too much traffic. That is changing, slowly but surely, in Long Beach and perhaps in Sarasota as well. Why? Well, besides being good for quality of life, bikes are good for business.

Of course, there are still plenty of cars in Long Beach…but bicycles are getting more respect, not to mention resources, than ever before. With help from state and federal grants and pressure from local cycling enthusiasts, the city government has installed 130 miles of bike trails, established protected bike lanes (that is, lanes separated from vehicular traffic by physical barriers) on major commuter thoroughfares, created bike boulevards that enable kids and parents to bike or walk safely to and from school, and installed 1,200 new bike racks.

Perhaps most innovative has been the city’s effort to establish bike-friendly shopping districts — the first in the country, officials say — engaging local merchants by showing them how, contrary to common belief, biking can actually bring more customers and vitality to shopping districts.

“The math is pretty simple,” says April Economides, the principal of Green Octopus Consulting and the leader of the city’s outreach to local businesses. “You can park 12 bikes in the amount of space it takes to park one car. And someone who shifts from owning a car to a bicycle tends to have more discretionary income, because, for a commuter, the typical cost of a bicycle is $300 a year, compared to $7,000 a year for a car.”

Separated bike lane in Stockholm, Sweden. Where the weather isn't nearly so favorable for cycling.

Besides putting extra money in your pocket, pedaling more and driving less makes it easier to remember why you chose to live in paradise in the first place.

“I like a line by Aristotle, ‘Beware the barrenness of a busy life,’” Long Beach mayor Bob Foster says. “Sometimes I can’t remember at the end of a day what I did the past eight hours. That’s moving too fast. A bit slower pace in life is a good thing.”

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