Thursday, January 3, 2013

BWL Column: Better bike paths mean tourism dollars as well as fitness

This week's BikeWalkLee column focuses on bike tourism and the economic opportunities for Lee County in having expanded and improved cycling infrastructure.
"Go Coastal" Section:  Jan. 3,  2013 
Local bike lanes, route maps and other cycling infrastructure starting to proliferate throughout the county might seem a boon to resident cyclists, a piece of the path to physical fitness.
But they’re more than that. For local businesses and tourism officials, they are a path to fiscal fitness — because bike tourism is big business, a great way to bring new visitors and residents to the area to spend time and money.

Bike tourism appeals to multiple audiences:
  • Those who come for the touring, looking for a multiday ride in an area welcoming to two-wheeled visitors, or for a specific bicycling event, which draws visitors much like sporting events.

  • Those who make biking part of their daily life and who look for communities that welcome riders on its streets and paths, with an extensive effort to make getting around by bike as easy as jumping into your car for errands.
  • Those who may not have been on a bike since childhood, but in making vacation or retirement plans are attracted to the promise of a safe opportunity to reclaim this healthy lifestyle.
The economic impact of the first is clear, identified by visitors counted and money spent (in the millions and billions, by the way) all tied to specific activities. The fiscal benefits from the latter, however, are far more significant when investment in cycling infrastructure becomes more than just a dollar figure, but an investment in quality of life — with visitors attracted and residents kept because of a lifestyle that more and varied people find attractive.

Want to attract a young, educated workforce? They look for transportation choices that aren’t limited only to cars. Looking to bring in more European travelers? They’re used to biking being a part of their daily life and to communities that make bikes an integral element of transportation. Targeting those who want to make healthy living a priority? They seek out communities that make fitness easy and accessible, that recognize that quality of life includes health.
Look at any list of great places to live and notice how many bike-friendly cities pop up there: Portland, Minneapolis, Boulder, Madison. Look at cities that are striving to compete for “creative class” workers, and see how many of them are also investing heavily in bike infrastructure: New York, Chicago, Washington, Memphis.

Then look around at Southwest Florida, with its temperate winters and flat terrain — and a growing network of bike/ped infrastructure that’s beginning to connect communities in a safe and sensible way.

For tourism, it would be another asset to help sell this area.

For businesses, more people means more potential customers, moving by your shops at a pace that lets them see what your business really has to offer.

More information
• The Outer Banks of North Carolina realize a $60 million to $70 million economic benefit, each year, from a one-time investment of $6.7 million in a 100-mile-long system of bike trails. More than half of the 680,000 annual visitors say the availability of safe bicycle facilities strongly influences their decision to return. 

• A 2011 analysis found Wisconsin’s bicycle tourism contributes $1.5 billion to the state economy with $535 million of that coming from out-of-state visitors, many of whom return year after year specifically to enjoy the state’s “Gold Level” cycling facilities.

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