Bike Friendly Iowa City Op-ed

Posted November 6, 2019

November 06, 2019 at 10:18 AM

Op-Ed article by Bob Oppliger

October 2019


Iowa City is moving forward with an ambitious plan to create a bike friendly community.  Over the next several years, upwards of 25 miles of bike lanes and multi-use trails will crisscross the community.  With the recent completion of its master plan, the rest of our metro area is not far behind. Iowa City’s move to enhance alternative transportation supports its climate action initiative and effort to decrease our carbon footprint.

What_s frequently missed in this discussion is the fact that being bike friendly is good business and adds to the quality of life.  A recent study by the American Institute for Economic Research identified the ten hottest  job markets for communities stratified into four sizes by population from very large (more than 2M people) to small (under 100,000).  Of the 40 communities, 31 were recognized as one of the League of American Bicyclists 464 Bike Friendly Communities. Ten of the League’s 40 most Bike Friendly Communities, those receiving a gold or platinum level designation, were among the hottest job markets too.  These were communities that recognized the value of biking and had significant investments in bike friendliness.

Several years ago, New York City shut down the area around Times Square to vehicles. In a place where prime commercial space is not cheap, how did they gain buy-in from the merchants and businesses?  Was it because they could show improvements in air quality or increase available recreation space? No.  The city was able to show increases in sales tax revenues when people walked or biked more frequently.  Similar stories have immerged across the country including places like Indianapolis, Memphis and San Francisco.  Bike friendliness is good business.

Over the past decade, Iowa City has recognized the value bicycling brings to the community and our community lends itself to biking.  Our downtown area is small, less than a mile in diameter.  Our boom in high rise housing puts a lot of people within a short distance of the entire downtown. What_s more, these residents are within a couple miles of Walmart, Hancher, Pepperwood Plaza, Carver Arena and even the Iowa City Market Place and Kirkwood_s campus.  Who needs a car? The plans to evaluate and reconfigure the mass transits system will only serve to make carless travel easier and augment our bike friendliness.

So how can businesses and the Chamber support the change? Consider ways to include bicycling and alternative transportation as part of your business plan.  For example, we frequently subsidize car parking for employees.  Why not do the same for those using alternative transportation?  Using a 20-punch card, offer employees a $10 gift card each time they fill it.  A while back merchants gave away free bus ride coupons to patrons who made purchases in their downtown business; bring that back. A nationwide program for businesses, Bike Benefits (, offers specified discounts, e.g. 10% off purchases, for patrons who bike to their business sporting the program’s decal.

Tom Banta and I have been quietly promoting the League of American Bicyclists_ Bike Friendly Business initiative.  Currently, 13 businesses (or worksites) in our area have been recognized including one platinum-level and two gold-level.  A half dozen area businesses have submitted applications to meet the October deadline.  Their success will be reported by the end of the year.

Becoming a BFB does not require that every employee bike to work.  As suggested above, it does ask that biking be considered a viable method of transportation and efforts are made to accommodate biking among employees and patrons. Also, it asks businesses to encourage and support bicycling within the community. The BFB initiative supports the city’s goal to become carbon neutral.

In short, becoming bike friendly is a win-win-win. It’s good business, it supports our community’s climate action goal and it makes Iowa City a nice place to live.