Thursday, April 29, 2010

Do bike-friendly areas attract more businesses?

Now that Fairfax has cut funding for the bike program, we wonder what impact this will have on attracting more businesses to the county. According to a recent article in Harvard Business Review (Back to the City), more companies are locating in cities:
These companies are getting a jump on a major cultural and demographic shift away from suburban sprawl. The change is imminent, and businesses that don't understand and plan for it may suffer in the long run.

To put it simply, the suburbs have lost their sheen: Both young workers and retiring Boomers are actively seeking to live in densely packed, mixed-use communities that don't require cars-that is, cities or revitalized outskirts in which residences, shops, schools, parks, and other amenities exist close together. "In the 1950s, suburbs were the future," says University of Michigan architecture and urban-planning professor Robert Fishman, commenting on the striking cultural shift. "The city was then seen as a dingy environment. But today it's these urban neighborhoods that are exciting and diverse and exploding with growth."
We've seen this shift in the increase in people who are choosing bikes for transportation. They are mostly younger people who are sick of being stuck in traffic, of paying $3/gallon for gas, and who want better bike facilities. Communities like DC, NYC, and Arlington County understand this shift and are changing their environment in response. Older, less progressive communities like Fairfax are finding it difficult to move away from the older mindset of moving more people in more cars on wider roads.

Many factors go into the decision-making process for locating a company. Countering the desire for being in livable, compact communities is the short-term desire for cheaper real estate. See a recent post at Greater Greater Washington with a good discussion of this topic, including a letter from Stewart Schwartz of Coalition for Smarter Growth encouraging Northrop Grumman to choose the transit-oriented Ballston location over the suburban office park location in Fairfax County.

The Fairfax site is very bike-unfriendly, adjacent to the Beltway and Rt 50. It's nearly impossible to cross the Beltway on Rt 50 on bike; that stretch of road is like an interstate with several exit/entrance ramps. There's no connection to the street network to the south. The site is nearly an island, a symbol of the days of bad suburban design.

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