Which American City do you think contains the most Bicycle Friendly Businesses (BFBs)? New York City, the most populous one? Somewhere with a warm climate that encourages year-round cycling such as the second largest city, Los Angeles? Chicago, the third largest, a flat city with miles of recreational trails that is eagerly building bicycle facilities all over town? Portland, OR with its long history of promoting bicycling?
If you guessed any of the above, you’d be sorely wrong. The winner is the 98th largest city, Boise, ID. Well, actually it’s a tie between Boise and #62 Pittsburgh. Each city can boast the honor of including 29 employers that have earned the BFB honor out of the 817 that the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) has awarded since 2008. Both won four more honors in the fall round to maintain their tie for first.
“We’re tied with our arch nemesis Pittsburgh,” jokes Boise Bike Share Executive Director Dave Fotsch. “They’re major league and they have two major sports teams. We’re totally minor league….We want to create 100 BFBs so there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind who the #1 city for bicycling is. We want it to be Boise.” The next application deadline comes in February and Fotsch says he and the various bicycle committees around town that he serves on are going to be telling the business community “there is only one other city with this many BFBs in the country and we have a plan in place to add more.” The committees have already selected which members are going to approach which employers. One approach will involve telling them that competitors already have become BFBs so they might want to to keep up with the competition.
And does small town status convey advantages? Maybe. Fotsch notes that it might be easier for small businesses to make the adjustments needed than to change the structure and culture of a larger firm. Bigger companies mean more people need to sign off – some may even work out of state.
So what makes employers in Boise so eager to promote cycling for their employees and community? “They have a pretty great coordinated effort to get businesses to apply,” says LAB BFB Program Manager Amelia Neptune. Ada County, which includes Boise, is a Silver level Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC). The Ada County Highway District and the City of Boise have both won Bicycle Friendly Business honors. “They are leading by example,” Neptune explains.
The Boise Bicycle Project (BBP) also actively helps local employers. “Our mission is to become the cycling capital of the United States. So we work with local business and we offer them assistance and actually help filling out the application, says BBP Engagement Coordinator Daniell Grubbs. BBP promotes the program through its social media and “anytime we approach those folks for needs, asking for donations or anything like that, we always talk to them about becoming a BFB,” Grubbs states.
Ironically, though the City of Boise won BFB status for what it does for city employees, the city has yet to earn BFC status. The government is less interested in transportation than most other cities because the county maintains the roads. “They are very car-centric,” Grubbs adds.
Another, perhaps greater irony involves the fact that another report LAB also released shows that Idaho is actually one of the few states losing ground when it comes to the percentage of people who report using the bicycle as their primary source of transport to work. LAB recently released an updated Where We Ride: Analysis of Bicycle Commuting in American Cities based on data from the Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey. The data show that since 2000, bicycle commuting in the United States has grown 62 percent, with 46 percent coming since 2005.
In the last eight years, the data show that bicycle commuting has grown in all states except three. It actually went down in Idaho by 4 percent. Only about one percent of commuters in Idaho report cycling as their main mode. In some states, meanwhile, bicycle commuting more than doubled. Note: the figures don’t tell the whole story of who bikes to work. The survey asks about “primary” mode, which would rule out people who bike to work two days a week out of five, or those who bike to public transportation.
“I don’t have an explanation why (Idaho) is losing commuters. That’s a very good question,” Neptune says. Cynthia Gibson, executive director of the Idaho Pedestrian & Bicycle Alliance, says “this is not quite right” of the report. But she said that the problem may stem partially from the state emerging from the latest recession more slowly than the rest of the nation.
Salt Lake City, meanwhile, just made the top 10 of cities with the most BFBs. Number 124 in terms of population, it ranks 10th for the most BFBs. It earned the honor, however of adding the most BFBs in the latest semiannual round: nine employers earned the status this fall to add to the six already on the roster. It helped that Salt Lake City had previously been designated as a Silver Level BFC. “One of the pieces of feedback we give (BFCs) is to work with local businesses and encourage local businesses to become bicycle friendly,” Neptune points out.
Like BBP, Bike Utah helps businesses through the process. “They ask us questions about the things they don’t understand. A lot of things they’re doing compliment the application; they just don’t know that it does that,” says Bike Utah Executive Director Phil Sarnoff. Some businesses, for instance sponsor community rides.
“We’ve been reaching out to anybody and everybody,” Sarnoff says. “For some businesses it’s not their top priority though it can only benefit them in the long run….We’re trying to work on it so it is the norm, rather than the exception.” The job often means finding the right person at the company to take the initiative. It doesn’t even have to be someone who works there. Local pipeline equipment maker TD Williamson applied and won BFB status because one of the company executive’s wives is a bike advocate, Sarnoff notes. “There are so many cyclists out there that it is just a question of time until you find the right person.”
New Bike Friendly Businesses in Salt Lake City:
- Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective (2312 S West Temple, Salt Lake City)
- Beehive Bicycles (1510 South 1500 East, Salt Lake City)
- Blue Monkey Bicycles (4902 South State Street, Murray)
- Wasatch Touring Co. (702 East 100 South, Salt Lake City)
- Local First Utah (865 South 200 West, Salt Lake City)
- Salt Lake County (2001 South State Street, Salt Lake City)
- T. D. Williamson Inc. (369 Billy Mitchell Road, Salt Lake City)
- Utah Department of Health (288 North 1460 West, Salt Lake City)
- Utah Transit Authority (669 West 200 South, Salt Lake City)
- Wasatch Front Regional Council (295 Jimmy Doolittle Rd, Salt Lake City)