I had the opportunity to sit on a panel for the American Planning Conference in Anchorage last week. The topic was “livability and the bottom line” or, how I interpreted it, “why businesses should cater to cyclists”. I knew right off the bat this wouldn’t be a hard argument to make. I recently visited Mackinac Island in Michigan and got a taste for the way cars (or lack of) can impact a community. Situated in Lake Huron, the island has been car-free since the end of the 19th century. Bikes and horse-drawn carriages are the primary modes of transportation. I spent way more money at local fudge shops while strolling through on foot than I would have zipping through town in a car. The whole island just felt safer and more inviting.
While a compelling example, I figured I should bolster my presentation with some statistics. I did some research and was not at all surprised to find countless examples of benefits provided by bike infrastructure. Did you know that employees are 15% more productive if they bike to work, and take 15% fewer sick days? I don’t know about you, but biking to work in single digit temps these last few mornings has been a great alternative to coffee. Another one of my favorites: 86% of millennials think it’s important for their city to offer opportunities to live and work without relying on a car. Considering millennials will make up 50% of the workforce by 2020, it will behoove Anchorage to build the bike infrastructure necessary to keep them here.
I was joined on the panel by Mark Kimerer, Van Le, Kristine Bunnell, and John Weddleton. John Weddleton does double duty as an assembly member and owner of Bosco’s Comics and Games. John’s presentation focused on Bosco’s role in the redevelopment of Spenard and the benefits provided by the newly redesigned stretch of Spenard Road. While a few pieces of landscaping won’t be complete until Spring of 2018, it’s worth taking a bike or going for a walk through the new section. With wider sidewalks, bike lanes, and calmer traffic, it has become a much more inviting place to shop and eat. The redevelopment hasn’t been missed by new businesses either; Dipper Donuts saw the rising potential of the corridor and will be opening their doors in December. I can’t think of a better way to refuel after exploring a more walkable Spenard.
After giving my two cents on the importance of bike infrastructure to business and listening to the rest of the panel, this was my takeaway: It’s important to keep an eye on national trends, like the changing makeup and desires of the new workforce, but successful pilot projects like Spenard road are what will change hearts and minds in Anchorage. As we work to make Complete Streets second nature here, business owners can be powerful advocates. The positive changes brought on by the Spenard redesign add to growing local proof that what’s good for bikes and pedestrians is good for business. Advocating for more Complete Streets projects like this one will move us closer to a truly livable Anchorage.