NEW YORK -- When Mary Walsh opened Swamp Rabbit Café and Grocery in 2011, the business had all the markings of a venture destined to fail. Rather than open up in downtown Greenville, S.C., the SUV-friendly town where Walsh and her business partner, Jacqueline Oliver, live, the duo set up shop in an abandoned storefront more easily accessible via bike trail. In a part of the country better known for pulled pork and fried food, Walsh's store offered organic hummus and kombucha.
But two years after launching, Walsh says sales are going briskly, driven by customers who'd rather take their groceries home in a bike basket than a car trunk. A gym, bike shop and "environmental hair and nail salon" have opened next door, turning a site Walsh says used to be a crackhouse into a bike-focused strip mall.
While some may have called Walsh crazy for choosing to open her store along a cycling path, her success is part of a surge in bike-related business opportunities. With the initial economic hit from the Great Recession in the rearview mirror, both new and existing businesses across the country are tapping into changing attitudes about biking as a way to drive up traffic and put their sales into high gear.
“It’s really low-hanging fruit changes being put in place that make a big impact,” said April Economides, an urban planning consultant who has advised businesses in the city of Long Beach, Calif., on how to make their shopping districts more bike-friendly.
“When you offer things like basic bike repair, events, free bike valet, it puts the idea in people’s mind that ‘Oh, I could bike there’,” Economides said. “That’s good for businesses because cyclists travel at human speed. We notice businesses that we normally wouldn’t notice if we were going in the car. And it’s much easier to stop, park for free and walk right in.”
As a direct result of various efforts to make the city of Long Beach more bike-friendly, Economides said, 25 businesses have opened or expanded there.
Academic studies have backed the idea that promoting cycling can have positive economic effects. Researchers have estimated that all aspects of cycling -- increased sales by bike retailers, out-of-state tourism, a bump in traffic to businesses near bike lanes, gains from positive health effects, and other factors -- contribute $435 million per year to Iowa’s economy. Similar studies have found contributions of $481 million to Minnesota and $556 to Wisconsin. In Colorado, a famously bike-friendly state, the estimate is $1 billion.
In Memphis, Tenn., the president of a community development nonprofit said that a program by the city government to carve out bike lanes from old trolley tracks and railroad bridges has helped turn a blighted part of central Memphis into a vibrant arts district.
“We have a lot of businesses moving in here because they are seeing the future when the bike connector is in there,” said David Wayne Brown, president of Historic Broad Avenue Arts District. “There’s a lot of expectation and anticipation that this is going to be the central place for people to use as a hub. Maybe stop and get a coffee when they’re on a ride with their friends.”
One of the most exciting projects being undertaken, Brown said, is the rehabilitation of a warehouse that will serve as a community performance space. The center is expected to be an anchor for the business district, with a restaurant on the rooftop -- easily accessible via bike ramp, of course -- as a likely centerpiece.
“We have a lot of plans that are pie-in-the-sky, but also realistically possible in the future,” Brown said. One such plan involves placing shallow pools near the bike lane to serve overheated cyclists.
"It could be a place for people to cool down when it gets really hot in the summer and yell ‘good luck!’ at the other cyclists passing by,” Brown said.
That encouragement from other cyclists -- really, the development of a bike culture in cities and towns -- is just as important for businesses as biking infrastructure like trails and lanes, several entrepreneurs told HuffPost.
In New York City, designer Sarah Canner has developed Vespertine, a line of couture reflective apparel meant to cater to female cyclists who might enjoy biking for short trips, and want to be safe but also fashionable. This type of biker is appearing more often on New York City's streets as cycling becomes more popular and in the wake of the installation of a bike share program in the city, Canner said. In reference to the mayor of New York, who has aggressively pushed the city to build bike infrastructure during his tenure, Canner called this new breed of cyclist "the Bloomberg-model biker"
"Necessity is the mother of invention," Canner said. "There’s been a number of people that have been inspired to figure out new challenges -- and very much on the fashion side."
"Bikes are trendy, and they’ve been so for a couple of years," she said. "It’s been a nice time to be involved with bikes."
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misquoted April Economides. Overall efforts of many people to make Long Beach more bike friendly have helped businesses, not her efforts alone. We regret the error.
> Congestion score: 14.7 > Population density: 1,305.4 people per sq. mile (9th highest) > Average commute time: 29.2 minutes (tied for 10th highest) > Pct. driving to work: 76.6% (8th lowest) It took commuters in Boston 14.7% longer to travel during peak hours than it would without traffic in 2012. This is more than double the nationwide congestion level. Among the major reasons for this was Interstate 93, three stretches of which ranked among the 50 most congested corridors in the nation. The interstate was rerouted from an elevated highway running above Boston to a tunnel running below the city as part of the area’s famous “Big Dig” project, which ran billions of dollars over budget and took decades to finish. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/05/01/ten-cities-with-the-worst-traffic/#ixzz2SMCriw19" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>
9. Washington D.C.
> Congestion score: 16.4 > Population density: 997.1 people per sq. mile (18th highest) > Average commute time: 34.5 minutes (2nd highest) > Pct. driving to work: 76% (6th lowest) Just 76% of all Washington D.C. area commuters used a private vehicle to get to work in 2011, less than nearly all other large metropolitan areas. And as many as 14.8% of commuters used public transit — among the most in the nation. But with the Washington area among the nation’s most congested, the average commute time to work was 34.5 minutes — behind only the New York metro area. Traffic congestion did improve in 2012, when the city received a congestion score of 16.4 — down from 19.9 the year before. The lower score indicates that drivers are traveling closer to “free flow” speed during peak hours, even as large stretches of Interstate 95 and the Capital Beltway ranked among the worst congestion corridors in the nation. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/05/01/ten-cities-with-the-worst-traffic/#ixzz2SMCriw19" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>
> Congestion score: 17.6 (tied for 7th highest) > Population density: 585.8 people per sq. mile (35th highest) > Average commute time: 27.6 minutes (22nd highest) > Pct. driving to work: 81% (20th lowest) Congestion in Seattle actually improved in 2012, with the INRIX index score declining from 19.6 in 2011 to 17.6 last year. Despite this improvement, Seattle remains one of the most congested metro areas in the nation and had some of the most congested individual roads in the country in 2012. Among these was a nine-mile, southbound stretch of Interstate 5, which ranked as the 11th most congested corridor in the nation in 2012. Last March, The Seattle Times noted that new tolls on the nearby Highway 520 had led to increased congestion on Interstate 5. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/05/01/ten-cities-with-the-worst-traffic/#ixzz2SMCriw19" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>
7. San Jose
> Congestion score: 17.6 (tied for 7th highest) > Population density: 685.7 people per sq. mile (26th highest) > Average commute time: 24.8 minutes (65th highest) > Pct. driving to work: 86.7% (61st lowest) Only one stretch of road in the San Jose area ranked in the top 100 most congested in the nation in 2012. Despite this, overall congestion in the area was among the nation’s worst last year, receiving an INRIX index a score of 17.6. Additionally, the San Jose area’s score actually worsened in 2012 compared to 2011, even as the nationwide congestion score improved from 8.4 to 6.6. San Jose residents were roughly as likely as most Americans to drive to work, according to Census figures. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/05/01/ten-cities-with-the-worst-traffic/#ixzz2SMCriw19" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>
> Congestion score: 19.1 > Population density: 1,467.2 people per sq. mile (6th highest) > Average commute time: 28.3 minutes (18th highest) > Pct. driving to work: 82.2% (29th lowest) The worst traffic in the Bridgeport, Conn., metropolitan area — which serves for many of the state’s commuters as a gateway to the New York metro area — was on a 22.2 mile stretch of Interstate 95 during the evening rush hour. Without traffic, it would take a driver 21 minutes to complete the stretch. During the week’s evening rush hour, it would take 44 minutes to complete that drive. The Bridgeport metro area had one of the highest population densities in the nation when measured by the 2010 Census. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/05/01/ten-cities-with-the-worst-traffic/#ixzz2SMCriw19" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>
5. New York
> Congestion score: 19.9 > Population density: 2,826 people per sq. mile (the highest) > Average commute time: 34.9 minutes (the highest) > Pct. driving to work: 56.6% (the lowest) With 2,896 people per square mile in 2010, New York had the highest population density of any metro area in America. That year, nearly 19 million people lived either in New York or the surrounding towns and cities, and many of them made long commutes to work daily. The average travel time to work in 2011 was nearly 35 minutes, the most of any metro area in the nation. New York ranked among the most congested metro areas despite more residents using public transit to get to work and fewer residents using cars than anywhere else in the nation. Four of the 10 worst congested corridors in America last year were located in New York, including the nation’s worst: an 11.3 mile stretch of the Cross Bronx Expressway. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/05/01/ten-cities-with-the-worst-traffic/#ixzz2SMCriw19" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>
> Congestion score: 20.7 > Population density: 406.7 people per sq. mile (70th highest) > Average commute time: 25.8 minutes (45th highest) > Pct. driving to work: 85.8% (47th lowest) No metro area with more than a million residents had a greater percentage increase in population from July 1, 2011, and July 1, 2012, than Austin’s 3% growth, according to the Austin Statesman. This is hardly news for the area, which has expanded rapidly for more than a decade and, like much of the state, has been unable to expand transportation infrastructure to handle this growth. In 2012, Austin was one of four metro areas with an INRIX index score higher than 20, well above the 6.6 score for the U.S. overall. It was also one of just six large metro areas in which the INRIX index score worsened compared to the year before. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/05/01/ten-cities-with-the-worst-traffic/#ixzz2SMCriw19" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>
3. San Francisco
> Congestion score: 23.5 > Population density: 1,754.8 people per sq. mile (3rd highest) > Average commute time: 29.2 minutes (tied for 10th highest) > Pct. driving to work: 71.4% (3rd lowest) As many as 14.6% of workers in San Francisco took public transit to work in 2011, the third-highest rate of any metro area in the nation. Additionally, just 71.4% used a car, truck or van to get to work, the third-lowest percentage in the U.S. But despite the high public transit use, the area remained highly congested. Likely contributing to its high congestion is the area’s high density. The San Francisco area had the nation’s third-highest population density in 2010, with just under 1,755 people per square mile — behind only the New York and Los Angeles metro areas. In late 2010, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority decided to study whether charges would discourage drivers from traveling by car through highly congested areas during peak hours. A decision on implementing such charges has yet to be reached. Read more: Ten Cities with the Worst Traffic - 24/7 Wall St. http://247wallst.com/2013/05/01/ten-cities-with-the-worst-traffic/#ixzz2SMHsyHX4
> Congestion score: 26.0 > Population density: 1,586.7 people per sq. mile (5th highest) > Average commute time: 27 minutes (27th highest) > Pct. driving to work: 79.5% (14th lowest) Honolulu is one of the densest metro areas in the nation, with more than 1,586 people per square mile, as of 2010. Commuters were also considerably less likely to get to work by car, truck or van than most Americans, and were far more likely to walk or use public transit. Although just two Honolulu road segments, barely totaling 11 miles, were among the nation’s 100 most congested corridors in 2012, the area still ranked exceptionally poorly. However, the city’s congestion score improved from 2011, when it had the worst levels in the country. After years of planning and delays, Honolulu broke ground on a massive public rail transit project in 2011. The project has long been controversial due to its environmental impact, cost and the possibility of disturbing the burial sites of Native Hawaiians’ ancestors. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/05/01/ten-cities-with-the-worst-traffic/#ixzz2SMCriw19" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>
1. Los Angeles
> Congestion score: 28.8 > Population density: 2,646.0 people per sq. mile (2nd highest) > Average commute time: 28.6 minutes (15th highest) > Pct. driving to work: 84.1% (38th lowest) After being replaced by Honolulu for a year, Los Angeles once again earned the title of the most congested metro area in the country. In 2012, on a Friday at 5:00 p.m., the average driver wasted more than 28 minutes in traffic. Four of the 10 most congested corridors last year were in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The worst is an eight-mile stretch on Interstate 405. Los Angeles also had the second highest population density of any metro area in 2010, behind only New York, at 2,646 people per square mile. Only these two metro areas exceeded 2,000 people per square mile that year. However, in Los Angeles, commuters were far less likely to get to work via public transportation. In 2011, just 6.2% of area workers took public transit to work, versus 31.1% in the New York area. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/05/01/ten-cities-with-the-worst-traffic/#ixzz2SMCriw19" target="_blank">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>