Photo: Mark Plotz / National Center for Bicycling and Walking (NCBW)

Govern + Invest is a theme that will be explored at Pro Walk/Pro Bike® 2012: Pro Place. A question that will be examined is how bicycling and walking investments can add value to a community by creating economic activity, creating jobs, and improving quality of life.

Already we know that when it comes to jobs created per million dollars, bicycle facilities are one of the most efficient transportation investments. But once the paint dries and the asphalt cools, are there lasting economic effects? Can bicycle infrastructure build bicycle culture that will build a bicycle economy?

The answer seems to be yes — at least in the case of Long Beach, California. More than 20 new bicycle-related or bicycle-inspired businesses have opened at last count. I toured some of these business with Charlie Gandy and Melissa Balmer during a recent trip to Long Beach to meet these entrepreneurs, and prospect for locally-sourced goods and services for our conference. Twenty new businesses is a lot, especially in this economy, so you may be skeptical of these numbers (I was); but after meeting some impressive young people, I can assure you that it’s all real.


Photo: Mark Plotz / NCBW

Yellow 108
A year-old business that recently relocated to Long Beach after being inspired by the city’s funky bicycle culture, Yellow 108 is a headwear company that produces its hats and accessories from salvaged and recycled materials. I met with co-founder Lauren Lilly, who has grown her business to ten employees and is now branching into bicycle accessories. What Lauren has already accomplished is impressive enough; watch Charlie Gandy’s interview with her, and you’ll see she’s destined for more.


Photo: Mark Plotz / NCBW

Long Beach Pedaler Society
This pedicab upstart can be found plying the green sharrow lanes of Belmont Shores in search of fares. I spent part of a morning over coffee talking to Jesus Chavez and Joseph Bradley, co-founders of the Pedaler Society. These guys think big; they’re not afraid of risk; and they have clearly thrived thanks to the bike culture milieu in Long Beach. They are expanding into grocery delivery, and are even contemplating locally sourcing the manufacture of their vehicles as they expand their business. Building bikes in the United States? Sign me up. Look for the Pedalers when you make it to Long Beach.


Photo: Mark Plotz / NCBW

The Bicycle Stand
One of the newest businesses in Long Beach — and one of its friendliest — Evan Whitener’s shop specializes in refurbished vintage road bikes, and new city/commuter bikes. They were doing a very brisk bicycle restoration business when I stopped by. The Bicycle Stand is part bicycling museum, part fully functioning bike shop. If you worship lugged steel frames, you’ll like their Facebook page (linked above).


Photo: The Academy

The Academy
Have you ever tried to find affordable clothing that’s not made in a sweatshop? It’s nearly impossible; or at least I thought it was, until I walked into The Academy. They sell clothing designed to look good on the street and work well when you’re riding your bike. The Academy utilizes sustainable and reclaimed materials, and you can meet the person who sewed your clothes. If that’s not awesome enough, try the prices: shirts and kakis run about 43 bucks each. Stop by to meet Sam: he may lend you his bike for a roll around Long Beach.


And let’s not forget that Long Beach is also home to the original bicycle-related business: Bikestation!

There is hope and optimism in Long Beach; I hear it when talking to these brave, young entrepreneurs. Each cites Long Beach’s bicycling infrastructure investments, and its emergent bicycling culture as key to sparking, sustaining, and expanding their businesses.

Downtowns can be museums of economic development fads and crackpot schemes all designed to breathe economic life back into blighted areas. The pedestrian malls of the 70s; the aquariums of the 80s; the convention centers and stadiums of the 90s; the creative class coffee shops, wifi hot spots, and lifestyle centers of the 00s — these massive public/private expenditures may have provided an attraction, but they didn’t retain or attract the Laurens, the Jesuses, the Josephs, the Evans, and the Sams who will provide sustainable economic growth. There is a lesson in Long Beach. Let’s hope that walking, bicycling, and place become the new form of Economic Gardening.

See you in Long Beach!


 

Mark Plotz is the Conference Director for Pro Walk/Pro Bike® 2012: Pro Place. Registration for the conference is open now, and special rates apply until May 16, 11:59 pm Eastern. Large group discounts are available. Please contact Mark at (202) 223-3621 or mark@bikewalk.org for more info.