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Fred Clements: Building the foundation for cycling

Published November 22, 2013
A blog by NBDA executive director Fred Clements

Editor's note: This blog post was written by Fred Clements, executive director of the National Bicycle Dealers Association. Clements' previous blog posts can be read on bikedealerblog.wordpress.com.

A small but resolute group of bicycle industry leaders stormed Capitol Hill Wednesday to make the case for the bicycle business as a creator of jobs and commerce that benefits the U.S. economy.

The inaugural CEO Fly-In is a new initiative from the PeopleForBikes Business Network (peopleforbikes.org). It focuses on the business benefits of cycling, and the importance of bicycle infrastructure to business. Wednesday's event brought bicycle company CEOs and business leaders to meet with targeted members of Congress and key staff to lay the foundation for improved support for cycling.

This was the first ever CEO Fly-In from PeopleForBikes, with similar efforts planned for twice each year. Current federal transportation legislation is due to expire in late 2014 so the timing is good. The new legislation could cover as much as six years, so the next bill will be an important step. The bicycle movement will need to be very prominent and persuasive in order to be included in a meaningful way, given the funding challenges.

This isn’t the first time cyclists and the bicycle industry have gone to Washington to interact with the electeds. In addition to important work from many advocates, the annual National Bike Summit, produced by the League of American Bicyclists (LAB), brings advocates, cyclists and the industry together every March to make the case for the bicycle to Congress. The next one is in March, 2014 (www.bikeleague.org).

The new CEO Fly-In events are meant to supplement the LAB's work by making the business case on a more frequent and targeted basis.

A summary from Peopleforbikes sums up the message, “Every day, more companies nationwide are embracing bicycling as a way to attract talent, improve business and help their bottom line. The PeopleForBikes Business Network includes small businesses, large corporations and individual business leaders who value the economic benefits that come from investing in bike infrastructure.”

Representing the industry at this inaugural CEO Fly-In were leaders representing Specialized, Easton-Bell Sports, Advanced Sports International, Trek and the National Bicycle Dealers Association, as well as staff members from Peopleforbikes along with advisors from McBee Strategic Consulting and Mike Tongour.

They participated in approximately 16 separate meetings with both allies and opponents of improved federal funding for bicycles. The reception from most Congressional meetings was positive, though there are huge funding challenges facing the next federal transportation bill, and fierce competition for the dollars that are available.

So what’s the economic case for increased funding for bicycle facilities?

  • Americans spend more than $81 billion annually on bicycling, including bikes, equipment and trips (according to 2012 Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) research).
  • This spending supports more than 770,000 jobs and generates more than $10 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue (according to the OIA).
  • The industry itself is responsible for $6 billion in direct sales each year, with 18.7 million new bicycles sold each year (according to the National Bicycle Dealers Association).
  • There are approximately 4,800 bicycle retailers in the country, including multi-sport stores, and 1,200 supplier companies (according to Leisure Trends Group and Bicycle Product Suppliers Association).
  • 43 million adults ride bikes each year (according to the OIA) and a growing numbers are riding for transportation.
  • Cities are leading the charge for more bicycle facilities as a way to attract companies and employees who want to live in vibrant areas that are not car-dependent or clogged by gridlock. The PFB Green Lane Project focused on six cities in its first year. It has received nearly 100 applications from cities to participate in the second year.
  • Bicycle infrastructure is cost-effective. An entire city of interconnected bikeways, lanes, paths and crossings can be built for the same cost of one mile of interstate highway.

This is a great initiative for the industry, as well as the future of transportation in America. With the U.S. population projected to grow substantially in coming years, gridlock will increase unless we provide different ways for people to move around. The bicycle is perfect for the task. It won't come without effort, and PeopleForBikes is working it with passion and professionalism.

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