Unclassified Info: Boosting bicyclists could mean big business

I'm always intrigued by what topics get people riled up in our little corner of the universe. This week's hubbub seems to be centered on city plans to spend money on more bike lanes and markings.

A lot of folks seem to be against it. I have to admit, the notion of our financially burdened government spending money to paint lines on the road for bicyclists seemed unwise at a first glance.

To begin with, according to certain surveys, we rank near the bottom for having the worst drivers and worst overall record for pedestrian safety. To throw a bunch of bicyclists out there on the road with nothing more than a line of paint and a few signs for protection seems like a dangerous prospect. To put it in perspective, I ride a motorcycle, and I consider Glendale to be the riskiest part of my daily 52-mile round-trip commute to El Segundo.

Additionally, when this paper reported it could cost $5 million with about $380,000 for bicycle parking, I started wondering where all that money would really go. So I did a little digging and discovered a few interesting things about planning a bicycle-friendly community.

According to the League of American Bicyclists, an advocacy group representing the interests of the nation's 57 million cyclists, California ranks 20th out of 50 states in overall bicycle-friendliness. In their evaluation, our state's shortcomings include a grade of “F” in Infrastructure and a “D” in both Evaluation & Planning and Enforcement.

To our credit, we got an “A” in Legislation, so there would seem to be hope that if Glendale does moderately well in evaluating and planning, we might get some assistance from Sacramento.

But before we start planning all our money away, maybe we ought to think about what it means to accommodate bicyclists as a business venture. In other words, maybe we need a business plan for our bicycle plan.

If we were a company investing $5 million in making Glendale bicycle-friendly, what would we expect from those riders? After all, no company would invest $5 million without questioning its return on investment.

From a promotional perspective, we can always tout the fact that we are being proactive about getting cars off the road and improving the environment. Plus, we can say we are doing our part to promote healthier lifestyles. I would consider those to be intangible benefits.

But what if we started thinking about making Glendale a viable destination for a share of those 57 million bicyclists? We have a variety of environmental conditions that make us attractive to that enormous audience.

We have trails with wide fire roads, which are ideal for mountain bikers. We have a lot of relatively flat areas with shopping and dining, which appeal to casual riders and families. And we have streets with rolling hills and long inclines, which are challenging for road enthusiasts and those seeking more rigorous exercise.

What if the plan actually included an integrated effort to create routes for each of these audiences and incorporated a marketing effort to attract riders to enjoy everything we have to offer?

On weekends, we could offer mountain bikers a low-cost shuttle back and forth from Brand Boulevard to La Tuna Canyon and DeBell trailheads. Cyclists could get a long ride that ends at local restaurants, where strategically placed bicycle parking would allow them to take in a meal.

We could create road courses that are mostly free of signals so road riders could test their ability and speed over a measured distance. And we could create leisurely courses where families and riders looking for some relaxation could enjoy the city and surrounding amenities.

To support this effort, we could include in the plan a rigorous effort to educate, encourage and enforce bicycle safety to drivers — the biggest challenge, due to our aforementioned reputation as crummy drivers. If we showed a desire to improve and turn Glendale into a place where bicyclists are welcome, we might actually see a return on the $5-million investment by way of increased revenues to businesses.

That could make our city more appealing to new businesses. And it might even make an impact on real estate values as we elevate the desirability of our city as a healthier, safer and more enjoyable place to live.

Perhaps if we identified that potential return on investment, there wouldn't be so much opposition.

Or maybe people just need something to complain about, regardless of whether it's good for the community.

GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is currently working on his second novel and the second half of his life. Gary may be reached at gh@garyhuerta.com.

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