When you think about the impact cycling has on a local economy, the first things that probably comes to mind are bike shops. Arlington has – by my count – at least five. From a small two-man shop (Papillion Cycles) to the corporate headquarters of a regional chain (Revolution Cycles) employing scores of people, these are real businesses generating real dollars. But cycling has an economic impact well beyond the bike shops.
People on bikes contribute to the profit margins of lots of local businesses. Pedego DC Tours, which operates out of Clarendon, offers electric bike-based tours of Washington. Then there's a successful film production company based in Arlington (Gripped Films) and the promoter of the (Arlington Sports), both of which depend on pro cycling's popularity.
Less directly, social spots like and are favorites of local cyclists due to their bike-friendliness. And I bet more than one shopper has recently shifted to from because of the superior bike parking options.
Cycling also gets people to work. It’s not just K Street lawyers commuting for fun from North Arlington, either. Cycling to work is how a lot of the guys in the stockrooms and kitchens around Arlington commute. By using low-cost transportation, less of their budget is consumed by commuting, which means it’s easier to afford to live locally. Those are more dollars staying in the Arlington economy.
The bike-friendliness of Arlington also helps attract people to living here. Proximity to the Custis and W&OD trails are a regular part of real estate and rental advertisements. For lots of younger people considering a move to the Washington area, the high costs of the area often lead them to consider leaving car ownership behind. When cycling can help offset that loss of transportation flexibility, Arlington gets an edge in attracting those people.
And this doesn’t even begin to touch on the big picture effects of more cycling, like healthier workers, reduced pollution costs or cycling infrastructure projects. As with the transportation picture, cycling isn’t the answer to economic challenges. But it’s definitely a useful part of meeting those challenges.
Interested in more about the economics of cycling? Elly Blue had a great series on "Bikenomics" at Grist last year.
At this year's organizational meeting of the Arlington County Board, Vice Chairman Walter Tejada's remarks noted the importance of improved bicycle and pedestrian safety efforts in Arlington. While government is just part of the effort in improving cycling in Arlington, I think it makes a real difference when you have elected officials like Tejada (along with Jay Fisette and Chris Zimmerman) who actively support cycling.
Never heard of Gripped Films? With award-winning films, they've sold out many a night at the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse. Some of their work - from last year's Tour de France - will be screened at DC's Sonoma Restaurant later this month.
Mark Blacknell is chair of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, a member of the board of directors of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and a League Cycling Instructor.