Why the Bicycle Friendly Community award matters: the economic benefits for Stevens Point

Stevens Point was recently named a bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) by the League of American Bicyclists. This is the first time that our city has earned this recognition. In doing so, we join 11 other Wisconsin communities with this designation, including Milwaukee, Sturgeon Bay, Eau Claire, La Crosse, and Madison.

The BFC award is based on a systematic ranking process in several categories that also determines the BFC level achieved. Our bronze award is the entry level. Higher rankings can achieve silver, gold, platinum, and diamond levels. The only gold level BFC in Wisconsin is Madison. Nationwide, only four cities have earned platinum and none have yet earned diamond.

Beyond all the rankings and levels, what does it mean for Stevens Point to be a BFC? And why does it matter?

Our BFC award reflects efforts of local officials in creating policy and infrastructure that establish a safe, comfortable, and convenient environment for bicycling. Recent examples include bike lanes near Sentry Insurance headquarters and in the Portage County Business Park, bicycle way-finding signs throughout the city, the Heartland Trail underpass of I-39, bike carriers on city busses, and quality bike parking around the Mathias Mitchell Public Square. These improvements encourage residents to sometimes choose a bicycle for their local transportation. Success at increasing bicycle ridership is evidenced by U.S. Census statistics placing Stevens Point among the top bicycle commuting cities in Wisconsin.

Although the recognition of Stevens Point as a great place to bike is significant, it is the collection of economic benefits associated with earning a BFC designation that creates tangible advantages.

One economic benefit comes from tourism. Sara Brish, Executive Director of the Stevens Point Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, says that “biking is a popular sport with our visitors and has spurred economic growth in the area.” One notable example she cites is a local hotel and convention center that provides free bikes for their guests because of popular demand.

Catering to visitors who bicycle brings tourism dollars into our community. The BFC award can also inspire these visitors to move their families or businesses here. Brish agrees that the BFC designation can boost economic development in Stevens Point.

One recent downtown business startup, a bicycle repair shop, illustrates another manner in which Stevens Point benefits economically from its BFC status. The owner enjoyed enough success to merit relocating to a new downtown location that tripled his retail space and enabled expansion of his sales business. Few other downtown businesses without alcohol revenue can make a similar claim. The same efforts that earned us a BFC award also create a favorable entrepreneurial environment for bicycle-based businesses in Stevens Point.

Yet another benefit associated with being a BFC is a reduction in health care expenses. Annie Wetter, President of Portage County CAN, a coalition of local health and wellness organizations, affirms that incorporating bicycling and walking into an everyday transportation routine is effective for improving personal health. Wetter states that “communities built to empower residents to be physically active will decrease their health care costs.” Because these reduced costs translate into lower health insurance premiums for public and private employers, all Stevens Point residents, even those who do not ride bicycles, realize a financial benefit from actions that enhance our BFC status.

Our recognition as a BFC is more than a reflection of our civic values. The BFC program is a recipe for economic growth. This is why it matters that Stevens Point earned a BFC designation and why we should strive for a silver or gold level of recognition.

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