Deals on Two Wheels
Maybe you’ve seen them – little blue stickers in storefront windows depicting a bicyclist. They’re popping up in cities across the country, and if you own a bike, they can save you money. Bicycle Benefits, a program started in Saratoga Springs, New York, aims to revolutionize public perception of bicycle traffic by helping community businesses to offer incentives for customers who arrive by bike.
The program’s goal is to make the two-wheeler more appealing, and it’s working. Ian Klepetar, the program’s founder, says he wanted to inspire entire cities, not just individuals. “I was disheartened by what wasn’t happening in my hometown to make bicycle and pedestrian travel safer, more convenient, more accepted and utilized.” The program was his contribution to a larger local movement in Saratoga Springs, and now he is taking it to other parts of the nation.
The Bicycle Benefits system is easy. Businesses buy the stickers for $2.50 apiece and sell them to customers for $5. Customers put the stickers on their helmets (keeping cyclists safer, too) and receive discounts at every participating business. The discounts for sticker-bearers, which are set by the businesses themselves, range anywhere from 10% off bike locks and lights (Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op) to permanent happy hour (Madison, Wisconsin’s Harmony Bar).
“They love it, of course,” says Renee Skordas of Cali’s Natural Foods in Salt Lake City, Utah. “Who wouldn’t enjoy getting a discount?”
Like any grassroots organization, Bicycle Benefits hasn’t been without growing pains. “It is hard to motivate people to ride their bike to out-of-the-way parts of town and haul 50 lbs of potatoes,” says Skordas. “It’s encouraging environmental sustainability, but at the same time the nature of our business makes it difficult. Because they’re already buying organic items, customers might feel that makes up for driving their car.”
At the same time, she admits Bicycle Benefits has created some positive change. “Initially we didn’t have a bike rack, so some people found it hard to use the program. But we got a bike rack, and since then it’s been overall positive.”
Since it began in 2006, Bicycle Benefits has gained 767 businesses with stickers stuck to countless helmets in 70 cities across the nation. For the most part, this is a win-win for customers and businesses. “They like me better,” says Robin Wright, owner of Pettirosso, a Seattle coffee shop that offers bikers free coffee when they buy a bagel sandwich. For her, a Bicycle Benefits sign in the window means, “I share values with people here.”
The kick-backs are great, but the program offers grander benefits.
Increased bike traffic means decreased automobile traffic, and that includes a range of positives for everyone. Less road congestion, increased parking space, and the obvious benefit of reduced air pollution help us all, and not just the cyclists. In a country where a third of its carbon dioxide and the vast majority of its carbon monoxide are produced by automobiles, this program couldn’t be timelier.
Here’s another stat – because of automobile engineering, almost two-thirds of vehicle pollution occurs within the first few minutes of operation. The trouble is that most car rides are less than two miles – quick trips to the grocery store, running the kids to school, and (for some) even the five-minute commute to work. The equation seems simple: our most frequent trips pollute the most per mile, but they’re also the easiest to make on a bicycle.
If everyone could operate within two miles of their home, vehicle emissions might be a nonissue. Of course, that’s not the world we live in. Switching to bikes offers a solution to part of the problem, but vehicles cannot be replaced – only engineered better. Leonardo Academy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the environment, is doing what it can by finding ways to make the transportation sector more sustainable. Ian Klepetar will continue biking from city to city, promoting Bicycle Benefits and encouraging people to do their part. “There is so much that other cities are doing,” he says, “and much that is yet to be done.”
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