Despite my wife’s fears of the dangers of riding a bike on city streets, last week I rode my bike from my home to uptown. While not a breeze due to some gaps in bike lanes, it was significantly enhanced thanks to the new dedicated bike lane connecting Sugar Creek Greenway with Irwin Creek Greenway.
Having my bike provided unbelievable flexibility. I attended meetings at three different locations, met my wife for a tour of the Mint Museum, then joined some buddies at Wooden Robot for a beer before heading home. The trip was quicker and easier than it would have been via car or on foot.
Only weeks earlier, I joined Charlotte Area Transit System CEO John Lewis, Assistant City Manager Debra Campbell, and Knight Foundation Program Director Charles Thomas on an educational trip to Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmo, Sweden. In Copenhagen, a city that struggled under gridlock with cars only a few decades ago, 62 percent of commuters ride bicycles. One six-foot-wide bike lane carries 5,900 commuters an hour, while a car lane close to twice that width can carry only 1,300 cars an hour. The main reason commuters in Denmark and Sweden bike is not for health nor environmental benefits – it is because biking is the fastest way to get from point A to point B.
Importantly, the bicycle culture in Copenhagen also provides meaningful access to more affordable urban housing. The cost of construction for parking decks, and the high cost of land, are contributing to Charlotte’s distressing trend of pricing folks out of our urban areas. Sadly, Center City’s most recent vision calls for more parking underground. Each underground parking space costs $50,000. If we are going to get serious about affordable housing – not to mention improved lifestyles – we have to get serious about accommodating those without cars and promoting pedestrian, bike and mass transit options.
We left Denmark with a goal of pushing Charlotte to become the No. 1 U.S. city for economic mobility. One important way to accomplish that is to reduce commute times. In Charlotte, the average bus rider who has to change buses to get to work spends over 90 minutes commuting each way – three hours a day, 250 days a year. If that time were instead spent working for $10 an hour, that would mean additional income of $7,500 annually, and greater productivity for our overall community.
One measurable goal from our Scandinavian trip was that by 2035, 77 percent of all inbound commuting to Center City would be by some means other than car. We believe our newer and younger residents can help lead the way. The largest generation will come of age over the next decade and those young folks will shape our city. The cities that make strides to help them get out of their cars and find convenient, quality affordable housing will be the communities that best compete for talent over the next century.
Charlotte is on its way to becoming a more bike-friendly city. But we need to embrace bolder, broader goals to become America’s top city for economic mobility. When mobility improves, those of lesser means see their lives improve, and everyone’s quality of life benefits.
Grubb is CEO of Grubb Properties. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org