Shifting how you move with biking and transportation.

Bikes Mean Business with Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition – Bike Here Podcast

by Bike Shop Girl

In this episode of the Bike Here podcast, we are talking with Eli Akira Kaufman, Executive Director of the LA County Bicycle Coalition. We are talking about how Bikes Mean Business, and easy ways you can show up to show local businesses how safe bike infrastructure can impact their business.

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Podcast Transcript

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Today we are talking with Eli Akira Kaufman, Executive Director of the LA County Bicycle Coalition. 
Awesome, Eli, thanks for taking time out of your busy March, the season has hit and you have so many programs going on, and let’s get into the basics of who you are and LA Bicycle Coalition. For me, I love the ball that you all have picked up during Covid, and it’s been inspirational nationally with the impact, and I don’t want to say small programs, but low-cost programs, that’s what we’re talking about today. So let’s hear your elevator pitch.
Thanks for having me! I’m a bicyclist and a bike dad. I have 2 kids, different ages – I have a 3-month-old and a 13-year-old basically, and I really need different types of infrastructure and different types of experiences to support those two very different age groups. I come to this work as a commuter in Los Angeles, like so many people many years stuck in traffic,stuck in steel cages. Just upset that I lived in this Mediterranean climate, mostly flat without a lot of elevation changes. Just being frustrated by not being able to get out there making my commute a more satisfying experience, I started at LABC just as a volunteer, with group rides and volunteering for ped counts. Very bottom level, just a parent that wanted to find a community. It’s been an amazing journey. We’re 25000 people strong, more cyclists that are visible and invisible than you might think, including recreational and daily commuters. Our goal at LACBC is really a place to make Los Angeles a more welcoming place to ride a bike, that parlays itself into a clearer, more equitable, more sustainable, just a more joyous place to be. I consider myself among the lucky few who get to do this for a living.
Isn’t that the truth, and covid especially has allowed us to embrace the pride of working in and around the bike world. We’re essential and people are finally realizing that. Eli, we have so many programs we can talk about from your organization and it’s funny, Eli is one of the few people that said ‘hey let’s talk before the podcast so we can be on the same page’ because he has so many amazing stories to tell, and we’re going to focus on Bikes Mean Business, today. I love this because it doesn’t really cost an organization anything more than social media, and maybe an email blast, to show businesses that bikes mean business. Eli, can you tell us more about that? If you live in a city that is trying to build bike and pedestrian infrastructure, one of the biggest arguments is from local businesses saying you’re going to hurt my business and people being able to visit. So can you give us some background on why this came about?So Bikes Mean Business is an initiative that we work on with one of our partner organizations Sunset for All, a local advocacy group for the Sunset Strip basically – that very famous street. We had spent a lot of time advocating for bicycle infrastructure to go in and for pedestrian infrastructure and had pushback from local businesses, not so much for traditional NIMBY reasons, but because they were afraid for their bottom line. In LA which is very much known for it’s car culture, the concern was removing parking space or impacting parking spaces for bike lanes was going to be a hardship they didn’t want to face. But there’s been a lot of studies, Portland state just did one in April 2020 that I’ll share, that bicycle and pedestrian traffic does well for businesses, having people move more slowly past your storefront, at the speed of commerce, or at the speed of being able to slow down and hop inside a shop, is actually proven to not be a disadvantage to your business. We decided well how can we prove that instead of just throwing an academic study at them with metrics? We decided we’re just going to start showing up. We decided as the pandemic hit we wanted to support local businesses so we started these action alerts, these calls, on this day, everybody show up at Masa’s Pizzeria on Sunset. And people came up in force, hundreds of people showed up – we warned them – and they couldn’t keep up, couldn’t make pies fast enough. For people who couldn’t make it, were out of the area, because we organize the whole region, they sent in support. Peoples were sending in docations, we set up donation links, and I guess they got a couple hundred they gave back to LACBC just out of gratitude for our support
So how can we scale this? and support locally owned businesses through these action alerts, across our network and our social media and our newsletter. We can send out this message and now restaurants and the local businesses are like we’d love a Bikes Mean Business for us.  So down the road when it comes time for them to back us when we ask for bike infrastructure, they’ve got a proof of concept and being deliberate as identifying ourselves as cyclists, showing up as bike riders has changed a lot of hearts and minds on the Sunset Strip
There is so much to think through on this, as a parent you may have done this – eat here on this day and they give us 10 or 20% of the proceeds – I love it because it’s something easy. As cyclists we are so used to fighting for what we think is rightfully ours, that it really flips the table. Here I’ve been thinking the whole time I’ve lived here, there’s been a bike lane demonstration probably about 5 years, and there’s this one florist that hates the idea of a bike lane. And it’s a florist, so somebody that needs quick in and out traffic, not someplace who is going to park and having a business meeting and 3 or 4 hours, so they would really benefit the most from bikes and pedestrians. For the most part we tried to win them over, with our stats and studies, and that didn’t work but now people are just turned off from supporting them and that’s the political divide we live in right now. For the most part we’re now like if we don’t agree you’re dead to me, and instead you’re showing up. There might even be a business right next door that you can show up for and they’re like ‘what are all these bikes doing here?’.  Eli you mentioned a pizzeria, are there other types of businesses other than restaurants you’ve done this for?We primarily focused on restaurants because they’ve been hit so hard by the pandemic, but we’ve been thinking of ways to support POC and AAPI owned businesses that have been hurt disproportionately and again it’s primarily sending people for that pick up or take out scenario as long as things are still rough out here in Los Angeles, but yeah for a group like that florist you were mentioning. The next step of that is to build a culture to support bicycle commuting, in general and to help people get their rigs setup through cargo bikes or through panniers or baskets to take it to the next level. I like this, subtly showing you you need a bike that can carry the pizza That’s right, or the flowers. We see this as a gateway opportunity – we’re asking so little of these businesses, by design, so we’re the allies, or more than allies, accomplices in their success. We really are trying to show up in a way to set them up. We want to set them up so they see us as a meaningful consumer, or a meaningful member of their audience, so then we can make the ask, we can make the offer to give the resources we want to give so badly. So we’re not doing this as a stunt, show up here, but as a way of life. I love this. I recently interviewed my friend Rob with the Denver Bicycle Lobby, before the shutdown they always met at the same brewery, and as I think through it, they could easily move their monthly meetups to different areas of town to show this idea of bikes mean business. They have 30 to 60 people who show up at these events, you know grab a drink, a piece of pizza, maybe a food truck. Eli, can you tell me, so say you’re an advocate, a bike shop, maybe they just have a lot of friends that like to bike, what are a few key things to find success in this?Keep it simple, lower the barrier to entry. So many people were thinking of getting a discount, or bring a 3×5 card or whatever, but restaurants had no headspace, no bandwidth, to really get creative. No knock on them, during the shut down, many of these restaurants were really on the verge, and a lot of them did lose out. So what can we do to keep it simple. Lower the barrier to entry – similar to keep it simple, but not overpromising what you’re going to get in the transaction. It’s enough to celebrate that you were able to turn out a couple hundred people to come out. You know for people on social media, low barrier to entry, make it easy to share. It’s not as big a lift, they’re more willing to get involved. Walk away thinking, that was easy, on both sides. And then let’s do it again is really the most important thing. Set the momentum, set the stage for the next time out and then you can start to add elements.How often are you doing this?We were trying to do this once or twice a week during the darkest days of the pandemic, and actually for certain of our partner restaurants that’s a little too much. Even with the warnings for some people – it’s a fragile time for people and we really want it to be just a benefit.  So just once a week.Setting up a cadence for your audience so they can tune in and participate, but not too often, is really important. We think twice a week for a big region like Los Angeles is probably enough for now. Maybe once a week when things are back to business normally, maybe twice a week. But you want to setup a cadence.At first we did it once a month, just to see what it was and learn from it but then we just sort of picked up steam from there.I want to give a parallel, the impacts just differeed. Here in Denver, the Denver Streets partnership – they’ve been giving people postcards “I walked or rolled to get here”and on the other side it encourages the business to support infrastructure to make the street around them more people friendly. It’s cool. I think it’s a lower impact than what you’re talking about, if 20 cyclists showed up to the local pizza shop in my community, the pizza shop would be ‘what is happening?’ especially because then you’re locked up everywhere and it’s kind of a scene. What Denver Street Partnership did, you’re just going around with your daily life, it’s less of that trigger like you’re creating where you have to take action on this day and this time to be part of it.Yeah, what is great about this area is that it can scale for a major metropolitan areas like LA or New York, but it can also apply for smaller neighborhoods or mid-size cities. <child interruption>You were just talking about midsize cities – the nonprofit in Raleigh, which you know the Southeast is not the most bike friendly, but they’re getting there but Raleigh there’s a brewery with multiple locations, Trophy, they recently put in a long row of a rainbow of proper bike racks. They actually did their homework and put in the right racks with good spacing.  And Oaks and Spokes just organized a social distance meetup to “Stack the Rack”. Such a cool thing to see – people taking notice when people are investing and they’re trying to pay it back.  That’s an example of something that works. A business understands that they’re aligned with the culture. There is this big piece of misinformation out there, that bicycles don’t mean business, that they actually hurt business. The fact that businesses are starting to recognize ‘hey if we put out bike racks, that amplifies the brand or the spirit or the culture we’re celebrating. And if we’re an active brand that wants for people hungry to come in, you can’t really ask for a better audience than bicyclists. You want people to drink beer and eat pizza and have a good time with those endorphins kicking in – those are bicyclists. Especially for restaurants it’s such a no brainer for me –  I know when I ride, I will order bigger than when I walk or metro or even the occasional car. I’m not as set up to order big.
Now that’s a marketing campaign right there. Everyone listening, I’d love to hear if you’ve adapted something like this in your community or you have some ideas of how Bikes Mean Business would work for you. We’d love to hear how you show businesses that bike infrastructure and getting people safely to their business is important, forward it along or tag me, tag LACBC. We would love to hear about it. Eli you have a really cool event that anyone listening can get involved in, can you tell us about it?Thanks for the opportunity. We have the LA Rivers Challenge. For 19 years we’ve hosted this the largest community ride along the LA river in person, up to 2000 cyclists, noncompetitive, community ride. When Covid hit we had to postpone. So this is our reboot of the 20 year tradition – our registration is open lariverschallenge.com and now anybody across the nation can join, because it’s going to be virtual like so many rides have become. We have an early bird going on so you can save $10 with EARLYBIRD10 until April 15. The design of this virtual ride or rides is to explore the historic waterways of Los Angeles or wherever you happen to be from 31 miles to 641 miles which represents the entire watershed of the LA County. The idea behind it is also to get people out for the entire month of June to avoid congregating. The event takes place from June 1st until the end of the month, so you can sign up at lariverschallenge.com, And find the ride that is best suited to you, your family and your bubble.
Eli and I spoke about this last week, and how Google listens, but then suggests things it know I might mess up her name because I only know her from twitter but Alyssa Walker who is based in LA tweeted this string of snippets from Ellie Robins from The LA River is Your Brain the most moving article about climate chain, and just how building our cities have impacted the natural rhythm of our world. I’ll link to all of these. Reading that article, I’m not from LA – I like Eli, I like LA, but I wasn’t like I need to do this ride until I read this article. Now I’m telling all my friends they have to do it with me. It’s one of those things you walk away, and especially if you have young kids, you’re just like ‘We are screwing things up, how can we undo it?’The important thing to know is that LA rivers challenge – is it takes place in a trapezoidal concrete channel – we basically paved over the LA river into a flood control channel. So one of the amenities it provides, not intended, is a bike corridor and a carfree place to ride your bike. It’s not consistent along all 31 miles but you can get some good miles in without ever having to cross any car traffic. But it’s a sad ride in many ways because it is a reminder of how much damage we’ve done to our own natural ecosystems. And so for me I draw inspiration for how I need to do more, we’re hopeful people will think a little about where our water comes from, how we’re flushing it out to see without getting an opportunity to recharge the aquifer, and that we get inspired to take action wherever we can to make our environment healthy. So we can sustain it as it sustains us.

I love that you’re trying to impact the world around you, as opposed to just our bubble. As bike advocates it’s so easy to focus on bikes because they’re awesome, but what the actual equity and opportunity that bikes present us, and the community aspect it presents us, sorry Eli I’m going off the agenda. I’ll have to come back to talk about bike resilience and equity and how the bicycle can be this vehicle for progress. Because at LACBC we believe that you become a member of every community you ride through – and that makes you realize the environmental conditions of that neighborhood, the lack of equity and the amount of divestment they’ve suffered. You see the current systems are not equitable or serving folks equally in any way. I’d love to go into our work about equity and show the bicycle as this great alternative, this affordable, accessible, health creating, kind of magical vehicle. I’d love to have that conversation if we can. 

Eli said something really nice on the pre-call – the value of bicycle culture. If you’re listening to this podcast, you’re in the thick of it, one you listen to podcasts and two you’ve found us.  We’re all starting to see that light at the end of the tunnel – and I so desperately want the bicycle culture physically, not just on Zoom or isolated alone on my bike. Eli, you know the same reasons you joined as a volunteer many years ago, just to find your people. What’s nice is the way the bicycle brings together so many different types of people. That’s what I miss so much.Well, let’s keep doing it through Zoom and the second we can ride together, and this is an invitation for everyone coming through Los angeles at any time, or Angelenos, you know we’re here. We’re fighting for safer, healthier, more equitable, sustainable streets.  We’re here and check us out at LA-Bike.org, that’s the last plug.If you have a story or know an advocate who should be here, please let me know and until the next episode, thank you so much for listening and stay well. 

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