“I Bike SF” Campaign Encourages Shopping Locally by Bicycle

In honor of Bike Month this year, Mayor Gavin Newsom, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and local businesses have teamed up with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) to promote shopping by bicycle in various neighborhoods across the city. As part of the I Bike SF campaign, participating businesses in Hayes Valley are offering discounts throughout the month of May to cyclists who bring in their bicycle helmets or bike lock keys when they shop or eat out.

According to Mari Hunter, an intern who organized the campaign for the Mayor's Climate Protection Initiative, I Bike SF is modeled on a national program called Bicycle Benefits.

"The idea simply is to encourage cycling and support local businesses," said Hunter, who added that the focus for the Mayor's Office was to make the program as easy as possible for businesses and to have them benefit through a boost in sales.

Tim Papandreou, the SFMTA's Deputy Director for Planning, said beyond meeting the city's goal of encouraging cycling, I Bike SF would help reduce congestion in business corridors where parking is at a premium. Papandreou said Hayes Valley was a perfect pilot location because it is relatively flat, close to Market Street and similar bicycle corridors, and because the neighborhood is congested with cars looking for parking.

For Elizabeth Leu, who owns the children's store Fiddlesticks on Hayes Street, the idea of promoting bicycles makes sense for San Francisco, along with starting the pilot in Hayes Valley, a strongly proud neighborhood that has voted to forbid chain stores.

"I think it's spot on to be rewarding bikes and people who bicycle," said Leu, who's offering a 15 percent discount on non-sale items to bicycle riding customers. She was doubtful, however, about the impact it would have on business. "I don't know about the redemption. 
The jury is still out on whether bikers will be taking advantage of the program."

Leu was also concerned that the city hadn't done enough publicity around the program to create a buzz. "It needs more legs, it needs more viral marketing, but we haven't seen it," she said.

Hunter acknowledged that the Mayor's Office was working on a quick turnaround to get the program started for Bike Month, but she expected the campaign would get more attention as Bike to Work day approaches. With the thousands of fliers in Bike to Work Day totes the SFBC will hand out on Thursday and an increasing focus in the media and bicycle newsletters, the program should be much better known by the time it expands to other commercial areas, including Lower Divisadero for June and Upper Market/Castro for July.

While the city expects the program will be popular with locals who already frequent familiar small businesses, the SFMTA's Papandreou said the city was working with bicycle rental companies like Blazing Saddles and Bike and Roll to let tourists know about the I Bike SF campaign and get them to explore areas of San Francisco that are not along the usual Embarcadero and Fisherman's Wharf routes.

"We're noticing the bicycle renters at Bike and Roll and other facilities are riding the Embarcadero and the Marina and taking their money to Sausalito," said Papandreou. The organizers of I Bike SF hoped to "engage people who come to the City of San Francisco to start riding to and exploring other neighborhoods."

In addition to the individual bicycle rental companies and local businesses, I Bike SF has partnered with the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and the Small Business Commission to promote the campaign and get their input.

Laurie Armstrong, Vice President for Public Affairs at the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said they had organized similar programs like Show Your Zip during the holidays, which gave discounts to anyone who lived in a zip within the 9-county Bay Area, or Show Your Badge, which gave discounts to convention participants.

Armstrong said a campaign that supported bicycles for shopping locally dovetailed with the current efforts to market San Francisco as a leading green city. She also echoed the SFMTA's concern that tourists weren't necessarily exploring many of the neighborhoods in San Francisco that weren't among the traditional destinations.

"As it expands from neighborhood to neighborhood, it encourages people to explore the city, see all the neighborhoods," said Armstrong. "It really suits San Francisco well, so we're happy to see it rolling."