When Washington Bikes, It Brings Billions of Bucks: Part 2

February 11, 2015

Ferry rides offer one of the many distinctive experiences of bike travel in Washington state.

We still don’t understand everything we’d like to know about how bike tourism plays out in Washington, and in particular what strategies work best to attract bike travelers. Washington Bikes is working in the current Washington state legislative session to get funding for a second study that will drill deeper into bike tourism specifically. We also want to examine case studies like the Oso mudslide and the Carlton Complex fire in Chelan and Okanogan Counties that burned over 350,000 acres, asking how rural areas seeking to recover from disasters can attract bike tourism.

What makes Washington a great place to bike?

It helps to have a great reputation for bicycling to start with, and Washington has simply amazing biking. Below, I've listed some of the factors that contribute to the economic impact of bicycling by making us a top destination for bike touring and for travelers who want bicycling as part of their tourist experience:

  • Support and funding for bicycling at all levels. Washington’s current standing as the #1 Bicycle Friendly State in America (7 years running) rests on the 5 Es evaluated by the League of American Bicyclists: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation. Our track record at Washington Bikes includes getting nearly $100 million in funding for bike infrastructure in the last 10 years alone, along with consistently achieving passage of laws that improve safety and driver education.
  • An incredible trails network. The state has more rails-to-trails miles than any other state in the nation—and we continue to expand great regional trail networks each year to provide more and more opportunities for comfortable travel on separated trails. This kind of infrastructure creates a big draw for beginning bike travelers and family bicycling.
  • National recognition with a U.S. Bicycle Route designation. In 2014 we achieved official designation of USBR 10 across Washington, the first U.S. Bicycle Route in the Pacific Northwest and on the West Coast.
  • Incredible diversity of terrain and climate. From well-known destinations like the San Juan Islands (on just about every “Top 10 Places to Bike in the US” list) or the beautiful car-free mileage of the Olympic Discovery Trail, to Walla Walla wine country to the relatively undiscovered rolling hills and pastoral quiet of the Palouse region in southeastern Washington and the pine-scented back roads of northeastern Washington, this state has a lot to offer cyclists.
  • Promotion of bicycle tourism with a new guidebook. Washington Bikes worked with bike travel author and Adventure Cycling blog contributor Ellee Thalheimer to bring out Cycling Sojourner: A Guide to the Best Multi-Day Tours in Washington. Published in 2014, it’s the first book in over a decade to provide detailed multi-day trips with advice on where to stay, eat, and enjoy a local beverage. There’s that economic impact again!

Creative local partnerships to invite bike travelers

The Dept. of Commerce held a meeting in Republic, which lies on USBR 10. Their presentation included a mention of bike tourism, using information I had presented earlier in the year at a conference for economic development personnel from all over the state.

“I look forward to doing everything I can to make Republic more inviting for bicycle tourism.”

Jim Milner
President, Republic Chamber of Commerce

Jim Milner, president of the Republic Chamber of Commerce, contacted me almost immediately after the meeting with an exciting idea. He’s working to bring together the city and school district to consider converting an unused piece of property owned by the district into temporary campsites for bike travelers. We’ve been talking about what that might look like and what it will mean for Republic to hang out the welcome sign this way; I shared the Adventure Cycling story about the incredible impact of the Twin Bridges bike camp to show him the potential power of the project.

Patty Graf-Hoke and Barb Chamberlain display the new bike rest stop graphic to welcome bike travelers.

Bicycle rest stops

Speaking of hanging out the welcome sign, Patty Graf-Hoke at Visit Kitsap wants to do just that. We met through the Outdoor Recreation Task Force and she shared an idea she’d been hatching. Local farm owners on the Kitsap Peninsula (a short ferry ride from Seattle) wanted to know how to get “those people on bikes we see riding past our farms” to stop and perhaps eat some locally grown produce.

As a result of our conversations and an investment by Visit Kitsap in the design, we now have a “Bike Rest Stop” graphic for flags and signs that farms and businesses can display. They’ll commit to welcoming bike travelers even if a particular visitor just wants to fill a water bottle and use the restroom without buying anything, knowing that being bike-friendly will bring in plenty of business over time.

Graf-Hoke will roll the program out in Kitsap County and Washington Bikes will work to bring it to other areas of the state. We’re confident that more and more Main Street businesses, restaurants, coffee shops, and farms—to say nothing of the many winemakers, brewers, cidermakers, and distilleries of Washington—will fly the flag that tells bike travelers, “We welcome your wallets on wheels. Come on in!”

Barb Chamberlain is the Executive Director of Washington Bikes, a nonprofit organization that works to grow bicycling statewide and to create complete, safe and healthy streets by working for investment in a balanced transportation system, providing education, developing more inclusive communities for cycling, building a coalition of organizations, promoting bike tourism and travel, and seeking to make bicycling accessible to everyone. Save the date for the upcoming Washington Bike Summit in Olympia, March 16 -17th.

Top photo by Washington Bikes | Cycling Sojourner by Ellee Thalheimer | Bottom photo courtesy of Washington Bikes

BUILDING THE U.S. BICYCLE ROUTE SYSTEM is posted by Ginny Sullivan and Saara Snow of the Travel Initiatives Department and focuses on news related to the emerging U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS). The USBRS project is a collaborative effort, spearheaded by a task force under the auspices of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Members of the task force include officials and staff from state DOTs, the Federal Highway Administration, and nonprofits like the East Coast Greenway Alliance and the Mississippi River Trail, Inc.


Mike Sanders February 11, 2015, 5:55 PM

I like the Bike Rest Stop idea! The graphic should be blue & white instead of green. This concept should be encouraged nationwide! AASHTO should consider this design and concept for national adoption and encourage its use in state/national parks (and county/local parks, too) wherever it's practical. Signing public restrooms and water stops could be part of this as well along trails.

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