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Like Chicago, New York is also using bike lanes to compete for Seattle tech jobs

Image by MGMT.design, via the NYTimes
Image by MGMT.design, via the NYTimes

Remember when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called out Seattle during a press conference opening Chicago’s first protected bike lane through the dense downtown Loop? He said, “I expect not only to take all of their [Seattle and Portland’s] bikers but I also want all the jobs that come with this, all the economic growth that comes with this, all the opportunities of the future that come with this.”

Well, the Windy City is not the only US giant looking to bike lanes as a way to keep up with Seattle as a way to attract tech talent.

The New York Times recently published a story comparing the Big Apple’s tech magnetism to Seattle’s. And what’s the first graphic they used to try to claim dominance?

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Miles of bike lanes.

The story pits NYC against Seattle in a race to be the next big tech hub after Silicon Valley. There are many factors at play, but it’s clear that being cycling friendly and having attractive green space will play a big role in attracting companies and talent.

From the NYTimes:

Like New York, Seattle has draws outside the classroom. “It attracts certain geeks like me, nature-loving and into music, food and biking,” Mr. Guestrin said. But the biggest attraction, he said: “The data is on the West Coast.”

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23 responses to “Like Chicago, New York is also using bike lanes to compete for Seattle tech jobs”

  1. BobH

    I don’t get the whole “Build bike lanes to prop up the tech sector” meme. I can list a dozen reasons for cities to implement meaningful bicycle transportation systems, and I would put the tech job argument at the very bottom of the list.

    Secondly, is there any evidence that bicycle infrastructure promotes job growth in the tech industry? Seattle is supposedly bike friendly, or at least more than Bellevue and Redmond. Yet both cities have flourishing tech industries. Same with Downtown San Francisco vs Silicon Valley (Google HQ is in a car-centric office park hell). Just because a couple politicians and marketers push an idea doesn’t make it true.

    I want more bicycle infrastructure. From a messaging and tactical point of view, I vote to drop the Bike-Lanes-For-Tech-Jobs argument. It’s just too easy to laugh at and won’t help us win. Let’s focus on substantive arguments.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      It’s not my favorite, either, but others keep making it for us. Seattle is seen as cool, and other cities looks at it as a success story in some ways. I find it interesting that Seattle’s bike lanes play such a big role in that vision. This isn’t my invention, it’s an idea that’s out there.

    2. A city, in a certain sense, is wider than its political boundaries. What really matters as a city is a geographically contiguous economic unit. The perceived attractiveness of SF as a place for a young techie to live is something of an advantage in recruiting for Valley tech firms compared to office parks attached to less attractive cities. This advantage has extended to the inner city of SF as it’s seen the same reductions in violent crime as other American cities, and SF has grabbed a share of the tech and startup action… as have NYC and Chicago, whose suburbs haven’t been such notable tech havens.

      1. Gary

        Also there is a history of successful startups that brings others with a germ of an idea to the region. Also as the successful startups spin out rich past employees there is money to fund more startups and with new talent flowing in they are likely to be as successful as they could be.

        The Puget Sound region would do better for it’s dollar to invest more in the UW to hire more professors to expand the CompSci, EE, Biology, etc departments. There is currently a huge number of competent students turned away because there isn’t room in the program for them.

        Bicycle lanes are a nice benefit to the region but really most of my day is spent behind a desk. It’s the shower at work and the towel that make a bicycle commute possible. That and the key bicycle access routes across I-90 etc. Having 520 with a bike route is going to do more than some paint on side streets.

      2. @Gary: A bike path on 520 will be great. But people willing to bike many miles across nothing to go to work and shower when they get there will always be a fringe minority. It’s a fringe minority you and I are part of, but let’s not pretend it’s more than that. People willing to live close to work and ride a short distance, or ride a short distance on calm streets to a transit station with quality bike parking could actually be enough people to make a real difference. If a city is so stagnant that it isn’t drawing in new people that may not be true (because it would require mass intra-urban migration) but we have the great fortune that we’re attracting lots of newcomers! They’ll move in where it’s convenient if we make it work!

        Quality bike routes through our biggest job centers, and to key transit facilities, are crucial. Much, much, much more important than showers at work. Don’t think like an entrenched resident, think like a newcomer. Seattle is always full of newcomers.

      3. Gary

        Al, I guess I wasn’t being clear. The sharrows, the painted bike lanes, aren’t critical. What matters is the infrastructure for which you just cannot ride around, and the bike lane on 520 is one of those key missing pieces. Downtown, yes a cycletrack on 4th going North and maybe one on 2nd going South are totally necessary. But those distances are short, it’s just that with the traffic and the congestion even being an experienced rider it’s unnerving.

        Same for the shower, even if you only live 5 miles away if it’s pouring you need one especially if you wear the rubber clothing necessary to stay warm if not dry.

      4. 520 will turn a bunch of 20-mile-each-way commutes into 10-mile-each-way commutes, and that’s great. But most people aren’t going to ride those kinds of distances.

        And the showers thing… seriously, this is a question of geometry, like bike racks on buses. There’s room for some people to ride their bikes to work and take showers when they get there, and it’s necessary in order for some people to bike to work. But there just isn’t shower space for enough people to do that to make a real difference.

        If we’re going to make mass cycling happen it has to happen for short trips. That means we need to make trips shorter, and we need those short trips to be bikeable. That means last-mile bike infrastructure to our biggest employment and activity centers is a zillion times more important than a 4 mile-long bridge. Last mile to jobs and activities is the BGT in the U District. Four miles across a lake is I-90.

      5. Gary

        “last mile” yep, a bicycle sharing system that is integrated into the mass transit system solves the shower, the bike lane and the long commute problem all in one step. I look forward to 2023 when we finally have one.

        “shorter commutes” that’s a land use issue and school district issue. For the longest time the Seattle School system sucked so folks with family moved out. In addition the freeway made it possible to live farther away as does things like Sounder trains and the long run ST buses. In addition letting Microsoft build a campus out in the middle of what was nowhere. Then instead of integrating the Metro buses into their needs, they end up running their own private fleet. It’s just ridiculous.

        Meantime I’m glad that I will only have had to wait 50 years for a bike lane across 520. And I appreciate that I have a shower at work.

      6. It’s good that showers at work exist for some people, and it’s good that bike racks on buses exist. But it is not physically plausible (without even thinking about efficiency, desirability, etc.) to scale these solutions up for the masses.

        That’s why we’re lucky to like in a city that’s thriving, where people are moving in every day. If we let them live close to work (whether that’s in Redmond or Seattle) and make short commutes easy to bike or walk, we could have a serious, significant impact on the environmental footprint of our city.

    3. Eli

      Yes, there’s lots of evidence that tech employers demand high-quality bike infrastructure because their employees demand it.

      I would start by talking with city council members in Silicon Valley or SF and understanding that relationship better (which I had the opportunity to do on my last trip to SF a few weeks ago), or talking with transportation managers at companies like Google.

      1. Bob Hall

        That’s evidence that tech companies moving to an area will put some money and PR into improving the area (kind of like Amazon putting some $ into 7th Ave cycle track), not evidence that a city building bike lanes brings companies there in the first place.

        It seems obvious that Seattle and SF’s dominance in the industry is the result of a feedback loop between the existing base of companies and a strong university system (as Gary alluded to). The effect of improvements in bike lanes in Silicon Valley will be dwarfed by its proximity to Stanford. Young people creating startups are in the Valley because that’s where the talent is. The talent is there because that’s where the jobs are. (Hence the feedback loop). A city like Chicago interrupting that loop with bike lanes, while theoretically possible, would be unprecedented.

      2. Microsoft got big before UW was a CS powerhouse. Gates and Microsoft donated lots of money to UW CS, which was a smart decision, but Seattle and the Bay Area aren’t educationally unique. Many big cities have big universities (MSP has Minnesota; Chicago has Northwestern; LA has UCLA, USC, and Caltech; Boston has Harvard and MIT; for that matter, Michigan isn’t that far from Detroit).

        As for Chicago, while Northwestern, UC, DePaul, and UIC may not churn out tons of engineering types, Illinois does, and tons of Chicagoland kids go there for school. While UIUC’s distant location from Chicago doesn’t help, there are loads of great engineering students all over the midwest and Chicago is the economic capital of the midwest. Chicago isn’t “interrupting the loop with bike lanes”. Inner Chicago is sort of like Manhattan, a great big city with all the advantages of a great big city, that suffered from violent crime and disinvestment in the middle and late 20th century and is broadly coming back, with growing inner-city presence of startups, established companies, service providers, etc.

        Now this is where political boundaries start to matter. If you’re the City of Elmhurst (the Chicago suburb I grew up in) you can attract people to live there the same way you always have: safe streets, nice neighbors, good schools, location convenient to commuter rail and freeways, nice recreational paths for cycling and running (we’re a big running town). There isn’t a foot of bike lane in Elmhurst and no great attention is paid to bikes as a mode of transportation. If you’re the City of Chicago, your streets are (broadly) getting safer and your city can be a convenient and fun place to live. Fixing the school system isn’t just expensive, it’s complicated… it’s hard to say whether it’s possible or even what success would look like. Bike infrastructure is cheap and not that hard and a decent chunk of the yuppies gentrifying your city (and giving you the tax base you’ve coveted for decades) want it. The only problem is the blowhards on the Tribune’s editorial pages, who make the Seattle Times sound reasonable…

  2. Gary

    I’d like to point out that NYC has a lot against becoming a Tech hub with the high cost of living there and the much higher crime rate. Bike lanes not withstanding they need to fix critical infrastructure like the courts.




    What smart sane person would choose to live in a city with these problems? And last I looked Tech jobs require smart people…

    1. Gary

      And my favorite bike theft video…. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ooa3NVfFlEU

    2. I’m not sure if you’re being sarcastic or what, but NYC’s violent crime rate has plummeted and it’s now a remarkably safe city. It does have lots of property crime including bike theft, and cost of living is a problem… but despite this, it actually has a really strong tech startup scene that’s been growing for years. And it’s not like Seattle and the Bay Area don’t have issues with property crime and cost of living.

      1. Gary

        Al, I’m not being sarcastic. It’s things like this http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/nyregion/justice-denied-bronx-court-system-mired-in-delays.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 that make NYC not a great place to live. Seattle has like 1/100th of the crime problem that NYC has. And property crime against bicyclists is a big deal if you want to use your bicycle as your primary transportation. Yes South Lake Union rents are ridiculous but most of the rest of the city isn’t that bad.

      2. I’m not going to argue with you about whether or not NYC is a nice place to live. I don’t personally want to live there, and there’s no question it has lots of problems.

        But I don’t have to convince your stubborn ass it’s a great place to live. The fact is that people do want to live there (it’s the high demand for housing that causes the high cost of living) and it really, truly does have a hot tech sector. This is a fact.

        It’s not that people want to live there because it has bike lanes. People want to live there for all the reasons people want to live in great cities (culture, excitement, business opportunities), and a lot of the people that want to live there also want bike infrastructure. Fixing all the really big problems in NYC is expensive and complicated; bike infrastructure is cheap, good policy, and popular among young tech sector types. That’s it.

      3. Doug

        NYC’s overall crime rate/100,000 citizens is significantly better than Seattle’s. 2,200 vs. 6,400.

        And there are over 10 million people in NYC. Obviously, they are all not insane or stupid.

      4. Gary

        “high cost of living” it’s also the insane amount of money that can be made in the finanical business that lets people bid up the prices, as well as the rent control which limits the new appartments.

        But yes, it’s a Casey Stegal moment, “no one wants to live there because it’s too crowded.”

  3. Well I for one am outta here! On my way to Chicago for a much better job (yes tech, and semi start-up). There are many things I will miss about Seattle but there are many, many things I am excited about in Chicago. To start out my commute will be ~15 miles each way so I certainly won’t be losing any mileage!

    1. Gary

      Daniel Congradulations! Have fun in the “windy city”. And check back in a decade or so, by they we should have a bike line up 4th and one down 2nd and maybe we will have picked out the colors for our bike sharing system. Well we will have narrowed it down to three and will be having a vote that fall of 2023… :>

    2. Have fun in the greatest damn city in the world ;-). Whenever I walk down the LaSalle canyon or along the river I’m reminded what a pleasant little backwater Seattle is.

      On a cycling-related note, I was shocked when I moved to Seattle and saw people biking on sidewalks to avoid riding on the metal grating of bridges… in Chicago they paint bike lanes right on the grating. Balance or die. Also, don’t count on drivers yielding for you at crosswalks. That is Not A Thing in the midwest. And if you’re riding the Lakefront trail crossing Illinois Street (under LSD) don’t expect anything of anyone, least of all turning motorists.

  4. […] Maybe that’s why bike-friendly workplaces and corporate support of in-house cycling teams are becoming essential recruiting tools for many HR departments, especially when targeting Millennials (though it’s important not to assume that bike commuters are necessarily hardcore racers. Same sport but very different motivations and mindsets.) And we aren’t just talking about Silicon Valley either. […]

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