Thursday is the deadline for proposals to host Amazon’s second North American headquarters. The Sacramento region and more than 100 other communities are set to bid.
Amazon wants to locate HQ2 in a metropolitan area with a population of 1 million or more and a tech-friendly business environment – and also on site with “sidewalks, bike lanes, trams, metro, bus, light rail, train, and additional creative options to foster connectivity.”
The message from Amazon is unequivocal: The ability to travel conveniently by bicycle (and by walking and public transit) is a requirement for any city that wants to build a thriving creative-class economy.
Amazon’s vision is clear by its current headquarters in Seattle and that city’s growing network of routes and protected lanes designed to make bicycling convenient, safe and comfortable for people of all ages and abilities. Seattle ranks fifth among large U.S. cities for commuting by bike, with about 3.5 percent of commuters.
Portland topped the 2016 ranking with 6.3 percent commuting by bicycle, while Sacramento ranked 13th with 1.9 percent. Sacramento bicyclists will finally see the city’s first 20 blocks of protected bike lanes next spring, but continuous bike routes remain a long-term goal.
In 2012, as he cut the ribbon on a protected bike lane running north through the Chicago Loop, Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared: “You cannot be for a startup, high-tech economy and not be pro-bike.” While Chicago ranked 14th in bicycle commuting in 2016, just behind Sacramento, its share grew by 21 percent over the previous five years, while Sacramento’s fell by 13 percent. Despite how much Sacramentans say we love riding bikes, we love driving even more.
Despite the long odds of winning HQ2, making ourselves competitive is a worthy effort that can serve the employers and companies already here. The city of Sacramento is trying to attract thousands of new housing units in the downtown core, but that will help attract new creative-class employers only if it creates a connected downtown grid where more people can bike, walk and use public transit. Amazon, Seattle and Chicago are showing us how to get there.
Jim Brown is executive director of Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.