Chicago’s bike infrastructure is growing. Learn how to incorporate it into your business

by Lydia Bhattacharya

With its grid plan and flat roads, Chicago has long been attractive to bicyclists, but new investments are helping to expand on its two-wheeled assets. The city has seen an increase in the construction of designated bike lanes, in part due to the Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan, the goal of which is to establish “a 645-mile network of on-street bikeways.”

Also, though it was initially delayed, bicycle-share company Divvy’s expansion is now on track for this spring. A representative from the company noted at a city meeting on March 4 that Divvy will add 66 stations, 12 hubs and 10 extra miles of bikeways. Much of this development is targeted for the South Side, which hasn’t seen nearly as much investment in this arena as other areas of the city.

A. Jordan Rothschild

But even before these infrastructural improvements, Chicago had already seen an increase in bicycle use. In its 2018 Regional Mode Share Report, Active Transportation Alliance noted that there’s been a “dramatic rise in bicycle commuting … growing from approximately 2,000 commuters in 1980 to over 22,000 commuters in 2016.” So is it time for real estate brokers to get in on the act?

Biking benefits for agents

Real estate professionals A. Jordan Rothschild and Lauren Traficanto are part of the city’s active bike community. They incorporate biking into their business, not only because it’s a carbon-neutral way to travel, but also because it’s complementary and beneficial to their work.

Rothschild has realized many benefits of biking that are specific to real estate professionals. The @properties agent founded Bike Home Chicago in March 2019 as a resource for clients who want to explore the city by bicycle. He’s found that “touring homes by bicycle is a better way to do it because you interact with your surroundings differently when you’re on a bike, and you’re able to access different areas of the city by bike that are not permitted by car.”

Lauren Traficanto

Traficanto, an agent with Compass Chicago, finds that incorporating biking into her day helps her expand her business. She said she was surprised by the amount of “houses and vacant land that I was able to contact developers on to maybe even offer to clients,” noting that she likely wouldn’t have noticed them from a car.

Rothschild noted that, because a lot of his showings happen after work when traffic is very heavy, biking is a more efficient method of transportation. “A lot of parts of the city have designated bike lanes which allow you to go much faster than the traffic would normally permit in a car,” he said. An added benefit Rothschild noted is that “touring for a home is a really stressful process and exercising has been proven to relieve stress and decrease anxiety.”

Steadying yourself on two wheels

To begin the process of incorporating biking into your real estate business, both Rothschild and Traficanto recommended taking some time to get comfortable biking around the city sans clients. Rothschild specifically suggested biking to and from the office once a week as a great start.

Traficanto said it took her “a long time to figure out which streets have bike lanes and which ones don’t.” She recommended using the bike option on Google Maps to get an idea of how to travel to specific locations. She indicated that Logan Square, Wicker Park and Bucktown were bike-friendly areas in her experience and are a good place to get started with biking in the city.

But it’s important to separate the tasks of navigation and biking. Rothschild warned that “biking in the city is a dangerous thing,” noting that, as a new biker, it would not be possible to safely “manage biking while also looking at a GPS.” Before establishing Bike Home Chicago, he had biked long enough to no longer rely on a GPS, allowing him to focus on safely leading his clients through busy streets.

Effects of biking on property values

Even if you don’t bike, research indicates that a thriving cycling community contributes to your bottom line. A report published by the Urban Land Institute in 2016 concluded that “real estate values increase with proximity to bicycle paths and walking trails,” and that there are “indications that [biking] will be a long-term trend.”

ULI specifically cited a study on the values of properties near the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, which opened in 2008 in Indiana. Since its establishment, “the value of properties within a five-block radius of this high-quality biking and walking trail has risen an astonishing 148%.”

Across the United States, cities consistently have the highest percentage of people commuting to work on bike across all age groups, meaning that access to bike-friendly streets is vital for a variety of clients in urban areas. A 2019 American Community Survey showed that in metropolitan areas, 1.5% of 16 to 24 year-olds commuted on bike, and just behind them, 1.3% of 25 to 44 year-olds did the same. The national averages for these age groups were 1.5% and 0.7%, respectively.

Individuals aged 25 to 44 who live in metropolitan areas were almost twice more likely to commute to work on bike than people in the same age group in the rest of the country. Similarly, while the number of people 45 and older who commuted on bike in metropolitan areas was relatively lower than the other two age groups (0.7%), it was still nearly twice as high as the national average for this specific age group.

Rothschild noticed that the draw of homes in areas that were once considered “very desirable because of their ZIP code” are now negatively affected “if their proximity is not within a 10-minute walk to public transit.”

Traficanto recalled a recent listing close to The 606 Trail where one of the biggest selling points was that homeowners could hop right onto the popular elevated walking and biking trail. “In 70% of my showings, accessibility [to the trail] was important to the clients,” she said. Additionally, clients often asked for the closest Divvy station, again highlighting the importance of access to bikes both for private use and for bike-sharing programs.

Traficanto also mentioned a trend in commuting that she has seen grow as bike-sharing programs become more accessible. “People are using rental bikes like a Divvy to get to train stops instead of driving. They just drop off the bike at a dock and avoid having to worry about parking.”

What the future holds

With new bike paths and a Divvy expansion on the horizon, now is an opportune time for real estate agents to get ahead of the curve and try incorporating biking into their work and life. Traficanto said she’d like to see more brokerages incorporate biking into real estate, perhaps by providing free loanable bikes to agents and clients at their offices.

Another important move would be to offer infrastructure for secure bike storage to encourage agents to bring their own bikes to the office. She also noted that if a client is looking for a listing near a Divvy station, but can’t find one, agents can look into requesting a station. “You can just go on their website and request one near your house,” she said, noting that planners give more weight to requests from multiple people, so it pays to seek support from others in the area. “If you give it a year, it could become a reality.”

Rothschild emphasized that biking is an important first step for moving toward a more sustainable metro area, and it’s one that the real estate community can have a major hand in. “It’s imperative that we begin to make choices that help our environment,” he said. “I hope that all companies prioritize environmental factors and work to slow and minimize the effects of climate change.”

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