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Cornelius News

Life cycle: Report puts positive spin on biking


By Dave Yochum. The new Bike! Cornelius master plan, which will be unveiled in April at a Town Board meeting, says there are powerful economic benefits from a system of bikeways and trails, as well as a bike-friendly approach to planning and traffic management.

For example, following the opening of the Greenville, S.C., Swamp Rabbit Trail in 2011, most businesses along the trail saw a 30 percent to 50 percent increase in sales after the trail opened, and businesses that relocated to the trail reported as much as a 90 percent increase in sales.

Scott Higgins, vice chairman of the town’s Parks and Recreation board (PARC), moved to Antiquity in 2014 after retiring from a long career at Western Carolina University, as dean of the graduate school, a professor of healthcare administration and chief research officer, enjoys biking—and staying fit—at the age of 68.

“Living small is the new living large”

– Nick Elhini

He bikes as much as he possibly can; this in a town where 95 percent of survey respondents are either “intimidated” or “cautious” in their approach to biking in 28031.

The town, with the help of Alta Planning + Design, a national cycling and economic development consulting firm, hopes to change that. Alta has also consulted with Davidson, a nationally designated Bike Friendly community, which has landed top-drawer employers like MSC Industrial that seek to hire today’s younger, active and upwardly mobile worker.



Another Antiquity resident, Nick Elhini, is a top sales representative for a cloud-based enterprise software provider. An avid cyclist, he is 37 years old.

He said his generation looks at life and work differently, partly because social media and the Internet have made them more socially aware.

“We ride our bikes to farmers markets to buy organic produce from local farmers. We choose to share common areas instead of having sprawling lawns,” Elhini said.

“Living small is the new living large,” he said.

Of course, Elhini and his wife live in the same neighborhood as Higgins and his wife—the Higgins in a townhouse, the Elhinis in a two-story, single-family home.

Hip is different these days, even for 68-year-olds. The notion of retirement in an isolated oasis—think Sun City in Arizona—is very 1999. Golf courses are no longer rad or boss, especially as time becomes more precious, and senior housing is more like ordinary housing. Think Epcon’s Courtyard neighborhoods for active adults on Jetton Road extension and the new one being built on Nantz Road at West Catawba.

“People like to do a lot of things, not just one thing. … The time factor is a decision point in how we all use our time,” Higgins said.

He also has considerable economic development experience as the Western Carolina University representative on the Jackson County Economic Development Commission.

Cornelius, of course, is missing out on tourist revenue. The new beach at Ramsey Creek Park is sure to help, but tourists, not just kids, millennials and active adults, like to bike.

“People, when they come here, want to go places on bikes,” Higgins said.

In the Outer Banks, according to Alta, bicycling has a positive annual economic impact of $60 million, supporting no less than 1,400 jobs. The Alta report also says:

  • 12 percent of vacationers report staying three to four days longer to bicycle.
  • 43 percent of vacationers report that bicycling is an important factor in their decision to visit.
  • 53 percent of vacationers report that bicycling will strongly influence their decision to return to the area in the future.

John Cock, who runs the Alta regional office in Davidson, said there is a variety of economic development benefits around a more pedestrian- and bicycle friendly approach to growth:

Infrastructure projects create eight to 12 jobs per $1 million of spending. Road infrastructure projects create seven jobs per $1 million of expenditures.

Congestion is very real in North Mecklenburg. On average, each car commuter spends roughly 40 hours and over $800 per year waiting in traffic. Cock, himself, bikes to work in Davidson.

The American Community Survey estimates that 600 Cornelius households do not have access to a vehicle; 14 percent have access to only one.

Baby Boomers are retiring where they can get to things by car, bike or walking.

Of course, this all costs money, although some bike- and pedestrian-friendly changes are virtually free.

Take speed limits, for example. Around the country, communities are now reconsidering lower speed limits, the Alta report says. Cities as diverse as New York City, Burlington, Vt., Miami Springs, Fla., and San Mateo, Calif., have recently implemented speed limits of 25 mph.

“While some larger arterials in Cornelius are likely to keep higher speeds in keeping with their role in regional travel, many arterial collector streets are appropriate for reduced speed limits,” the Alta report says, including Jetton Road, which is already enormously popular with cyclists ranging from children to seniors.

Other bike facilities are more expensive, ranging from about $25,000 a mile for signed bike routes and shared lane markings to $130,000 and more per mile for bike lanes, buffered lanes and paved shoulders.

How much the town is willing to spend to become more bike- and pedestrian-friendly is anybody’s guess. But Higgins said with efforts to improve downtown and Main Street, along with an arts center, a more humane approach to traffic and people is likely.

It apparently appeals to the millennial generation—the largest in U.S. history—which will be buying the Baby Boomers’ houses. A big game changer in terms of marketing, employment and transportation, they are choosing methods of transportation that are the most practical including public transit, biking, and walking in deference to the traditional automobile.

“Future demands require transportation planners, elected officials and business leaders to create multi-modal plans which include public transportation, bike lanes and pedestrian walkways which provide connectivity and access,” said Bill Russell, CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.