Ed. Note: Our Bicycles are Business series profiles businesses which incorporate bicycles into their services, or cater to customers or employees arriving by bicycle. Companies and organizations are increasingly discovering that bicycles make sense for their bottom line. If bicycles are integral to your business, let us know by contacting Max.
It’s hard to say what the name “Local Initiatives Support Corporation” brings to mind. An imposing corporation inhabiting a glistening office tower? A sinister, vaguely-named outfit providing financial backing for a James Bond villain? Bicycles? That’s actually closer. Try a community-oriented development corporation whose work aligns beautifully and naturally with bicycling.
The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) – launched in New York City in 1980 and Philadelphia in 1981 with help from the Ford Foundation and others – lends its support to community development projects in 30 urban areas around the country through loans, grants and other forms of investment. Focusing on rehabilitating lower-income areas and building sustainable communities, its Philadelphia office has facilitated the investment of over $353 million in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, spurring almost $1.3 billion in total development and resulting in 7,789 new or rehabilitated homes and 1.7 million square feet of retail and commercial facilities.
Those are some big numbers, and they’re great for the city, but what does it all have to do with bicycles? The answer is simple: commuting! Philadelphia LISC has an office culture of biking to work, to meetings, and to development sites. Deputy Director Dana Hanchin explains the rationale behind the choice. “Because of the work we do and the types of individuals attracted to this type of work, [cycling] was already part of how many of us relate to the urban environment. Staff agrees that it is more convenient, efficient and less expensive to transport ourselves by bike than any other form of transportation.”
Philadelphia LISC needs to understand the neighborhoods in which they work. Bicycling is the best way of doing that, and staff regularly bike to meetings and field visits. Hanchin reports that more often than not it’s quicker to hop on the bike than to take public transportation.1
Hanchin says the benefits to Philadelphia LISC staff extend beyond efficiency and cost savings to improved mood and fitness:
Philadelphia LISC encourages bicycle commuting by providing facilities. Their building at 718 Arch Street allows them to store their bikes inside, and there are shower stalls if needed.2 This ability to store bikes was actually a make-or-break issue for one recent new hire. “[She] stated that negotiating where to store her bike was a threshold issue upon accepting the position. If she wasn’t able to take her bike inside, she would not have taken the job,” says Hanchin.
This fosters a workplace culture where experienced bicycling staff teach newcomers the ins and outs of Philly biking. “One staffer accompanied a new co-worker on her first test ride to work, which really inspired her to start riding her bike more often.” Biking has become so contagious, in fact, that the staff is considering having a communal floor pump installed in the office, and the two-wheeled goodness is rubbing off on just about everyone. With the organization having recently taken on three new interns, two have already made the decision to begin biking to work.
Hanchin’s involvement in bicycling goes well beyond her workplace. She has been active in the Philadelphia cycling community for over 20 years, particularly with road racing. She founded Sturdy Girl Cycling in 2003 – Philadelphia’s first women-only recreational and racing club – and is a Category 2 competitive cyclist, having won Philadelphia’s Best-All-Around Masters Women Championship Series. If that’s not impressive enough, she also serves on the Board of Directors at Gearing Up, a non-profit organization that works with women in transition from abuse, addiction and/or incarceration and helps them with the skills, equipment and guidance necessary to safely ride a bicycle for exercise, transportation and personal growth.
Having played such an integral role in the Philadelphia cycling community – and being an avid bike commuter for so long – Hanchin knows how simple it truly is, and how critical support and adequate infrastructure can be for those who are just starting out.
Hanchin sees good signs in the state of cycling in the city as well. “Philadelphia, as a whole, seems to have warmed up to the biking community. More bike lanes would always be nice, but we are happy with the rate at which Philly is progressing in regards to cycling. All in all, biking has shortened staff commutes and broadened our knowledge of the city.”