A new research study from Virginia Tech’s Mobility Lab found that the vast majority of local businesses near five of the busiest Washington D.C.’s Capitol Bikeshare stations can’t tell if the stations have had any economic impact, but largely view them as having a positive effect on the neighborhood. Only 10 percent perceived an increase in store foot traffic and 20 percent, an uptick in sales, due to the installation of nearby stations. None of the 140 local businesses surveyed near the most-heavily trafficked stations thought they were negative for their business though. Washington, D.C. has the 2nd largest bikeshare system in the U.S., with 300 stations.
Planning professor Ralph Buehler and grad student Andrea Hamre say previous studies demonstrate bicyclists spend more than car drivers, creating a more positive economic impact in their local economies. One study in Portland, Oregon, found that while car riders may spend more per trip, bicyclists visit nearby stores more frequently and therefore make up a “larger share of overall per person spending.” Another analysis by Smart Growth America showed that the installation of a new bike lane boosted sales in the stores along one street in San Francisco by 60 percent. Still more reports have surveyed the sentiment of businesses near new bicycle lanes and found businesses are uniformly positive about this infrastructure and other amenities like bike corrals, parking, curbs, etc. However, until their own study, no research had actually tried to quantify the local economic impact of bikeshare stations and their use.
Sending out graduate students to survey more than 600 local bikeshare users, they found that “73 percent of respondents were motivated to use CaBi because of shorter travel times, while 42 percent reported enjoyment, 41 percent reported exercise, and 25 percent reported lower travel costs.”
Some 66 percent of bikeshare users traveled to a destination where they expected to spend money. Of those, 63 percent planned to spend $10-$49 and 30 percent planned to spend more than $50. The researchers found that most users would spend money at businesses near CaBi stations, with 39 percent reporting spending would occur within 2 blocks of the station and an additional 40 percent indicating spending would occur within 4 blocks. According to the research, about 16 percent said they wouldn’t have made the trip had a CaBi station not been nearby. (While interesting, these figures would have been made more useful had they been compared to the amounts pedestrians, regular bicyclists, and car users expected to spend near the same stores).
As for the 140 businesses surveyed, the vast majority didn’t know whether CaBi had any effect on customer traffic levels, just 10 percent perceived an increase. About 20 percent thought that CaBi had directly and positively impacted sales, while the rest were unsure or neutral. The good news may be none thought CaBi hurt their sales. The vast majority of businesses (70 percent) also thought CaBi had a positive effect on the neighborhood. The rest weren’t sure or neutral. Again, no negative perceptions.
Here’s where the CaBi bike rubber hits the road though: almost 60 percent of businesses wanted more CaBi stations put in, but only “22 percent said they would have a positive reaction to replacing sidewalk space with a CaBi station and additional 26 percent would be neutral.” This means more than half thought sacrificing sidewalk space for CaBi stations was a bad idea. In addition, only “29 percent of businesses would have a positive reaction to replacing car parking and an additional 32 percent would be neutral about removing car parking in favor of a bikeshare station.”