In Seattle, Bike Lanes Are Good for Business

The debate on whether new bike lanes help or hurt business among street-level retail stores, bicycle advocates, local transportation departments, and politicians is nothing new. Seeing the same problems come up again and again, Seattle Transit Blog guest columnist, Kyle Rowe, University of Washington, set out to shed some light on the situation by “utilizing taxable retail sales data” to show what actually happened in Seattle neighborhood retail districts when bike lanes and other bicycle infrastructure were added. In his report called Bikenomics: Measuring the Economic Impact of Bicycle Facilities on Neighborhood Business Districts, Rowe argues that bike lanes have had a positive economic impact there, at least in the areas where the research was conducted.

In the Seattle case study, Rowe attempted to “bridge that gap in knowledge” by using public retail sales data to show what happened to neighborhood business districts when bike lanes and other facilities are constructed.

In the first example, Greenwood Ave N, the area “performed very similarly to the neighborhood-wide control, while differing slightly from the neighborhood comparison” after the bicycle lane was put in. Basically, there was no down-turn in retail sales.

But for NE 65th St, the bicycle lane appears to have dramatically improved sales in the area. According to the study, two business quarters after the construction of the project (and removal of parking), NE 65th St “experienced a 350 percent increase in sales index, followed by a jump to 400 percent” in the next quarter.

Though many factors could lead to the increase of sales in the second example, the study showed the addition of bicycle lanes had no negative effect on businesses in the districts.

However, there are still other reports that dispute the positive effect of bike lanes on retail districts. In a 2011 survey of select retail stores on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, customers claimed they couldn’t find parking and businesses complain about delivery issues. “Parking tickets are up,” according to an article in The New York Times, “and business, apparently, is down.” To counter these claims, NYCDOT released a report in late 2012 claiming that businesses saw an improvement in retail sales of up to 49 percent if they were near protected bicycle lanes. This data, however, related to a three-block strip of 9th Ave. Otherwise, there was only a 3 percent boost Manhattan-wide.

There are also disputes related to bikeshare infrastructure. In another clash in New York City, one CitiBike rack placement was recently deemed not kosher after a Chelsea co-op filed suit against the NYCDOT. According to a New York Post article, city attorney Mary O’Sullivan “compared the placement of CitiBike racks to designating streets for alternate-side parking or making a street one-way.” In other words, bad for parking and business.

But without real data, retail stores have a hard time proving that putting in bike lanes or other infrastructure directly loses them business, just as planners struggle to prove the opposite.

A simple Google search can throw you into either side of the debate, depending on which link you click. Rowe’s study is a great start. If a study like this was in every city that regularly makes updates to their bicycle infrastructure, the obstacles for bicycle advocates might not be so widespread. More research is also needed on the types of bicycle lanes with the biggest economic impact.

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator.

Image credit: Seattle Bike Lane / Seattle Transit Blog

3 thoughts on “In Seattle, Bike Lanes Are Good for Business

  1. ubrayj02ubrayj02 08/28/2013 / 3:31 pm

    Cullen McCormick in Los Angeles studied York Boulevard and found the same effect of bike lanes not impacting retail sales. He went several steps further and also found no impact to property values, new business starts, retail vacancies, etc. in his study, “York Blvd. Economic of a Road Diet”.

  2. pabart 09/05/2013 / 10:59 pm

    There was some research about when the bike share scheme was introduced in Brisbane, Australia, which tended to show that having a bike park outside your business was beneficial as it allowed traffic / passers-by to get a view of the merchandise inside the store, unimpeded by a parked car.

    The other issue with cycling over cars is that cyclists move slower, see more, and have the ability to easily park and engage with a store owner. Does it mean that a slower mode of transport means a better engagement with the surroundings?

    If so, it might change a lot of negative perceptions about bike riders.

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