Cycle lanes are good for retail

31 May 2016

Retailers have stepped into the arguments over cycle lanes recently. Some fear losing parking spaces means losing custom. But properly designed cycle lanes and pedestrianised streets benefit shop-owners along with the rest of us.

New Zealand is coming late to the realities of congestion in industrialised nations. Nowhere is this more evident than in the debate about how we use our roads.

In the middle of hyperbole about Lycra-clad crazies vs. lazy planet-killing car drivers, some retailers have expressed fears of losing on-street parking spaces to cycle lanes. The argument is that less parking means fewer people stopping to shop. Could it drive people from high street shopping to the expansive car parks of the malls?

The cycle lanes through Henderson’s Central Park Drive and Wellington’s Newtown area have both attracted this criticism. Similar rumblings are being heard around the Rapanui – Shag Rock Cycleway and the Papanui Parallel Cycleway, both in Christchurch.

Thankfully there is growing evidence from here and overseas that retailers have nothing to fear from creating cycle-friendly roads, and in fact are likely to benefit.

Here are some examples from around the world (original list courtesy of: citylab.com

  • New York.A study in East Village found: “Convincing evidence that improved accessibility and a more welcoming street environment created by these projects generate increases in retail sales.” The installation of separated bikeways on 9th Avenue saw a 49% increase in retail revenues post-construction.  A neighbourhood survey of 420 people on First and Second avenues in Manhattan’s East Village found that aggregate spending by non-drivers accounted for 95 percent of all retail spending in the area.
  • Seattle, Washington.Sales skyrocketed on a street after a bike lane absorbed 12 street parking spaces.
  • Los Angeles, California.Replacing car lanes with bike lanes had “little effect on surrounding businesses, property values, and customer shopping patterns”. 
  • San Francisco, California.A survey of 1,187 shoppers in major retail centres found 60% arrived by transit, walking, or cycling. The researchers also found non-driving shoppers spent more per month than drivers. They visited the area more often.
  • Davis, California.A study of nearly 1,900 downtown shopping trips to a Target department store found cyclists made slightly more trips than drivers did. They also spent more per trip
  • Portland, Oregon.An analysis of 78 businesses found that non-drivers, including cyclists, are “competitive consumers, spending similar amounts or more, on average, than their counterparts using automobiles.” Cyclists spent less than drivers on grocery trips. They spent more at restaurants, bars, and convenience stores. The cyclists spend less per trip, but they make more trips.
  • Toronto, Canada.A survey of a shopping area found only 10% of patrons drove there. Those arriving by foot and bicycle spent the most money per month.
  • Dublin, Ireland.Retailers overestimated how many of their customers arrived by car and underestimated the number of bicycle shoppers. On a street with improved bike access cyclists spend nearly as much as drivers. 
  • London, England. A review of commercial centres concluded that retailers vastly overestimate the role free parking plays in their success.
  • Bristol, England.Retailers overestimated how far away customers lived and how many of them arrived by car.

A 2013 New Zealand study found evidence sustainable transport users make up 37% of travellers but contribute 40% of the income to shopping areas. “This suggests that, in many cases, the benefit of encouraging more sustainable transport journeys to shopping centres outweighs the cost of reallocating space and improving the urban design in shopping centres.”

The New Zealand Transport Agency’s Urban Cycleways Programme is working to make that happen. And that’s one of the reasons why the Sustainable Business Network created the Bike 2050 project.

Together with AECOM, Fulton Hogan and other key stakeholders, we are working to make urban cycling a viable transport choice, including by developing cycling infrastructure that works for everyone.

We have to make this transition to a multi-modal transport system – trains, buses, bikes, and of course cars. It is unavoidable. It may not be completely painless. But the benefits, for everybody, far outweigh the costs.

New Zealand’s population is growing. More people are moving to the cities. They all have to get around somehow. Even with projects like the Auckland City Rail Link, a lot of that is going to have to be at street level for the time being.

Bikes need less space than cars. They produce less pollution. They keep people healthy. They beat public transport over short distances. You can go direct from door to door for free whenever you want. Electric bikes now go 32 kilometres an hour, whizz up hills, and mean you get where you want to go, no sweat.

There will still be many cars in the transport system of the future, but many more of us are going to be cycling in the future. Retailers and businesses who prepare for that now will be reaping the benefits long into the future.