A Better Business Case For Bike Lanes
By Slow Streets
Every month across North America there are a large number of announcements about plans to unveil newly minted cycling infrastructure. Cities like Vancouver have been building this protected bike infrastructure for many years, yet despite this, cycling still struggles to be normalized and considered as a viable way of travel. Businesses, in particular can sometimes be the most vocal opponents as there is a perception that you cannot live your everyday life on two wheels.
There is overwhelming evidence and data to confirm that bike lanes are good for your City and good for business. While the results might not be immediate, transportation is a behavioural science and people eventually adapt to change. Moreover, despite mountains of data confirming the benefits of bike infrastructure, bikelash is still rampant when a city announces plans to build new infrastructure. The sky is falling and doomsday scenarios play out. Questions of infrastructure and space polarize into opposite camps – those for bike lanes and those who wish to preserve the status quo. Most recently this is playing out on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive, where the Business Improvement Association declared publicly that businesses and other property owners would be negatively affected by a proposed bike lane. Many of these claims are unsubstantiated and lack empirical evidence. Streets For Everyone, HUB and Price Tags have already challenged the veracity of these claims.
However, we would like to draw attention to two other positive impacts that are rarely highlighted in debates about bike infrastructure:
- Enhancing access for all road users yields new customers and potential sources of revenue;
- Don’t ignore the public space outside your business. Traffic calming is good for business.
1) Enhancing access for all road users yields new customers and potential sources of revenue.
Often businesses overestimate how many people arrive by driving. This notion plays out again and again in cities across North America. The reality for a mixed-use retail street is often that the majority of business patrons are people who arrive by walking, cycling and using transit. Moreover, research shows that people who walk and cycle often shop more often and spend more overall than people who drive, who often make large lump sum purchases. This means that by encouraging more people to walk and cycle, a business can also encourage a steadier stream of cash-flow. It is to the detriment of businesses to neglect the need for a safe, comfortable and inviting experience for the majority of people who shop by walking, cycling and using transit.
In this manner Commercial Drive is no exception. Commercial Drive and its surrounding neighbourhood of Grandview Woodlands is a community that favours active transport. Data from the 2006 census indicates that over 50% of people commute by bike, transit or walking. This data is a decade old and what’s not represented in this data is also the latent demand for new cycling infrastructure. In fact, Grandview Woodlands is considered one of the top cycling communities in Canada with nearly 15% of people commuting by bike. What is overlooked by the BIA is that there is significant potential for new sources of revenue. With so many people traveling by bike, enhancing bike access on Commercial Drive will allow for large numbers of people to visit Commercial Drive businesses safely and securely by bike. Many people choose to not cycle on Commercial Drive, seeking out an adjacent north-south connection (Lakewood and Woodland Dr.), simply because it’s too scary and uncomfortable to ride with traffic.
This is lost business for Commercial Drive businesses. It’s simply too scary to ride on Commercial Drive and riding on adjacent bike routes doesn’t permit window shopping and spontaneous purchases. If you wish to shop on Commercial Drive by bike, you are forced to know exactly where you’re going.
It’s more convenient to stop for a slice of pizza on your bike since you are traveling at much lower speeds than a car. As well you don’t have to spend 10 minutes looking for parking. This is more time that people spend shopping and enjoying the neighbourhood rather than looking for parking. Moreover, data indicates that people cycling do spend at equal levels or more with their driving counterparts. In short, the BIA should not downplay this potential to enhance the number of ways that people can access their businesses. Such high numbers of people cycling on Commercial Drive will provide a new source of customers.
2) Don’t ignore the public space outside your business. Traffic calming is good for business.
Don’t ignore the public space outside of your business. It’s an asset that should be cultivated and leveraged. This asset is often overlooked by the business community since it’s not directly indoors. Currently, the sidewalks of Commercial Drive do not offer a secure and pleasant place to stay or linger. Slow Streets found that Commercial Drive is a rather uncomfortable place for walking: sound volumes from traffic registered at 76DB, the equivalent of standing 15m from a highway. We also observed the activities of over 1,000 people and found that there was an apprehension to linger and socialize with only 14% of people observed doing so. We also noted that many people chose to socialize on side streets where they are protected from traffic rather than on Commercial Drive. In our observations 72% of people simply walked through the sample site. We suspect this is due to the loud noise generated by high volumes of cars.
Implementing a cycle lane will create a buffer between the sidewalk and fast moving and loud vehicular traffic. Commercial Drive has the highest number of pedestrian volumes outside of the downtown peninsula. These numbers are significant and were confirmed by Slow Streets with sample sites on Commercial Drive averaging 665 people per hour. There is significant business potential and untapped revenue here. The relationship is quite simple: people attract people and by providing a more comfortable place to stay or linger, this will serve as a magnet for socializing, hanging out and ultimately more spin off revenue for the adjacent businesses. This can already be seen by the Parklets on Commercial Drive which are often occupied with people.
By inviting people to stay and linger on the sidewalks of Commercial Drive, businesses could see an increase in revenue. In short, traffic calming is good for business. The sidewalks and public space outside of your business are a critical asset that can serve as a magnet to attract people. A bike lane will encourage people to spend time on the sidewalks on Commercial Drive because the public space is more comfortable. Reductions in automobile speeds and volumes reduce the noise people experience at the sidewalk. The public space outside of a business should not be ignored or neglected. It is a significant asset that businesses should leverage to their full potential, especially in a fine grain retail environment like Commercial Drive.
The evidence from the abundance of bike lanes opening across North America continually confirms that bike lanes are great for the bottom line of businesses. We hope that these two positive impacts provide further evidence that bike lanes and public space are in line with the interests of local businesses. Small scale retail is what makes living in a city interesting. Focusing on ways to make the space outside of these business more comfortable for all road users can help local businesses flourish and grow.