The conventional wisdom assumes that massive transportation projects are far more economically strategic than bike lanes. But the release of two studies from two very different cities - Portland, OR and New York City - reveals that bicyclists and pedestrians may spend more than their peers who arrive at the same neighborhoods via automobile or public transportation.
Whether businesses reached out and made their locations more bicycle friendly, or streets were redesigned to include bike lanes, the overall outcome has been increased spending in local neighborhoods. Shoppers who arrive in urban neighborhoods via cars may spend more in one sitting--but overall those who arrived on foot or by bicycling spent more month to month. The results indicate that neighborhoods and business districts that seek a healthier bottom line should work with municipalities and support such features as protected bike lanes, bicycle racks and pedestrian safety improvements.
A study that New York-based Transportation Alternatives completed demonstrates the positive impact of bicycling in Manhattan’s East Village. Newly created bike lanes on First and Second Avenues led to a sharp increase in bicycle ridership in the study’s focus area. Such improvements are particularly important to women because they are less likely to commute by bicycle if a route lacks dedicated bicycle lanes. The result is a 24 percent rate of residents bicycling in their neighborhood; the average in all of New York City is only one percent. But those who traipse about the East Village by bike spend the most week-to-week at an average of $163 a week. Car users, on the other hand, fall behind with average expenditures of $111 a week.
Kelly Clifton, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Portland State University, found similar conclusions in her study of bicycling trends in the Rose City. Portland is one of the most bicycle friendly cities in the U.S., but business owners often have the perception that auto access equals dollars--and anything that possibly impedes auto access, capacity or parking will hit their revenues. Clifton, through surveying residents at various neighborhoods throughout the city, found the opposite. While customers who drive to various establishments may spend more money per visit, bicyclists visit the same venue more often, and spend more overall.
The findings of both surveys, particularly the one in Portland, show that bicycling is a win-win all around. Such benefits as exercise (in a country with a morbid obesity rate) and reduced emissions are obvious. But as is the case with many business initiatives with a focus on sustainability, targeting, welcoming and marketing to bicyclists makes solid business sense. The lessons of neighborhoods in cities from Fresno to Missoula, and neighborhoods in cities with established bicycle networks in Chicago, is that welcoming all visitors, instead of excluding some, strengthens communities--and bank accounts. The business case for bicycling has become an even easier one to make.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and covers sustainable architecture and design for Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo of protected bike lane in New York’s East Village courtesy Transportation Alternatives.