IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Bike lanes may benefit small businesses

Small businesses in New York City near bike lanes have seen a boost in sales, according to a Department of Transportation report.
Small businesses in New York City near bike lanes have seen a boost in sales, according to a Department of Transportation report.Matt Nighswander

Retailers use many strategies to get consumers to spend, like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but two recent reports found that sales can be boosted by something as simple as bike lanes.

“When people travel by bike, they tend to eat, shop and play more locally,” said Martha Roskowski, a spokeswoman for Bikes Belong, a consumer advocacy group

Though conducted by two different organizations, in different cities, the studies found similar results.

"Measuring the Streets" demonstrated that small businesses in New York City near bike lanes “have done very well, especially when compared to borough-wide averages,” the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT), which issued the report, noted. Along Ninth Avenue in Manhattan, for example, sales grew “by as much as 49 percent on portions after DOT installed the city's — and nation’s — first parking-protected bike lanes there in 2007, 16 times the borough-wide growth,” according to the report.

A common concern among small-business owners is if car parking is taken away, it will negatively impact sales, but “if public spaces are made more attractive and more vibrant, people will spend money, and businesses will do better,” said Roskowski.

 “Consumer Behavior and Travel Mode Choices” found that people in the Portland, Ore., metro region who drove to bars, convenience stores and restaurants often spent more money per visit than bicyclists, but bicyclists visited the same venue more often, and spent more overall.

“There is a perception that bicyclists sit in coffee shops all day and don’t spend,” said Kelly J. Clifton, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Portland State University, and the report’s primary investigator. Portland is considered one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the country, but Clifton said “it is highly likely this study’s findings would yield similar results in other places.”

The studies are important because they confirmed what has long been suspected but not proven. “To date, we have not had the data,” but these reports, Roskowski said, “are data driven, and take it out of the realm of emotion.”

Bikes Belong provided a small amount of funding to the Portland study.

John Pucher, a professor at Rutgers University’s Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, said that he was not surprised by the studies’ findings, which confirm his own review of studies across the globe. “There’s no question there are enormous economic benefits of cycling.”   

In addition to the substantial health benefits resulting from the cardiovascular exercise of cycling, “biking can save individuals up to three months worth of salary,” that is used to buy, insure, drive, park, repair, and maintain a car. “It’s a tremendous cost for the average American, about $10,000 a year per car," said Pucher, who is co-author of “City Cycling,” published earlier this year by The MIT Press.

Policy makers are generally aware of the environmental benefits of biking, he said, but reports like these will likely convince them that cycling “is good for the bottom line, too.”

Cities like Austin, Memphis, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington are also seeing links between economic growth and bicycling trends, Bikes Belong said.

Creating bikes lanes and bike parking “is a rational, practical thing to do,” said Roskowski.