Are Bike Lanes Good for Small Business?
Even in 2018, bike lane proposals often get pushback and ire from businesses along their proposed routes. Businesses often think that by removing some of the most convenient parking spaces to their stores, business will decrease. Their primary concern is often an economic loss to their business, followed by congestion on the street front plaguing their street and deterring even more customers. Are these fears valid given the abundance of economic evidence?
The idea that most customers arrive by car in urban areas has been regularly challenged. The Downtown Business Improvement Association in Vancouver was initially opposed to the addition of bike lanes on downtown streets. But after surveying their customers, they soon realized that most shoppers weren’t arriving by vehicle to begin with. Of those that did, how many would be deterred by the lack of an immediately adjacent place? It is unlikely to be enough to significantly impact business, especially with the increases expected from encouraging passing cyclists to stop. According to an article by Cailynn Klingbeil in The Globe and Mail,
In 2010, the BIA raised concerns over the loss of 170 on-street parking spaces and how that would affect area businesses’ bottom lines. But an assumption held by many merchants – that most customers arrive by car – turned out to be false, Mr. Gauthier says. A 2011 economic impact study commissioned by the city and other associations, including the Downtown Vancouver BIA, showed most people walked, cycled or took transit to get downtown. Just 20 per cent of customers on Hornby and Dunsmuir arrived by car.
Studies have shown over and over that passing cyclists are “competitive consumers” for passing drivers, spending dollar per dollar what someone who drives a vehicle is likely to spend. As mode shares across North America show an increase in number of cyclists, more consumers will be passing these storefronts, giving them an economic advantage over their competitors, not a disadvantage.
In addition to that, slowing streets encourage discovery, which is key to the success of a small business that is unlikely to be a destination. An argument made by Glyn Bowerman in the Metro, says that much of the reason business improves is that more people are travelling at a slower pace along the street. The slower pace a bike lane brings to an urban street, like Bloor in Toronto, is ideal for supporting small businesses. He says,
“A predictable argument against Bloor bike lanes is “congestion.” It’s been made before, when the idea has been floated. To that I say: Bloor isn’t a highway. Arguing that major thoroughfares like Bloor are already too slow ignores the character of these streets.
Bloor is lined with small, independent businesses. Boutiques, looking to pique a passerby’s interest, line the strip. They’re looking to attract customers. You drive to the Ikea on the outskirts of town. You don’t drive to the artisanal cheese shop. Streets like Bloor rely on a slower pace.”
The trend in the data is clearly towards bike lanes supporting small businesses, but businesses may need more time to see the growth these lanes can provide. More bike lanes bring more cyclists, which in turn leads to more customers. As bicycle networks grow, small businesses may soon switch to lobbying for bike lanes instead of against them.