Uncovering JAPA

A "Wheely" Good Way to Save Commercial Corridors

Adding Bike Lanes Can Boost Customer Spending

With the decline of traditional retail, commercial corridors must discern how to increase foot traffic and customer spending if they hope to stay in business. They need to offer an experience that cannot be easily matched by online retailers. Yet, as these spaces struggle to adapt, the public realm — which once contributed to their success — is undergoing its own changes.

Increased interest in biking has led cities to restructure their streetscapes, replacing areas once lined with cars with bike lanes. For some, this signals the end of the downtown shopping experience. Fewer cars, they propose, leads to less foot traffic, fewer sales, and shuttered storefronts.

However, this might not be the real outcome.

In fact, bike lanes may lead to increased economic activity in commercial corridors as authors Daniel Arancibia, Steven Farber, Beth Savan, Yvonne Verlinden, Nancy Smith Lea, Jeff Allen, and Lee Vernich find in their article "Measuring the Local Economic Impacts of Replacing On-Street Parking With Bike Lanes" in the Journal of the American Planning Association (Vol. 85, No. 4).

The authors’ study focuses on a segment of Bloor Street in Toronto, Canada, where the city removed a total of 136 on-street parking spots for one year as a part of a citywide pilot program. The authors explore the impact of these bike lanes on local businesses through four primary means: estimated customer counts from merchant surveys, estimated spending and visit frequencies from visitor surveys, and vacancy counts.

Along Bloor Street, customers reported spending more money than they had previously. This was true for customers generally, but also for cyclists and even drivers specifically. Overall, the street benefited from increased visitor frequency among individuals surveyed after the installation of the bike lanes. From the merchants’ standpoint, Bloor saw an increase in the daily number of customers served by each business.

While commercial vacancy rates did not improve, bike lanes did not worsen the ability of businesses to succeed. This is consistent with measurements taken from credit and debit card transaction data, which showed an increase in local spending on Bloor Street of 4.45 percent, compared with 2.21 percent at Danforth Avenue (a nearby control site).

Figure 2 from "Measuring the Local Economic Impacts of Replacing On-Street Parking With Bike Lanes" in JAPA (Vol. 85, No. 4).

(A) Estimate of average customer spending per customer per month on Bloor Street. (B) Estimate of average customer spending per customer per month on Danforth Avenue, control site. (C) Average number of customers served per weekday per merchant on Bloor Street. (D) Average number of customers served per Saturday per merchant on Bloor Street. From "Measuring the Local Economic Impacts of Replacing On-Street Parking With Bike Lanes" in JAPA (Vol. 85, No. 4).

Overall, the authors discover that bike lanes may improve economic activity along commercial corridors. And while the authors caution against the generalization and application of their work to other commercial streets, they create the possibility for future research.

Perhaps more importantly, they demonstrate that whether through academia or practice, planners have the potential to make profound contributions to the built environment, contributions that have meaning in the lives of the people around them.

The Journal of the American Planning Association is the quarterly journal of record for the planning profession. For full access to the JAPA archive, APA members may purchase a discounted subscription for $48/year, or a digital-only subscription for $36/year.

Top image: Bike lane on Bloor Street in Toronto. Photo courtesy City of Toronto (CC BY 2.0).


About the Author
Kyle Miller is a joint Master in Urban Planning and Master of Public Health candidate at Harvard University.

May 7, 2020

By Kyle Miller