Report: Bike Lanes, Pedestrian Plazas Good for Businesses

By Ted Mann

Source: Wall Street Journal

Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal
A cyclist waits in the middle of the street on 2nd Avenue and 58th St during a ride.

City officials are fond of asserting that their changes to the New York streetscape are making pedestrians, cyclists and drivers safer. Now they are debuting a new ream of statistics to make a related point: those bike lanes, pedestrian plazas and slow zones have been good for business, too.

In a new report released Wednesday, the city Department of Transportation analyzed the retail activity around some of the first of its major street projects, like the protected bike lanes on 8th and 9th Avenues, rearrangement and enlargement of the north side of Union Square and addition of curbside seating areas in lower Manhattan.

The result, the DOT contends, has been a boom in retail activity, seemingly linked to the way its experts have tried to improve the city streets.

Using data from the city’s Department of Finance, the DOT found an increase of as much as 49% in retail sales at “locally based businesses” on 9th Avenue from 23rd to 31st Streets since the bike lane was initiated in the fall of 2007. In that time, retail sales increased only 3% in the rest of Manhattan.

The DOT data was compiled using sales tax collection records, Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said, and excludes chain stores and other non-retail businesses.

The DOT reported a drop of commercial vacancies of 49% in the area around the new pedestrian plazas and reconfigured traffic flow at Union Square, and a jump of 71% in retail sales along Fordham Road in the Bronx, where the city has launched Select Bus Service, cutting travel times and boosting ridership even as citywide bus usage has slowed significantly.

The report is part of a slow-motion hard sell from Sadik-Khan and Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the streetscape changes, which have been criticized by some would-be mayoral successors, journalists and others. The pair rarely miss an opportunity to mention the city’s sharply declining rates of traffic fatalities and have argued that demand is strong in the city’s neighborhoods for traffic-calming devices, bike lanes and select bus lines.

“I think you’re starting to see the cumulative effects here,” Sadik-Khan said, having already seen the changes provide “the safest streets for a hundred years.”

“Now you’re starting to see the cumulative effects for economic development,” she said.

The DOT report shows a correlation between the investments like the Manhattan bike lanes and Pearl Street seating plaza and a rise in retail activity. It is not clear from the data presented by DOT that the street improvements are the cause of that jump, but Sadik-Khan believes that is the case.

“I think what we’re finding is they work,” she said. “They make the streets work better.”

Sadik-Kahn, who is also president of the National Association of City Transportation Officials, will continue to press that case this week at a three-day conference on street design at New York University’s Kimmel Center, where U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will speak Wednesday morning.

Bloomberg will follow with a keynote address on Friday.