Bike Lanes Are Good for Business. Why Don’t Business Owners Believe It?

Proposed bike lanes often come up against opposition from local merchants who believe losing street parking will hurt their business, but research repeatedly shows the opposite effect.

2 minute read

February 1, 2023, 9:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Cyclist rides down green-painted bike lane in Manhattan, New York next to small businesses with colored awnings

Spiroview Inc / Bike lane in New York City

“There’s a rising mound of data showing that installing bike lanes and making streets more pedestrian-friendly boosts the economic fortunes of a place. Removing cars and parking spots works,” writes Clive Thompson in Wired. But, for some reason, “the folks who run local businesses simply aren’t convinced, even when their own street performs.”

Thompson outlines multiple studies demonstrating the positive effect of bike lanes on local business. “The truth is that in fairly dense areas, bikes are more efficient at moving people around. You might lose one car driver’s business—but you gain shoppers who now can arrive more easily on bikes.”

So how to explain the blind spot? “Perhaps it’s that attention gravitates to horror stories—and some merchants do get shafted when bike lanes come in.” For a few, the majority of their customer base does drive, or they themselves drive to their businesses.

Thompson also explains the negativity bias that pervades the debate. As Henry Grabar (a Slate writer whose work makes frequent appearances on Planetizen) puts it, “People who have trouble finding parking always talk about it,” whereas people who have no trouble arriving don’t mention it. “So storeowners will understandably build up a sense of parking as an out-of-control problem, while the uptick in pedestrians or cyclists may not register.” 

The COVID-19 crisis may have opened the door to more acceptance of converting curbside parking to other uses as business owners and customers realize the benefits of more space for seating, dining, and active transportation, in many cases making pandemic-era changes permanent.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023 in Wired

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