Bicyclists, Not Drivers, are the Better Consumers

Familiar with the perception that bicyclists are generally kids with no money and too much time? Emily Badger discusses the findings of a study that shows riders out-consume drivers over the course of a month for all businesses except grocery stores.

2 minute read

December 7, 2012, 6:00 AM PST

By Jessica Hsu


Santa Cruz cargo bike ride

Richard Masoner / Flickr

In the bike-friendly city of Portland, the government plans to encourage new riders by extending bicycle infrastructure to neighborhoods farther from the urban center. The problem, says Kelly Clifton, is "[a]s we move out beyond those areas into more auto-oriented areas, we start to see businesses say, 'Hey, wait a minute. You're taking away on-street parking to put in bike lanes, you're taking away the one parking spot in front of my store to put in a bike corral. I don't see many bikers around here. So what does this mean for me?"

For most business owners, drivers make up the majority of all customers. However, a study [pdf] conducted for the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium finds that drivers visit establishments less frequently than cyclists and pedestrians, who make frequent trips and end up spending more over a month. "This finding is logical," says Badger, "It's a lot easier to make an impulse pizza stop if you're passing by an aromatic restaurant on foot or bike instead of in a passing car at 35 miles an hour." This behavior doesn't apply to grocery stores where drivers with their greater trunk capacity outspend other travelers.

For the study, Clifton and colleagues surveyed 1,883 people walking out of convenience stores, restaurants and bars; and another 19,654 out of supermarkets. "There are obviously some other factors at play here," admits Badger. "Families with cars are less likely to eat out than single young professionals on a bike. And we'd all prefer that drivers run up smaller bar tabs than pedestrians." Clifton raises the possibility of the "green dividend," which means that Portland's green infrastructure allows people to save on transportation and direct their money towards other expenses.

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