Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Fulton Area Shoppers Prefer Bike Over Car

We're always talking and writing about bike-friendly business districts, so we were pleased to see coverage from Streetsblog of biking on Fulton Street in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill where we recently wrapped up a retail market study for the  the Fulton Area Business Alliance and Pratt Area Community Council.

On street parking is so coveted by business owners that the shear thought of removing the spots for bicycle infrastructure such as protected bike lanes or public plazas sends many into panic because those spots are often assumed to be directly associated with increased business and revenue. The findings of a recent study may help to calm business owners' nerves. The FAB Alliance and the Pratt Area Community Council surveyed 477 people on Fulton Street this summer and found that the vast majority of shoppers arrive without a car. 

Image: FAB Alliance and Pratt Area Community Council
The results of the survey show that only 15% of respondents used an automobile to access Fulton Street to shop, which is even less than those that typically bike to the area to shop (either by their own bike or CitiBike). This may be an isolated set of data but it adds to the growing strength of argument toward bike-friendly and multi-modal business districts.

A 2011 study by Kooshian and Winkleman, "Growing Wealthier," notes market trends now favoring mixed-use, walkable and bikable town centers and neighborhoods. They also note that businesses profit from bicycle and pedestrian facility improvements, time savings, and healthcare cost savings, referencing Gotschi's “Costeffectiveness of Nonmotorized Transportation Investments as a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategy.” 

The point to drive, or in this case walk or bike, home here is that with a growing number of shoppers walking and biking, car-centric streets could be a thing of the past.  

Friday, December 5, 2014

Some Roads Should Just Go on a Diet

Bigger is better right? By and large the answer is no. Bigger is not always better when addressing roadways that run through commercial corridors.  In many places where LOA works, the challenges of a too wide street - one designed for cars but not for people or even bikes - undermines local businesses who see traffic speed by, unlikely to stop.

The problem of too wide streets is rampant throughout the nation. This issue came up recently for us...LOA is currently working on a project in Chicago where the large berth of the street was simply too cumbersome and unnecessary. And when we looked at traffic counts we found that there was actually much less traffic on a road that was clearly designed to handle much more. So, what to do with so much excess "fat"?  We suggested that roadway go on a road diet.

“Road dieting” is a term applied to “skinny-ing up” streets into leaner, more productive members of society. The ideal roadway candidate, as Burden and Lagerwey, of Walkable Communities Inc, note in "Road Diets: Losing width and gaining respect," is often a four-lane road carrying 12,000-18,000 auto trips per day. But as many of you know, road diets can be controversial in places where people think that a narrower road means more congestion - but in most cases the facts simply do not bear out.

Before and after Road Diet pictures. Image source:
Before we get to that, first back to Chicago. Our work resulted in a few key recommendations, the first included removal of a dedicated rush-hour lane (a parking lane that was converted to a travel lane only during rush hour - making it impossible for drop-in customers to stop by and therefore hurting local businesses). What we found that that although the street was perceived as a busy thoroughfare, data suggested otherwise: 13,300 Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) counts (between North Pulaski Road and North Kedzie Avenue) put the traffic flow as moderate to relatively low.

With low-traffic counts, we knew that the replacement of a single rush hour lane with on-street parking would not only allow customers to stop more easily - picking up food or convenience items on their way to or from work - but that it would also result would be slower speeds for motorists in general. Narrowing the flow of traffic and adding bike lanes – aka a “road diet” - would help address some of the concerns that residents and businesses have with the sometime excessive speed of motorists who pass through the area. And taking this a step further by adding a lane for bicyclists would add another transportation option  for a low-income community with very low car ownership rates.

Much safer corridor for all. Image source:
Public safety has always been a proponent of change for urban development and planning, this case is no different. A reduction in a lane or lanes, a road diet, can reduce unsafe driving, excess speeds, and serve as a street calming mechanism. Burden and Lagerwey note "crash rates and severity of conflicts with autos result in almost certain death (83% of pedestrians hit at 40 mph die)".  Four lanes of traffic are difficult to cross for pedestrians and uncomfortable/dangerous for cyclists. Furthermore, businesses that might benefit from co-location across the street from another business never accrue the benefits because for most pedestrians, they might as well be miles away.

In addition to safety, a road that has dieted sees change in commercial activity around the road. The change can increase value of existing properties and some cases costs of reconstructing roadways are repaid in as little as one year through increased sales tax or property tax revenue.

Image source:
Even high-density urban downtowns can go on diets. San Francisco, as seen in the image to the left, envisioned a downtown along Sixth Street with a more pedestrian and cycling friendly environment with continued on street parking.

In an opposite regard, a study by Thomas Welch “The Conversion of Four-Lane Undivided Urban Roadways to Three-Lane Facilities” demonstrates the problems and negative outcomes associated with increasing road sizes from a slimmer two-lane road to a wider four-lane road.  Welch notes it led to increased accidents, increased speeds, increased corridor delays, and increased injuries.  Not the results people want or expect - sometimes slimming down is the best remedy for the health of your commercial district.

If you want to read are some additional readings:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Holiday Best Practices and Innovations for BIDs

After Halloween things really start heating up for Business Improvement Districts as the weather really starts cooling down.  Consumers are expected to turn out in large numbers, as usual, this holiday season to make it a successful shopping period.  To help these shoppers, BIDs can go above and beyond the typical lights and banners to make the shopping experience all that much more memorable and enjoyable. 

Commercial District Advisor has composed a list of best practices, or innovations as well, that BIDs can enact this holiday season in late November and December that will give every shopper, whether the family looking to have a memorable experience or the last minute shopper with just a few minutes on their hand.

Valet Parking
Valet parking could provide shoppers, whom might be seeking the convenience or time saving, with the convenience of getting straight to the shopping, dining, or entertainment without the hassle of finding parking at this busy time of year. The Springfield Business Improvement District will be providing a “Park with Ease” valet parking initiative this Thanksgiving weekend in two locations to assist shoppers painlessly to and from their destination.

image via
Santa: Not Just at the Mall Anymore
Even though BIDs don’t have an indoor plaza to host a Santa Claus a la indoor malls, they can still find an available space such as a current vacancy or safe open plaza in their BID to host a Santa Claus to draw in those that would want the iconic and memorable experience with Santa. Steinway BID in Queens, NY did just that in 2013.

Santa Gift Giveaway
Gift giveaways can attract a large crowd of enthusiastic patrons.  The Fordham BID in the Bronx is hosting their 10th annual holiday event with Santa, free gifts for the first 600 kids, free raffles, music and activities. This event also kicks off a 2½ week 10% discounted shopping program starting Dec. 5 with 60 stores participating. Further, Fordham BID has tied the event into their broader digital marketing program with a phone app and a mystery gift registration through Eventbrite.

Pa-Rum-Pa-Pum-Pum, Not Ba-Hum-Bug
image via Atlantic Ave BID Facebook
Carolers can provide that heartwarming seasonal entertainment that shoppers are looking for.  In addition, a group of singers like an elementary school or local church children’s choir can pull parents and family to the BID for support.  Atlantic Avenue BID in Brooklyn performed in 2013 in the Boerum Hill neighborhood and in the past many local Harlem churches caroled in the 125th Street BID in Manhattan. Other BIDs can take Madison Downtown BID’s lead with Saturday seasonal entertainment:

Special Holiday Transportation
image via
Maneuvering the streets quickly to get that “I gotta have it” toy or just sharing a memorable experience with others can be a meaningful thing for holiday shoppers.  They can complete both or either by riding a special seasonal transportation such as a decorated bus or trolley around the district or corridor.  This especially comes in handy with unsafe or inconvenient sidewalks such as ice, snow, or bad weather.  Madison, WI Central BID provides a Downtown Holiday Shopping Trolley for its shoppers:

Coat Drive or Coat Give Away
Often times coat donation bins in cities are dilapidated or possibly untrustworthy, so it is nice to connect holiday shoppers with the idea of giving back by offering and promoting a coat drop off bin or coat drive within the BID like the Granville
image via Granville BID
 BID.  And in the giving spirit, Southern Blvd BID in the Bronx is distributing new children's coats in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx on December 17th. Yonkers Downtown BID mixed giving with pleasure by offering an event that combined a coat drive with a mixer, "Collective for a Cause."

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

LISC Announces the Chicago Business District Leadership Program

Chicago now has its own leadership program for Business District Leaders! The LISC Chicago Business District Leadership Program is now accepting applications. Click here for more information and how to apply.
The brochure for LISC Chicago's
Business District Leadership Program

Led by LISC Chicago, and developed in collaboration with Coro New York Leadership Center and Larisa Ortiz Associates (LOA), the Chicago program is based on the award-winning Coro New York Neighborhood  Leadership (Coro NL) Program. The LISC Chicago Business District Leaders program is  a 6-month experiential learning program that combines leadership and skills development for mid-career professionals who manage commercial districts.

Over the past year, LOA has worked closely with LISC Chicago to build the case for this program. We realized early on that the need for a Chicago-based professional development program for business district leaders was particularly acute. The City of Chicago collects over $22 million in public funds on behalf of the City’s 44 Special Service Areas (SSAs are the equivalent of BIDs). The City of Chicago also provides funding to 154 non-profit “Economic Development Delegate” Agencies, many who provide services similar to SSA's. Yet many of these practitioners lack the formal training or soft skill sets necessary to ensure that the public funds they manage are producing tangible impact on the business districts they serve.

The problem is not limited to Chicago. Nationwide, there very few places where practitioners can go to gain or maintain the hard and soft skills demanded of their positions. Nor are there many opportunities to build the strong peer-to-peer networks that are so vital to the success of local economic development efforts. The need for training is particularly important for practitioners who work in weak markets, many of whom are charged with leading change in neighborhoods with limited resources, while balancing high expectations from the community and agencies that fund them.

For Chicago-based practitioners, this is an exciting opportunity. At the end of the day, the most effective practitioners are those that are able to influence the stakeholders over whom they have limited authority. Think of the local politician who holds the purse-strings for local capital improvements, or the property owner who can do what he likes with the ground floor of his property. Building relationships with and engaging those partners, and successfully getting them on board with the commercial district vision, is perhaps the single most significant challenge that practitioners face. 

As the Director of the Coro NL Program during its inaugural two years, I was truly inspired and thrilled to see the impact on the group of 40 practitioners who made up the first two classes. The Coro leadership philosophy had a powerful impact on each and every participant - including myself as director. Even though I was only an observer, it was impossible not to come away from each session inspired. Each and every month I would leave a Leadership Day excited by the insights I had gained into my own leadership challenges and the growing recognition that at each and every stage in our professional lives we could use some tweaking and improving. By now, over 80 New York practitioners have gone through the program and I can safely say that they are changing the face of New York and the communities they serve for the better. I am encouraged to see Chicago follow suit!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Can you quantify the economic impact of your corridor?

Atlanta's historic Peachtree Corridor
Advocating for resources on behalf of your commercial district can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. The challenge is often made more difficult by the fact that political will is often predicated on voter interest in an issue - and when most voters don't live in the district their interests may or may not align with corridor revitalization efforts. Yet as many of us know, our commercial districts are the economic engines that keep our local regional economies humming.

To counteract this problem, some communities are commissioning research that can demonstrate the value of the corridor to local and regional economic development. A study commissioned by three Community Improvement Districts (Atlanta Downtown ID, Midtown ID and Buckhead Community ID) three independent organizations that all service portions of Atlanta's 8.5 mile "Peachtree Corridor" is a good example of simple fiscal analysis that proves significant impact.

What they found should give leaders pause the next time investments in economic development are concerned. With only 3.7% of Atlanta's land, the corridor services 58% of all jobs (70% in the professional, science and technology sectors) and 37% of the City's total real estate values. Ensuring that the corridor remains strong and healthy is critical to ensuring that the City can continue to provide all of its residents with the vital services they need, from police to education to trash pickup. Making this connection crystal clear to community decision makers is a critical component of successful advocacy. With the report recently issued, local newspapers have picked up the story ("City Boosters to State: Peachtree is a vital artery", Atlanta Business Chronicle, Nov. 17, 2014). Here is another hint, it's not enough to write the report, you need to make sure the people know about - so don't skimp on the PR!

To see the report, click here.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Murals: Resurgence and Placemaking in Commercial Districts

Beautiful. Inspiring. Informative. Vibrant.  These are just a few words that describe outdoor murals and streetscape art which are now seeing resurgence in popularity and importance.

Advertisement murals were the original streetscape murals.  Starting in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s they advertised and promoted brands from horse saddles to biscuits and typically painted on brick.  Frank Jump, a NYC based photographer, chronicles these ad murals (

Photo credit Sarah Goodyear via
Taking the lead of Chicago’s muralists, whose work received national publicity at the end of the 1960’s, cities across US saw the potential of powerful public imagery as murals were an important devise for perhaps even novice painters to express themselves and have a voice in their community. 

Here at the Commercial District Advisor we are on board with encouraging BIDs, business corridors, and communities to add murals, whether for advertisement or public art, to their streetscapes in order to add soul, personality, and life to their areas.  A study of Philadelphia commercial corridors (Econsult, 2006) found the Mural Arts Program (MAP) had demonstrated and positive effects on retail sales along the corridors where they were placed. The murals addressed and rectified visible signs of physical degradation and also decrease the perception of crime, both critical factors in commercial revitalization.

The good news is that we are seeing a growing trend of variable forms of murals and streetscape artwork, including:
Image by Commercial District Advisor
The research further supports the impact of murals on local conditions. Murals help to avoid “dead zones” of nothingness on the walls, this in turn reminds pedestrians where they are and gives them a safe and inviting feeling (, 2008). Also, evidence points out that graffiti murals are a cost effective way to keep surfaces free from vandalism and create visual cues to residents that the place they call home is desirable (Verel, 2013). 

Seeing suggestions turned into action...

Image from, Michael Craig-Martin, Art Production Fund
In some communities, murals are a wonderful way to beautify the physical environment, keep surfaces graffiti free, which in turn decreases the perception of crime. A few years ago, our firm, together with LISC MetroEdge, completed a retail strategy analysis for La Casa de Don Pedro.  Since then, our mural recommendation has driven a host of initiatives on the street, and this week La Casa is celebrating “The Gates Project”, which resulted in vibrant advertising murals on storefront gates.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Secret to Macy's Success?

Whether you shop at Macy’s or eschew national chains in favor of local flavor, the work that this massive department store is doing to renovate and reposition their flagship store in Herald Square offers a number of lessons for commercial district practitioners. A $400 million dollar renovation coincides with some changing on the ground dynamics, including more tourism from Brazil and Asia and high end competitors like Nordstrom entering the market and grabbing those high end dollars. 

With that said, I really enjoyed this recent piece in the NY Times ("For Macy's, A Makeover on 34th Street", 10/1) which covered a number of basic concepts that we frequently use in our work. The most important concept they discussed was the need to dig deep and really understand your customer, and then tailor your merchandise and price points to fit those preferences. In fact, market research is the framework upon which much of this $400 million reinvestment is being made. At Macy’s, knowing their customer means stocking a wider variety of black leather tote bags in recognition of the larger number of office workers who work in midtown. Or offering Asian tourists more options in smaller sizes. Or finding ways to offer foreign tourists looking for prestige “American” brands the things that they want. In practice that means carrying more Ralph Lauren Polo, Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors, all classic American clothing brands. And while they are going upscale to meet these customer's expectations, they haven’t given up on price conscious customers. Macy's continues to offer coupons in weekend circulars. 

With 2.2 million square feet Macy’s is a shopping district onto itself, in fact, if it were a shopping center it would be classified not simply as a mall, but a “Super-Regional Mall” (which average 1.2 million square feet – so this Macy’s beats that average by nearly double!). This means that there are many stores within the store – and each seeks to meet the needs of customer with very specific expectations around price points and merchandise mix. This is why you can go to the shoe section (larger than a football field!) and find black boots differentiated by price and brand, ranging from $69 dollars to $229 to $1,160. Truly a store that offers a little bit of something for the customers that it already has and wants more of.