Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Does Bike Infrastructure Help Local Businesses?

Bicyclists on Valencia Street in
San Francisco are a common sight
With the inaugural run of NYC CitiBike well underway, Nicole Leighton, LOA's newest staff member, takes a look at how bike lanes and other bike infrastructure can help drive retail sales for local businesses. 

By Nicole Leighton

I recently returned from a trip back to my home city of San Francisco. While I’m there I typically bike much, much more than I do in New York. I bike almost daily to do errands, go shopping, and meet up with friends or family. While much of this difference can be attributed to New York’s comprehensive subway and bus system that usually makes it the most convenient choice, another main reason I love biking so much is San Francisco's welcoming bicycling environment. The City offers cyclists the infrastructure and the culture that make cycling fun, easy and convenient. While NYC has been adding tons of great improvements to its bicycle infrastructure, the culture has some catching up to do with SF.
Having worked at LOA for many months now, I couldn't help but apply a retail lens to my cycling habits. Every time I ride my bike somewhere, I end up spending money—sometimes planned, often not. Sometimes I ride my bike to go grocery shopping, while other times I’ll just take my bike out to enjoy the weather, and end up stopping at a store with inviting window displays. I knew I knew I couldn't be the only one who does this, and found a few studies that reinforce the linkages between cycling and spending habits.

One study in 2003 surveyed 27 businesses randomly chosen along Valencia Street in San Francisco, a corridor that I often frequent. After bike lanes had been added to the street, 37.0% of respondents said sales were better and none said sales were worse. Of respondents, 55.6% reported a positive effect on area residents shopping locally, and 44.4% reported an increase in new customers coming from outside the neighborhood. A similar study was released more recently by NYC DOT, which studied the effect of the protected bike lanes on local businesses in the Chelsea neighborhood. The study reported an up to 49% increase in retail sales for locally-based businesses on 9th Avenue from 23rd to 31st Streets--compared to a borough-wide average of 3% for the same period!

Anecdotally, I know that walking or biking by stores makes people much more likely to shop on a whim than when in a car (or on the train). Especially with the launch of the bike share system here in NYC, it will be increasingly important for commercial corridors to consider all modes of transportation and users of the street when creating an inviting shopping environment, including cyclists. This doesn’t only mean bike lanes, it can also include smaller amenities like bike racks or perks like discounts to customers with helmets. (Tip: anyone can suggest a location for NYC DOT to add a free bike rack here.) With the launch of Citi Bike, I’m really hopeful that an increase in bikes on the road will create a more prevalent and welcoming biking experience here in my second home city.


  • Emily Drennen, 2003. “Economic Effects of Traffic Calming on Urban Small Businesses,” Department of Public Administration, San Francisco State University.
  • NYC DOT, 2012. “Measuring the Street: New Metrics for 21st Century Streets”

Nicole Leighton is a recent graduate of Barnard College with a degree in Urban Studies. She has been with LOA since Sept. of 2012 and currently serves as a Summer Associate.

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