Bike lanes are often the subject of controversy and criticism, and often unrightfully so. New research has shown that, rather than being a waste of money, they help to boost the local economy.
A new report released on Wednesday by New York City’s Transportation Department finds that one clear and perhaps under-the-radar benefit of bicycle lanes, pedestrian plazas, and rapid-transit bus systems is that the businesses that are located near this infrastructure often experience a significant increase in customers.
“These projects are not just about the quality of life or aesthetics,” Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner, said in a phone interview. “In case after case, these projects really do set the table for economic development.”
The report was created after analyzing data provided by the Department of Finance, primarily sales figures from small businesses in the areas around the new infrastructure. Apparently, larger chains couldn’t be included in the analysis because they report receipts centrally, rather than by individual location.
“On Ninth Avenue, where the city has installed protected bike lanes, businesses from 23rd Street to 31st Street have seen a 49 percent increase in retail sales, compared with a boroughwide average of 3 percent over the same period, the report said.”
That is a significant increase, and correlates very clearly with the new transit infrastructure.
And where a plaza and protected bike path were put in on the north end of Union Square, there has been a 49 percent drop in commercial vacancies. The borough average for the same period was an increase of 5 percent in commercial vacancies.
“In Brooklyn, where a parking area on Pearl Street was converted into a plaza, retail sales have increased 172 percent for neighboring businesses, compared with 18 percent throughout the borough.”
The report also linked improvements in bus service with economic improvement. There was a 71 percent increase in retail sales along Fordham Road in the Bronx. According to Ms. Sadik-Khan, faster rapid-transit buses and the increased ridership that they’ve brought were most likely bringing more customers to the local businesses.
“Everybody’s got an opinion,” she said, “but we have the data.”