The business benefits of bikeways
OPINION: With the new Major Cycleways coming to Christchurch, a major trade-off in many locations will be the removal of on-street car-parking (on one side or both) to provide enough space for separated bikeways. Already we are seeing some concerns being raised in both suburban and CBD cycleway proposals about loss of parking.
While it's important to appreciate the role of car parking for businesses, and to accommodate the needs where possible, it's also important not to overstate the role of adjacent on-street parking to businesses.
Nobody has an absolute right to any carparks on the street, whether they're in front of your place or not. The Christchurch City Council's District Plan states that any land use is expected to provide a certain number of parking spaces off-street. However, businesses in certain shopping areas pay cash-in-lieu to help fund public parking facilities instead.
Businesses may object because, often, passing trade is considered a large part of their livelihood. Therefore they will perceive that removal of adjacent carparks will reduce their business. How justified are those concerns?
Various pieces of international research have looked into the effects of converting parking space to bikeways. Numerous studies from Australia, US, Canada, etc are very consistent: replacing on-street parking with a bike lane has little to no impact on local business, and in some cases might even increase business. In New York for example, the installation of separated bikeways on 9th Avenue saw a 49 per cent increase in retail revenues post-construction. NE 65th St in Seattle, observed a three-fold boost to sales after replacing parking with a bikeway.
*Tension as car parks make way for cycleways in central Christchurch
*Christchurch, city of cyclists
* Editorial: Do motorists really make better shoppers than cyclists in central Christchurch?
Some argue that either (a) people who don't drive are usually less wealthy and thus spend less, or (b) people who don't drive can't carry as much and therefore don't spend as much. Although a number of studies found that cyclists (or other non-driving customers) tend to spend less per shopping trip than drivers on average, they also tend to make more trips, cancelling that out.
With less expenditure needed to maintain their car, people who bike regularly have more spare money left to spend on other goods and services. Non-driving patrons also tend to be better at supporting local neighbourhood businesses, thus keeping more money local.
Another common misconception is that most of a business' customers are arriving by car. However, unless you're a petrol station, that has also typically been found to be false (especially in the central city), with other travel modes outnumbering those driving.
A New Zealand Transport Agency study looked at the effects of reallocating road space from parking to other uses in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. As with other studies, the slightly lower average spend by those on bikes was counteracted by the more frequent visits, and thus they contributed a higher economic spend proportionately to their modal share.
Interestingly, the study asked both retailers and shoppers what they perceived to be the most important factors in a shopping area. While the retailers' top three was "on-street parking, off-street parking, pedestrian crossings", for customers it was"landscaping, frequent bus services, pedestrian crossings". Transport issues appear to be secondary to the availability of particular types of shops, as was exemplified by this quote from a shopper: "I don't go to the shops because of the parking; I go because there might be a quirky antique shop. You go to an outside shopping district because of a particular shop."
Another recent local study investigated demand for parking vs cycleways in a Wellington retail area (Tory St). The survey of ~600 people found about 60 per cent per cent of non-cyclists supported sacrificing on-street car parks for a cycle route, citing concerns for cyclist safety and the stress of sharing roads with them. A separate survey of shoppers on-site found only 6 per cent had used on-street parking in front of the relevant businesses.
In summary, if a new cycleway replaces some existing parking, businesses will continue to receive custom from pedestrians and bus passengers walking in, and probably attract even more new customers by bike (especially if you add some bike parking). Where will the car visitors go? Probably either:
- Use the typically under-utilised off-street car parking.
- Park 50m away, across the street, or around the corner and walk 30 seconds.
- Hop on their bike and try out the new cycleway.
All of this is also irrelevant if your business is well known for its good or unique products and services – if it's that good then people won't shift to somewhere else just because they can't get a carpark outside your door.
Dr Glen Koorey is a senior lecturer in transportation at the University of Canterbury's Department of Civil and Natural Resources Engineering. He specialises in road safety and sustainable transport. An expanded version of this article first appeared on cyclingchristchurch.co.nz.