Doing street improvements for pedestrians and cyclists increases sales by 30 percent. So why aren't cities doing it?
Over the years we have shown many studies proving that people who walk and cycle actually buy more stuff than people who drive. Now Carlton Reid, writing in Forbes, points to a recent study by Transport for London that confirms that walkers come way more often and spend up to 40 percent more. Reid quotes TfL's director of strategy:
“This research from our new online hub shows the link between creating enjoyable spaces, where people want to spend time, and the results for better business.”
The study also shows that street improvements make a huge difference, increasing the number of people walking by 93 percent, doubling the number of people going into shops and cafés, reducing retail vacancies and increasing rents.
This is at a time when many stores on main streets (or high streets as they say in the UK) are closing, and it seems like every second store is a social agency's second-hand shop. As Reid confirms:
London's Walking and Cycling Commissioner Will Norman said: “With businesses across London really struggling to survive, we have to do everything we can to support them. Adapting our streets to enable more people to walk and cycle makes them cleaner, healthier and more welcoming, which encourages more people to shop locally."
This message is such a hard sell in car-dominated cities. In Toronto where I live, they are redesigning the Main Street in town to be a car sewer without bike lanes, because they don't want to slow those suburban drivers down by two minutes. Meanwhile, downtown where there is a pilot project that puts people and transit before cars, they pander to the local business community that claims the pilot hurt their trade, when data show that the opposite was true.
Writing in the Atlantic about empty storefronts in New York City, Derek Thompson notes that people come to cities for more than just work. "they want access to urban activity, diversity, and charm—the quirky bars, the curious antique shops, the family restaurant that’s been there for generations." But many are closing due to the impact of online shopping and the the lure of the suburban big box store.
They might also be closing because the streets are such horrible environments, with sidewalks that are too narrow and cars everywhere, pollution at toxic levels and horns honking constantly. Perhaps if retailers would read studies like this one, they would demand fewer cars and less parking but instead, more sidewalk and more bike lanes.