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New study asserts that building bicycle infrastructure does not harm local businesses

Reallocating street space to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians is usually contentious, and a common concern is in how it will impact local businesses. The usual fear is that removing lanes or parking will reduce the number of car-driving customers, and that biking and walking customers won’t pick up the slack. A new paper examines the data and finds little evidence to suggest that these fears are founded.

You can read the full paper here: Economic impacts on local businesses of investments in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure: a review of the evidence by Jamey M. B. Volker & Susan Handy.

Taken together, the 23 studies we reviewed indicate that creating or improving active travel facilities generally has positive or non-significant economic impacts on retail and food service businesses abutting or within a short distance of the facilities, though bicycle facilities might have negative economic effects on auto-centric businesses (like gas stations, auto repair shops, auto parts stores, and large home-goods stores). The results are similar regardless of whether vehicular parking or travel lanes are removed or reduced to make room for the active travel facilities. Overall, the available evidence suggests that fears of disastrous consequences for local businesses are unfounded.

The paper takes past studies and examines the patterns among them. Each study is modeled differently, so the aggregate results are a little complicated, but even a skeptical eye will have a hard time finding any overriding negative effect of adding biking and walking infrastructure. At worst, it’s a neutral force.

When we advocate for improving our streets for biking and walking, it’s important to remember that our opponents may have reasonable concerns. Certainly, it does seems logical for a business owner to worry about his or her customers who typically park their car in front of the store. We can’t convert everyone, but studies like this can be a valuable tool to help us communicate with, and gain trust from, some of the skeptics.

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