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Economic benefits of sustainable streets

Courtesy of Atlantic Cities, it’s explained how New York City’s Department of Transportation has done some pretty detailed analysis of the economic impacts of many of the changes they’ve been making to the layout of streets over the past few years.

Using tax data from the New York City Department of Finance, the DOT analyzed the impact of street re-design and transportation enhancements on retail businesses. Laid out in “The Economic Benefits of Sustainable Streets” [PDF], the data show encouraging results in seven test cases taken from three of the city’s boroughs, representing a wide range of neighborhood types.

The DOT compared sites where a variety of improvements had been implemented by the DOT to spots nearby and with the borough as a whole.

Overall, the numbers revealed broad economic benefits for the streets that had been changed. One example was Columbus Avenue, a busy shopping boulevard on the city’s affluent Upper West Side. There, the DOT had built a protected bike lane and pedestrian safety islands while narrowing travel lanes for motor vehicles. According to the tax data, revenue was up 20 percent over the baseline in the second year after bike lanes were implemented in the area.

In the comparison area immediately to the south without bike lanes, revenue was up 9 percent. The results are particularly interesting because a handful of vocal shopkeepers in the affected area had reported sales were down, leading to media reports that the lanes were bad for business.

This wasn’t just an isolated case either:

Another test case was the Hub, a congested and chaotic intersection in a working-class neighborhood of the South Bronx, where several subway and bus lines come together. DOT’s main improvements here were changing traffic patterns and improving transit connections, along with better pedestrian signals, crosswalks and shade trees.

Retail sales were up 50 percent by the end of the study period, compared with 18 percent in the borough as a whole, “all while area injuries were reduced and vehicle travel times and volumes were maintained.”

And even where parking was removed to improve bus reliability and travel times, there was also an improvement of economic activity:

On Fordham Road in the Bronx, where the implementation of a “Select Bus Service” express route and dedicated bus lane raised concerns among local merchants about lost parking spaces, sales increased 71 percent over the baseline, far better than the numbers for all but one of the comparison areas.

The DOT report acknowledges that it’s difficult to tease out all the different factors that contribute to a street’s economic health. In at least one of the test areas, a beautified Vanderbilt Avenue, overall gentrification – with all of its collateral damage to less affluent residents and business owners — was doubtless a contributor to a steep rise in sales numbers. But the NYC DOT’s data-driven approach is as valuable when it comes to money as it is when it comes to safety.

Business owners in a tough economy are often wary of any kind of change, especially when it reduces parking or changes their customers’ travel patterns in any way. Numbers like these provide yet another powerful rational argument for street design that puts people above cars.

This last point is key (and perhaps some business owners are starting to realise the value of high quality pedestrian environments). Changes to street layout that puts people above cars provides a valuable economic return – over and above what is often expected by business owners and the organisations that often represent them.

We’ve seen the same change happen in Auckland, with the introduction of a shared space in Fort Street leading to massive increases in sales and economic performance of the area. Conversely, High Street seems to be in terminal decline because retailers there have hung onto their pitiful on-street parking and the terribly narrow footpaths it creates, fighting attempts at creating a shared space.

15 comments to Economic benefits of sustainable streets

  • Well some retailers, fashion retailers in particular, fought tooth and nail to keep driving and parking in High St. Many of those very shops have now left. Will the remaining ones still fight change? And fight it elsewhere, like Ponsonby Rd?

    http://transportblog.co.nz/2013/09/13/ponsonby-rd-masterplan-feedback-extended/

    http://transportblog.co.nz/2013/10/01/parking-in-ponsonby/

    • Greg N

      And didn’t a few of those shops move from High Street, down to the Britomart Precinct, which its more pedestrian friendly environment?
      And is in fact an (Auckland) example of the very type of street environment what they actively opposed to getting when they were in High St?

      Can’t recall the last time I went to High Street for any reason, even to drive down it to get somewhere else.
      Granted I’m not the target market for any of the shops that are left there.

      But I’ve been to the Britomart Precinct area many many times in the last few years (usually involving a train trip as well), and I’ve even bought stuff there.

      So build it (properly) and they will come.

      • Feijoa

        I went to grab a few things on High Street for Christmas. I can report that there was congestion – foot traffic that is. I’d much rather that than the horrible chaos in a Westfield car park, but it doesn’t make High St a nice place to go for a stroll and look at the shops. There are some enlightened shop keepers, the others will eventually realise what they’re missing out on, and change will come.

      • I find myself on High Street relatively often but mainly as a thoroughfare by bike to get to the Library or for a haircut at my regular near Khartoum Place. There are some great bookstores and actually a few fashion places that would be (occasionally) places I might shop, but I find the current streetscape massively offputting.

    • Sacha

      Didn’t realise High St retailers had been resisting streetscape changes. Any earlier links I may have missed?

  • Dan C

    do it here

    do it now

  • Greg N

    I think that Remuera is another area that needs something done and fast.

    BigWheel pointed out recently how nasty Remuera is these days, and to be fair, the northern side of the Remmers road is a nasty traffic environment.
    No Bus priority or even clearways in the peak direction on either side.

    The southern side of Remuera Road is not so bad with its recessed parking bays around the trees but thats only 1.5 blocks in reality and the rest of it especially the northern side is basically a traffic racetrack with 1.5 usable lanes (plus on-street parking) with no clearways. It make a trip trough Remmers at peak times something to endure not look forward to or stop and shop at.

    And given that Newmarket is just 2 kms down the road you have to wonder if with the current road layout, the Remuera Business association is not wondering if Remmers is simply too close to Newmarket to be able to survive longer term without pedestrian friendly changes.

  • bbc

    I’m quite sure AT will 0of course request a study to see whether this happens in Auckland, along with one on whether people on bikes buy things are or just pests to be swatted, or whether the earth is flat or not. Nothing that happens overseas is applicable in NZ because NZers are somehow different.

  • OrangeKiwi

    It’s not just high-end fashion shops that are leaving, Rakinos on High St for example has closed its doors this week partly because of competition from Britomart (the main reason I believe was a struggle to keep their lease in a building that requires earthquake strengthening, but certainly having competition from a succesful ped-friendlier hospo and retail area with good transport links wouldn’t have helped their cause a bit.) Now, can you hear that wooshing sound? It could be either Britomart sucking the life out of High St, or the Dollar notes that are flying out of the pockets of change averse High St retailers while they’re out on their tiny footpaths speaking and reiterating the words “pesky two-legged vermin, begone!” under their breath like a mantra. Probably both.

  • TheBigWheel

    I had a look at the latest OLB minutes just now.. http://www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/EN/AboutCouncil/meetings_agendas/local_boards/Pages/orakeilocalboard.aspx in the attachments to the September minutes there’s a 14 MB file which includes a consultants’ report on the town centres and local centres in the OLB area.

    The report acknowledges the demographics of the OLB area and the particular influence of retires and baby boomers, and conclude that without attention, these centres, and the retail businesses located in them risk long term decline and failure if they do not “stay relevant and attract new customers, rather than simply appeal to an ageing customer base”. This is particularly true of Remuera and St Heliers, both areas of loud and organised resistance to change.

    Depressingly, the report’s authors scarcely mention the streetscape as a factor that could possibly help the businesses, and the OLB themselves seem content to note that pedestrian numbers are reasonable. There are no references to cycling or pedestrian amenities, instead only this pithy advise to business owners:

    “If you want to encourage more traffic through your store, offer something free (and valuable) to customers that visit. This could be a small item: it could be a service such as free car parking”. This having earlier advised not to copy shopping malls but to develop attactrive and locally relevant benefits instead.

    As far as I can tell this is a serious report though I could be persuaded that it is an ironic attempt to accelerate the decline of places like Remuera.

  • Changes to street layout that puts people above cars provides a valuable economic return

    Actually, that would be financial return, not economic. There’s a difference between the two that most economists (especially the ones in Treasury) haven’t worked out yet and as long as we’re chasing financial returns and profit our economy will never be sustainable and you can count on global warming getting worse.

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