Many of our streets are rapidly changing around us, and with that change brings understandable concern for people running businesses in those areas. Yet more and more residents are beginning to see the need to make our places more people friendly. To show why, we lay out the wealth of research and evidence around us that demonstrates why it is economically beneficial for traders to demand less parking, and streets designed for people, not cars.
Running a business is tough. High-street retailing is one of the toughest, and never more so than if you’re an independent shop. Even bustling, lively high streets around Glasgow are seeing shops and restaurants come and go far too frequently; overheads are high, margins are tight and competition fierce.
Yet we have a finite amount of road space, and to increase foot traffic to your premises, to grow your business, the solution we’ve seen from street changes around the world, is to use it more efficiently.
We look more into the detail on parking to come, but when it comes to available space, cars are drastically inefficient at moving people. Bike lanes, when separated from motor traffic and connected to a network, have the potential to bring 5x more people to a high street than private cars. And don’t forget pavements – where pavements have the same widths as a road lane, they can shift 10x more potential customers. The more attractive you make your pavements, free from dangerous moving traffic and the noise and pollution it brings, the more people on foot will want to linger.
There is a lot of evidence that shows that when people arrive at a high street by foot or on bike, they stay longer in the area, and spend more too. No parking meter clock watching, or scurrying into a shop with the engine running; people naturally drop into each business as they pass by. They shop more, and more people visit.
Plus there’s the trade concentrating effect of on-street parking. Offer a parking spot outside the door of a favourite shop, and guess where people will try and park? Often they’ll circle the block waiting for it to become free. Yet move the parking provision, and people visiting by car pass through more of the street on foot. A visit to a single shop now becomes a sales opportunity for dozens of businesses.
There are other advantages too. Like being able to offer dedicated space to those who really need it: expanded provision for disabled visitors; and proper loading bays that are built for the task. We’ve dedicated a majority of road space to cars in a city where the majority of households do not have access to a motor vehicle. Want to grow your businesses, and have a happier healthier place to live and work? Demand a street designed for people, not cars.
Let us take look at closer look the evidence from around the world including plenty from close to home.
HIGH STREET ECONOMY IS IMPROVED BY PRIORITISING WALKING AND CYCLING
- Evidence commissioned by the Department for Transport also shows that cycle parking delivers 5x higher retail spend than the same area of car parking.
- Transport for London found after making improvements to high streets that:
– Walking, cycling, and public realm improvements on high streets can increase retail sales by up to 30%
– People travelling on foot or by cycle visit the high street more frequently and spend more per month than those visiting by car
- Pedestrians will linger longer on “sticky streets” where there is less traffic and cars don’t dominate. People who cycle make loyal customers, and will flock to streets where they feel comfortable. You can’t easily window shop from a car, so even if parking is moved from outside the shop to nearby streets, public realm improvements and cycle lanes bring more customers to local shops:
- In New York pedestrian improvements at one junction increased local retail sales by 48% and in Kelso, traffic management and public realm improvements increased town centre footfall by 28%.
- In London, projects to improve walking, cycling and the public realm on high streets and shopping areas were followed by 17% reduction in retail vacancies and a 7.5% rise in retail rental values.
- In San Francisco, the first trial ‘parklet’ increased pedestrian traffic in the area by 37% on weeknights and increased people walking with bikes at the weekend by 350%. A similar scheme in Shoreditch, London, increased takings in an adjacent shop by 20%.
- A survey of 38 BIDs in London as part of the evaluation of the ‘Healthy Streets’ approach found that 9 in 10 felt that walking and cycling creates more vibrant areas and 83% said it attracted more customers.
- Bank analysis has found that closing central Madrid to cars resulted in a 9.5% boost to retail spending.
- There is a growing number of local business owners who have gone from critics to converts, after seeing the benefits of bike lanes to their streets: here are just a couple of examples from Newcastle, the city of Calgary in Canada, and Salt Lake City in the US. In London, more than 180 companies have joined a coalition to campaign for better cycling infrastructure, in recognition that bikes are good for business.
- Businesses also stand to benefit when their employees make use of improved walking and cycling infrastructure. People who cycle to work on average take less sick leave, saving UK businesses almost £83 million each year.
- The evidence showing the benefits to business that converting on-street parking into space for people is repeated all around the world.
- There is no doubt about demand from the public. A survey in seven UK cities found that 78% of people supported building more protected cycling infrastructure, even if it meant less space for other road traffic. The consultation on the plans for Byres Road showed strong support for a more ambitious vision for active travel, with 44% of respondents raising concerns about the quality of the proposed cycling infrastructure.
FEW SHOPPERS ACTUALLY ARRIVE BY CAR
Retailers consistently overestimate the proportion of their customers who arrive by car, and underestimate the proportion who arrive by bike or on foot:
- The evidence in fact shows, in part from a study in Graz, Austria, subsequently repeated in Bristol, that retailers consistently overestimate the number of customers arriving by car. Retailers in Bristol thought that almost twice as many of their customers had arrived by car as was actually the case (41% vs 22%). The same goes for distance travelled – traders guessed that 40% of customers lived more than two miles away, whereas in reality it was only 14%. These findings have been replicated in cities in Ireland, Austria, and the Netherlands, with the consistent conclusion that most customers are local, and not reliant on cars.
- The Byres Road BID Action Plan 2020-2025 states that 88% of their member businesses surveyed felt that parking is “important or very important”. In fact, in a 2016 survey, 69% of shoppers on Byres Road arrived by walking or cycling (40%) or public transport (29%).
PLACE IS MORE IMPORTANT TO SHOPPERS THAN PARKING
- Case studies from all around the UK including Edinburgh, Leicester and London found that people’s decisions about where to shop are more influenced by the range of shops, prices, and how pleasant the area is, rather than by parking. In fact, “less traffic” is often mentioned as a priority for improvement.
- This is borne out by the Byres Road placemaking survey, which found that people consistently identified the dominance of traffic and car parking spaces as the worst part of the Byres Road experience; they also commonly mentioned that poor air quality put them off.
REDUCED TRAFFIC IMPROVES HEALTH
Air quality improvements as a result of the reduction in levels of traffic have improved respiratory health during lockdown in the UK:
- Research by the British Lung Foundation has found that two million people in the UK with respiratory conditions such as asthma have experienced reduced symptoms during the coronavirus lockdown.
- The British Lung Foundation survey found that more than 50% of people with lung conditions said they had noticed a decrease in air pollution since the start of lockdown.
- According to Public Health England data, visits to hospital emergency departments for asthma in England fell by half during lockdown.
REDUCING TRAFFIC DURING THE COVID PANDEMIC HAS PROVED POPULAR
- A post Covid YouGov survey in Europe has found that seeing the benefits of reductions in traffic during lockdown has resulted in three quarters of those polled expressing support for “reallocating public space to walking, cycling and public transport”. 68% of the 7545 respondents said they wanted to see air pollution reduction policies – including restriction on car access to city centres – kept in place.
From all of the evidence it remains that economically, a parking space is simply not a viable trade-off to the amount of people walking, wheeling and cycling that a parking space can accommodate. These are people who can, and will spend money on the high street, people who need to be kept safe. And that is to say nothing about the clear benefits to air pollution, road safety and creating a more pleasant place to be.
Even in the heart of a pandemic, climate change is a big threat and we desperately need to start making sustainable transport an easier and safer option for people who don’t have to drive. We know that a whopping two-thirds of the population in the UK would like to cycle but just don’t feel safe doing so. Results from the Scottish Household Survey suggest that the number and speed of cars are key factors. Women, families with young children, and older people are particularly affected by a lack of protected cycling routes.
With all this considered, it’s hard to argue that a bike lane outside your shop isn’t GREAT for business.