As lockdown starts to ease and shops are preparing to reopen, we are seeing a resurgence of Business Improvement Districts lobbying councils to make on-street parking free. This is counter to council plans for widening pavements for social distancing by removing parking. It also goes against all economic evidence, and as traders on Byres Road have also taken up the call, we look at the evidence here, particularly based around Byres Road.

Byres Road is at the centre of an approved major city region deal regeneration plan, that will include wider, more people friendly pavements, and a safer active travel route through the heart of the high street. Work on this is not due to happen any time soon and in the meantime, it is also one of the streets earmarked for Covid based improvements to “Neighbourhood Space” as a part of Glasgow City Councils Space for People Program. While proposed designs for Byres Road haven’t yet been released, designs in other areas in Glasgow show plans to reutilise on-street parking spaces to extend pavement areas around shops, allowing for safer queuing, and safer and easier social distancing while out and about.

** NOTE: Plans have NEVER proposed the removal of ALL parking on Byres Road. Parking will remain available on-street for people who have accessibility needs, and three nearby car parks will remain in place for others who need to use their cars. **

Pavements on Byres Road already at full capacity with no safe space for distancing during lockdown (20/6/20)

Byres Road pavements are currently as busy as ever and are now a clear danger zone for two meter encroachment. This is despite current restrictions on car journeys to under 5 miles, and current reticence to using public transport – far more people are now walking and cycling to and around Byres Road. Providing safe space to get around is key to keeping businesses going during these difficult times. If people feel safe, they will want to stay longer, wander more, spend more, and want to return. And so we are extremely disappointed to have seen in local press on Friday (here and here) that the Byres Road and Lanes Business Improvement District (BID) are now lobbying the council to remove parking charges along Byres Road in order to “help businesses recover” as Covid restrictions ease. 

Last year the Byres Road BID also opposed the removal of on-street parking during the Byres Road Placemaking proposals consultation process. GoBike wrote to the Byres Road BID outlining a wealth of evidence that shows how good for business people-friendly places are, and demonstrated with research from other regenerated high streets that car parking isn’t actually as important to business as many people think. So let’s look again at that updated evidence, and apply it to our current status during lockdown.

Retailers consistently overestimate the proportion of their customers who arrive by car, and underestimate the proportion who arrive by bike or on foot:
* The Byres Road BID Action Plan 2020-2025 states that 88% of their member businesses surveyed felt that parking is “important or very important”. Parking is therefore their main focus within the action plan despite it providing no research or evidence to show that this is actually the case.
* 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 by almost 100%.

* 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.
* 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.

On Byres Road (pre Covid), even with poor walking/cycling provision:
* 69% of shoppers arrived by walking or cycling (40%) or public transport (29%).
* People walking or cycling generate more of the monthly retail spend than those arriving by car – especially during university term-time, when there’s an almost seven-fold difference.

* Post covid we have seen from scenes on Oxford Street in London when shops reopened there, that extra space for queuing and milling about on pavements is needed now more than ever. An area like Byres Road where social distancing is difficult on the pavement, could become a turn off for returning shoppers. Incidentally, there is no on-street parking on Oxford Street.

* 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.

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 health 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.
* Byres Road is currently rated by Air Quality Scotland as one of the 10 worst polluted streets in Scotland with nitrogen dioxide levels in 2019 recorded at an annual mean of 36.7.

In our blog on parking and business on Byres Road we have examined and cited the following facts about parking spaces in more detail:
* Motor car lanes on Byres Road have a capacity of no more than 2000 vehicles per day, while pre-Covid, pavements on Byres Road were able to move 19,000 people every hour into and around the street.
* Byres Road currently has 144 on-street parking bays. If we assume a turnover time of 30 minutes and an occupancy of two people per car (generous, given the UK car occupancy average is less than this), that gives a parking load of just over 450 people per hour. Give this same space over to pavements and you add in the region of 26,000 people per hour capacity. Or as in the Space for People Byres Road proposal, split the space half and half with cycle lanes and you get 9,750 on foot and 6,400 by bike moving up and down the street with ease. That’s still allowing for through traffic and buses, which would flow better without suffering the stop-start-death-by-a-thousand-parallel-parks.
* Plus there’s the trade concentrating effect of on-street parking. Offer a parking spot outside the door of a favourite shop and people will often 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.

* Evidence commissioned by the Department for Transport also shows that cycle parking delivers five times higher retail spend than the same area of car parking.
* The evidence showing the benefits to business that converting on-street parking into space for people is repeated all around the world.
* 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.
– Cycle parking delivers up to 5x more retail spend per metre than car parking.
* 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.

From all of the evidence it remains that economically, even now during post Covid times, a parking space is simply not a viable tradeoff 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.

We implore Glasgow City Council, press reporting on such campaigns, and once again, the BIDs, to consider the evidence when making decisions on parking vs placemaking.

A street that provides a better shopping experience, cleaner air, and safe provision for walking and cycling will bring a big boost to the economy on all high streets, including Byres Road.