The launch of Chicago’s Divvy bike share program brought fears (and a lawsuit) about how the bikes would negatively impact communities. Most of those fears have been allayed, and a new case study from a student at the University of Washington has given further hope to cycling advocates. Limited in scope as it might be, it indicates an increase in bike lanes does not have a negative impact on area businesses.
Kyle Rowe’s research compared the retail sales in two areas of Seattle that saw bike lanes installed versus two control districts that had not. Rowe found two very different results, though both look promising for cyclist advocates.
The good: When Seattle removed 12 parking spots from its Green Lake neighborhood and replaced them with a bike lane in 2011, retail sales jumped 300 percent.
The tepid: In Seattle’s Greenwood district, the city pulled out a whole lane of car traffic to accommodate a bike lane. No substantial change, but in the eyes of bike advocates, chalk this one up as a victory. At the very least, retail sales don’t appear to have been negatively impacted by the bike lanes.
The caveat: There is nothing to indicate the bike lanes actually triggered the jump in retail business. Seattle, a city that lost its recession-proof sheen in 2008, bounced back and was rated the third-strongest local economy in 2012. After hemorrhaging 20,000 jobs during the 2008 recession, 2011 saw a flurry of activity, including the opening of a major Amazon office in the downtown area. Surely the economic bounce-back was a factor here.
Rowe’s results do emulate a study conducted earlier this year in New York City, and Chicago Street Blog spent a few hours sitting outside a Divvy station to compare traffic with nearby parking spots and found something similar: at the very least, businesses aren’t affected by conversion of car spaces to bike spaces.
This study is far from perfect. Like others of its kind, it is limited in scope, only focuses on a few key variables, and doesn’t offer a clear answer.
There is a long way to go until the city realizes Daley’s dream of making Chicago “the most bike-friendly city in the United States.” Doing so will require clear analytics and data points to guide urban planners in making the best use of limited resources. There could be nothing better than fully-realized studies on the impacts of different types of bike lanes, Divvy stations, green paint vs no paint, and every other facet in the complicated role cycling plays in public transit.
For now, we’ll have to take what we can get, the good, the tepid, and the caveats included.