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Good for Business: Bicycle Lanes & the Economy

Imagine hopping on your bicycle and spinning along a bike lane down to your favorite café, boutique, or other local business. You’re unaffected by traffic and parking isn’t a problem. That’s the vision for neighborhoods in the Bay Area and across the country, because it makes city centers a great place to live, work and play.

As the emphasis for more and better bicycle infrastructure rises, researchers grow more confident that, for the most part, adding bike lanes to cities is a win-win for cities and the people who call them home. While there will always be a portion of the population that does not or cannot ride a bike, making it easier for those of us who can get around on a bicycle by developing bike lanes helps the entire community to thrive. More people on bicycles, after all, also means less traffic and more parking available for the elderly, those with disabilities, or others who cannot ride a bicycle.

Bike Lanes Add People

The adage “if you build it, they will come” holds true when it comes to bike lanes, according to research being conducted across the country. In San Francisco, the protected bike lane on Market Street resulted in a 115% increase in bicycle traffic. Cities in other parts of the nation have seen the same effect: 200% on studied streets in Washington, D.C., 55% in Chicago and an impressive 266% with buffered bike lanes in Philadelphia.

A study of Minneapolis bike lanes found that retail employment increased by 12.64% alone one street after a bike lane was built. That same corridor also saw an increase of food sales by more than 52%. Similarly, a protected bike lane in Seattle that was completed in 2014, resulted in food service employment increase of nearly 31%.

That’s great news for business corridors, as was proven in the Bay Area in recent years.

“When San Francisco reduced car lanes and installed bike lanes and wider sidewalks on Valencia Street, two-thirds of merchants said the increased levels of bicycling and walking improved business. Only 4% said the changes hurt sales,” according to a 2014 study.

Bike Lanes Increase Spending

It’s not just that more people are flocking to retail areas when they are accessible by bike lanes. They’re also increasing the revenue for local businesses.

It’s true that bike lanes often limit parking options in a corridor — and that can be controversial, especially in places that haven’t experienced much bike infrastructure — but for business owners, replacing some parking with bike lanes might actually make for more business than they experienced previously.

When San Francisco studied the Polk Street bike lanes in 2013, the city found that people who are walking or biking to the corridor are visiting more often, so while those traveling by car may spend more money in one trip per week, the easy access for cyclists and pedestrians means they’re visiting more frequently, and spending while they’re there.

The ease of access is becoming a big part in the success of businesses in urban areas, with some business owners even looking for bike lanes when they relocate their offices, according to reporting from the Alliance for Biking & Walking.

“The first thing I looked at was what the bike infrastructure is like in Boston,” said Jeff Judge when he was relocating his business from Chicago to Boston. “It’s so important to me. … Cities that invest in biking infrastructure are going to win. It’s better for business. It’s better for planning. It’s better for infrastructure. It’s better all around.”

The Alliance says that bike lanes are actually becoming tools in attracting young workers — who are increasingly ditching four wheels for two — and the businesses that rely on their employment.

“U.S. cities have discovered an unexpected tool to create new opportunities in urban economies: the protected bike lane,” the group writes. “The conventional bike lane is getting a makeover in American cities. No longer relying on just a few inches of white paint to give people on bikes a feeling of security and comfort on busy streets, modern protected bike lanes use curbs, planters, parked cars or simple posts to clearly separate bikes from auto traffic and sidewalks. They are proving effective in creating appealing places for everyone, but are especially inviting to new riders.”

Location, Location, Location

What’s more, real estate located near bike lanes often have more value.

David Baker, founder and principal at David Baker + Partners Architects, was an advocate for the building of a bike lane on Second Street. His reason, he told PeopleForBikes, was “purely selfish: I’d like to have my employees safe on the way to work.”

But additionally, he stated: “I own the office. I know that if we have protected bike lanes out there, it will improve my property value,” he told the publication. “World class bike networks can’t come soon enough.”

Just like businesses, there seems to be an uptick in value for residential real estate when bike infrastructure is present. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, the median home value increases by $510 for every quarter mile closer it is to an off-street bicycle trail.

Cities elsewhere are seeing a similar phenomenon. Even a decade ago, when bike lanes were less common, real estate agents were citing the infrastructure as a major selling feature.

And real estate becomes more lucrative as bike path networks develop, so that cyclists can get not just to a local retail center, but to a variety of destinations across their city or region. Portland State University researcher Jenny Liu wrote in 2019 that is holding true in Portland, and likely other parts of the country as well. “My results don’t necessarily say to put one (bike lane) here or not, but it does show there is indeed a preference for homeowners and residents to have these bike lanes near them,” Liu wrote. “And it’s not just about being close to a bike lane but having that dense network.”