Want to build a vibrant downtown? Bikes can do that.

The second in a series from GreenUP on how bikes can make our community healthier, safer, and more prosperous

Jaime Akiyama, GreenUP's Transportation and Urban Design Program Coordinator, rides her bike along the George Street bike lane in Peterborough, with her panniers loaded up after shopping downtown. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP)
Jaime Akiyama, GreenUP's Transportation and Urban Design Program Coordinator, rides her bike along the George Street bike lane in Peterborough, with her panniers loaded up after shopping downtown. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP)

There is a poster that hangs on the GreenUP office wall at 378 Aylmer Street in downtown Peterborough. It is a print by Jackson Creek Press that reads, “Want to learn more about your town? Ride a bike!” I can’t find an attribution for the quote, but knowing the artist behind Jackson Creek Press is an avid bike rider and community builder, I feel comfortable taking him to be an expert on the subject.

The idea that you can experience more of your city by bike is one of the reasons that GreenUP helped create the open streets event, Peterborough Pulse, five summers ago. We want to provide space for people to walk and bike down George Street to see and connect with the city in a new way.

As you bike down George Street, you can feel the gentle grade of the terrain easing your ride south through downtown Peterborough. Generally, you travel more slowly by bike and have more time to take in your surroundings. In fact, your peripheral vision expands as your speed decreases, and you begin to notice more of what is occurring alongside you.

From your bike, you can hear the sounds of the street, the chatter of conversations, the opening of shop doors and, for better or for worse, you can smell the cinnamon buns and sourdough bread from cafés along the way.

Each year following Pulse, several businesses have relayed stories of people walking into their stores during the event remarking, “I often drive along this road but I never realized this shop was here until now.”

Jeffrey Macklin of Jackson Creek Press in Peterborough is an avid cyclist and incorporates bikes into many of his design ideas. (Poster: Jackson Creek Press)
Jeffrey Macklin of Jackson Creek Press in Peterborough is an avid cyclist and incorporates bikes into many of his design ideas. (Poster: Jackson Creek Press)

Most neighbourhoods in Peterborough sit a comfortable bike ride away from our downtown and, as one of our main commercial and employment centres, it makes sense to bring more people to town on bikes — not simply to raise awareness of the variety of shops and services in the downtown, but also for the boost that bikes bring to businesses.

There is mounting evidence that bike-friendly streets attract customers and sales. One study conducted in Salt Lake City measured the impact of a new protected bike lane on a commercial main street, which saw an eight per cent increase in sales after the bike lane construction.

In only three years after construction of protected bike lanes on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan, business revenues rose by 49 per cent, compared with 26 per cent on similar streets without bike routes.

Business districts in Toronto also report more customers per day after the construction of bike lanes.

It could be that streets with bike lanes create safer and more attractive places where people want to be. Alternatively, it may simply be that more bikes take up less space, and therefore you are able to bring more people into town in a bike lane than in a regular travel lane.

There is also the fact that people on bikes do shop. People on bikes as a customer base is sometimes misunderstood and often underestimated.

Firstly, they have habits that are different from people who drive. People on bikes tend to make more stops than people in cars. For example, on my way home after work, I can ride my bike to make quick stops downtown at Shopper’s Drug Mart, The Main Ingredient, Publican House Brewery, and Chasing the Cheese.

Since people on bikes are packing everything into a pannier or backpack, they are known to spend less money per visit — but they are also known to stop more often. This adds up to spending more on a monthly basis. Studies from Toronto, Portland, Vancouver, and New York show that, after pedestrians, cyclists are responsible for the largest monthly per capita spending.

There are also more people shopping by bike than you may think. Studies show that merchants tend to overestimate the number of customers arriving by car and underestimate the number arriving by walking, biking, and taking transit. In separate studies in business districts in Toronto and Vancouver, merchants estimated that twice as many customers arrived by car than actually did.

All of these factors add up and business owners and realtors are taking notice of the positive impacts. Destinations that have bike lanes leading to them experience both lower commercial vacancy rates and improved property values.

As North American cities continue to build streets that safely and comfortably bring bikes downtown, the evidence is showing that bike lanes bring customers — customers who shop a lot!

 

In 2018 the provincial voice for cycling, Share the Road, released an infographic titled Bikes Can Do That! It details seven benefits that can be achieved when bikes become the daily vehicle of choice for more people in your community. Throughout 2019, GreenUP will be exploring the benefits that can be achieved by a city and its residents, when it commits to valuing the bike as a significant, useful, (and fun) mode of transportation, through the #BikesCanDoThat series. This is the second article in the series; read the first.

If you’d like to contribute ideas to the #BikesCanDoThat series, please contact Lindsay Stroud, Manager of Transportation and Urban Design Programs at GreenUP, at 705-745-3238 or lindsay.stroud@greenup.on.ca.

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