It's not often that I take my day off to read a Masters Thesis but the subject matter was simply too compelling to pass up. After years of reading articles talking about he economic benefits of adding cycling infrastructure, even while taking away some of the on-street parking, it would be nice if this study done in Denver drove a stake through the heart of the ill-conceived notion that losing a parking space in front of a store will put you out of business. But my guess is certain business owners will clasp their hands over their ears even more firmly while chanting LALALALALALA because they can't get beyond the simplistic notion that a parking spot means more traffic through their door rather than understanding that creating a better overall safe and enjoyable place in a neighborhood will inspire far more traffic of all modes and make more people want to walk, bike, take the bus, and drive to shop and dine.
Choice Quotes from this study from the University of Denver Natural Science and Mathematics Department:
There are four broad conclusions within this research. First, Denver exhibits untapped potential for increasing the bicycle mode share, especially when bike trips are combined with transit trips. Second, bicycle facilities are correlated with statistically significant positive economic impacts for local businesses and do not have negative impacts. Third, PBLs improve overall safety for all users and encourage more “types” of bicyclists to use the facility. Lastly, PBLs increase overall bicycle traffic, while simultaneously decreasing the number of traffic violations and sidewalk riding counts. It represents a next step towards cultivating a method to provide an unbiased view of the direct economic impacts of cycling infrastructure improvements.
From the Conclusion of the Thesis:
This research revealed four central findings that contribute to the current transportation and bicycle literature and to future studies. First, Denver exhibits untapped potential for increasing the bicycle mode share, especially when bike trips are combined with transit trips. Many Denver residents live in close proximity to transit, which suggests that they can replace car trips with bike and transit trips. There is also considerable room to improve Denver’s on-street bicycle network to encourage people to ride bicycle for transport.
Second, bicycle facilities are correlated with statistically significant positive economic impacts for local businesses and do not have negative impacts. This research uncovers that new bicycle facilities do not hurt local businesses. In fact, the findings from the Larimer Street study area suggest that the new bicycle facilities significantly increased economic performance within the corridor, when compared to similar local streets. Modeling, time, and other constraints limited the ability to claim that the new bicycle facilities directly caused the economic increases. However, the analysis certainly suggests that the new bicycle facilities were a key component, and potentially the impetus, behind the improved economic performance. While this research was unable to claim direct causality, future studies can combine these methods with interviews or a more robust statistical model to assign causality.
Third, PBLs improve overall safety for all users and encourage more “types” of bicyclists to use the facility. The current lack of bicycle facilities represents the main barrier to increasing ridership levels. This research makes the case that new bicycle facilities can improve the overall safety and equity of the US’ bicycling transportation system. One cannot undervalue the importance of human safety, and this research highlights the key role of bicycle facilities in making US streets safer for all.
Lastly, PBLs increase overall bicycle traffic, while simultaneously decreasing the number of traffic violations and sidewalk riding counts. 15th Street experienced a 37% increase in bicycle traffic at the same time as a 33% decrease in traffic violations and a 54% decrease in sidewalk riding. The impressive increase in ridership, coupled with drastic decreases in sidewalk riding and traffic violation counts, point to new bicycle facilities as a win-win-win that attract more usurers to a space, while also encouraging many of the new users to obey the traffic laws at higher rates than before.
The preceding findings from this research highlight how the bicycle is an underutilized mobility tool with major room for growth in the current US transportation system. New bicycle facilities are tied to increased safety and use, and also appear to provide major economic benefits for the businesses located along the street improvement.
A mixed methods analysis of geographic sales tax, bicycle count, transit access, land use, and census data, paired with qualitative observational research, suggests how planners, policy makers, and other relevant stakeholders can build the best transportation network for Denver’s future.
The peak travel context informs this study on the economic and traffic impacts following the installation of new bicycle facilities. Emerging trends suggest that policymakers and transportation planners need to reconsider the belief that VMT levels will perpetually continue to increase. This study helps to address the need to understand how new bicycle facilities impact local neighborhoods, businesses, and the people who use them to get around the city. These findings speak to the logical reasons why Denver should build more bicycle facilities, but the intrinsic benefits of the bicycle as an inexpensive, efficient, cost-effective, healthy, low impact, local, sustainable, equitable, accessible, and enjoyable transportation mode, represent the true reasons why US cities must improve their bicycles networks and encourage more residents to have fun riding their bicycle for transportation (Rosen et al. 2007; Mapes 2009; Byrne 2010; Birk and Kurmaskie 2012; Pucher and Buehler 2012; Henderson 2013).
For over 12 Years I wrote the Reno Rambler Blog covering everything from Bicycle Advocacy, Reno Politics, Popular Culture, and my experiences as a long-time cyclist.