Bike riders, pedestrians boost urban economies, study finds

Bike parking at Reading Terminal Market
Goodbye supermarket, hello public market? Places like the Reading Terminal Market that are geared to shoppers who make frequent small trips fit in better with the urban ecosystem than supermarkets do – and the patrons who reach them by bike, on foot, or in this case, even by train, spend more in total than their car-bound fellow residents do.

Many of us here at the Philadelphia Real Estate Blog are fans of what one might call the “urban ecosystem”: the closely knit, dense fabric of residences, shops and offices all close to one another and easily traversible without motorized assistance.

These were the ecosystems Jane Jacobs championed in her now-famous 1961 paean to the traditional city, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Despite a resurgence of interest in this ecosystem, it remains under pressure from those who at best incompletely understand how it works and at worst misunderstand it completely. Philadelphians, having left this ecosystem largely intact at its center for 320 years, probably understand it better than many Americans, but as we have pointed out, many here still don’t quite get it.

Now a team of researchers from a Western city that has gone to great lengths to create such an ecosystem in its core have found that those living in such ecosystems actually boost local economies more than the car-bound do.

Contrary to the stereotype of the bike rider as a feckless twentysomething who spends lots of time, but not much money, in a local coffee shop, researchers with the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium found that bicyclists and pedestrians spent more in total at just about every type of local retail business save one: the supermarket.

The researchers surveyed 1,884 Portlanders who had just visited a convenience store, restaurant or bar, plus another 19,653 on their way out of the supermarket. What they found is that while the respondents who traveled by bike or on foot spent less per visit to each establishment, they made more total visits, boosting their overall spending in each type of business above that of car owners. That supermarkets were the exception to this rule should perhaps come as no surprise: they are geared towards people who make fewer visits but buy much more per visit, a setup that plays to the automobile’s strengths.

It should also come as no surprise, though, that walkers and bike riders came out on top at the other establishments. Owning a car is a significant expense, and those without one have more money to spend on other discretionary items. And by making more small trips as opposed to a few large ones, they also choreograph the urban ballet Jacobs celebrated as a key to both community cohesion and neighborhood safety.

The local angle on all this? We could build on our existing strengths by continuing to push to design our neighborhoods so that cars become less necessary for the essentials of everyday life.

Cyclists and Pedestrians Can End Up Spending More Each Month than Drivers (The Atlantic Cities)

Photo by CyclingAboutTown