Seattle Transit Blog: Business on NE 65th dramatically increased after bike lane was installed

Graph from Seattle Transit Blog

Graph from Seattle Transit Blog. The green section denotes the bike lane construction phase.

UPDATE 8/16: I understand that pairing this headline and this graphic was slightly misleading, so I want to make it clear that the study quoted here does not have enough data to say this rise is due to the bike lane (or any other cause for that matter). Rather, it’s evidence that installation of the bike lane coupled with removal of a handful of parking spaces was in no way devastating to businesses. There is a lot of evidence that bikes are good for business, but I don’t want to extrapolate either implicitly or explicitly that this study proves a causal relationship between a new bike lane and a 400 percent climb in sales. Even I don’t believe bike lanes are THAT powerful. Well, at least not that quickly…

Ahead of tonight’s town hall to discuss NE 65th Street and the Bike Master Plan (6:45 p.m. at the Ravenna-Eckstein Community Center), it’s important to get a key but perhaps little-known fact about bike lanes out in the open.

Bike lanes are good for business.

Or at the absolute very least, the removal of some car parking to improve biking and walking safety on commercial streets is certainly not harmful to business, as Seattle Transit Blog guest contributor Kyle Rowe found in his recent analysis of several bike lane projects in Seattle, including a section of NE 65th Street between Ravenna and Tangletown:

The second bicycle project studied was the climbing lane installed on NE 65th St, from NE Ravenna Blvd to 1st Ave NE. Although this project only installed a climbing lane for the hilly portion and shared lane markings elsewhere, the real impact in question is the twelve parking spots removed adjacent to the business district at NE 65th and Latona Ave NE. Again, two separate datasets were gathered to provide constants. The neighborhood comparison was the business district referred to as Tangletown – at Keystone Pl. N and N 56th St and the neighborhood-wide data included all businesses in NW Seattle.

The results of this analysis are in the graph above, again with the bicycle lane signifying the construction of the project and the removal of the parking. Leading up to the construction and just afterwards NE 65th St performed very similar to both controls, however two quarters after the project was finished NE 65th St experienced a 350% increase in sales index, followed by another jump to 400% sales index the following quarter.

Studies reproduced in cities across the nation and world have coupled sales data with customer surveys to conclude that bike lanes do, indeed, bring more business to storefronts. Rowe’s study does not include survey data, so it’s not necessarily possible to say for sure that bike lanes are the cause of the increases.

But we can say for sure that the elimination of a handful of parking spaces to accommodate the safer street did not hurt businesses, unless of course the business owners got paper cuts from counting all that extra cash.

This study is especially relevant because this evening, people will discuss the idea of installing protected bike lanes on NE 65th just east of the section studied by Rowe. This is not a study from Amsterdam or even Portland: This is literally a couple blocks down the street.

Some business owners are concerned that the protected bike lanes called for in the current draft of the Bike Master Plan could result in a reduction in parking. Since there is no design plan (or even a budget to create one at the moment), it’s impossible to know if parking would be reduced. But business owners should be aware that even if that were to happen, there is absolutely zero evidence to suggest it would hurt business.

From a 2012 customer survey

From a 2012 customer survey of neighborhood residents

Business owners might actually be shocked to learn how many of their customers are getting to their businesses by foot, bike and transit. A recent Seattle customer survey in neighborhoods all over the city (NE was not included, but Ballard and Fremont were) found that the vast majority (61+ percent) of residents get to their neighborhood business districts by walking and transit. In Fremont, about as many residents bike to area businesses as drive alone. On Capitol Hill, more residents bike than drive to area businesses.

Since the area around NE 65th Street is home to Seattle’s highest bike commute rate (over seven percent of residents bike commute nearly every day) it is probably safe to assume that the number of people biking to businesses on NE 65th Street is also high, and has tons of room to grow if the street were safe and inviting.

In the end, storefronts need people walking in the front door, and it doesn’t really matter how they get there. The 2012 Seattle survey found that about half of non-resident customers do drive or carpool to other business districts, so some car parking is certainly important. But business owners should keep an open mind about how a safe street can have a much bigger impact on both their bottom lines and the attractiveness and health of their best customers: The people who live within a walk or short bike ride from their storefront.

We all want small business to flourish, and it is clear that business district thrive when the streets running through them are safe for all customers.

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48 Responses to Seattle Transit Blog: Business on NE 65th dramatically increased after bike lane was installed

  1. David Moser says:

    Great post, thanks Tom. I wish SDOT would use this kind of data to actively counteract the knee-jerk opposition of so many small business owners to pike/ped upgrades on commercial strips. Someone needs to start a coordinated outreach effort to get these numbers into business owners’ hands.

    • Kathy says:

      As someone who majored in economics and has a master’s degree, I studied some statistics. Also, I was a bicycle commuter until an accident in 2005. So, I like safe access for both pedestrians and cyclists. Let’s please consider that, statistically speaking, there is likely no correlation between installing a bike lane and increased business activity. To be honest, we need to ask what economic indicators were doing in the same timeframe. Increased economic activity is usually the result of increased confidence among consumers, growth in population, increased employment…that sort of thing. Let’s not overstate and mislead the public in order to get what we want, okay? I cannot understand why there would be a connection between removing parking and increased pedestrian (retail) activity.

  2. gcm says:

    Count the McCarthy & Schiering Wine Merchants as one of the businesses that has a knee-jerk reaction to the proposed improvements to our streets. From their email today:

    The City of Seattle is proposing, as part of its Bicycle Master Plan, to eliminate parking along NE 65th St from I-5 to Sand Point Way by constructing an Elevated Bicycle Track, thereby also eliminating the current configuration of two lanes westbound during morning rush hour, and two lanes eastbound during evening rush hour.
    ….
    Massive traffic congestion will become the norm along NE 65th St, pushing parking and commuters onto residential side streets. This proposed change will significantly effect how you access the Ravenna Wine Shop, and your commute from I-5 to Laurelhurst, Windermere and Sand Point.
    ………..
    FWIW, an Elevated Bike Track sounds awesome! I sure hope we get one.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      I hope they still have an open mind and are willing to learn more about what a safe NE 65th could actually mean for their business. We all want local businesses to thrive, and safer streets can help make that happen. I hope McCarthy & Schiering don’t make the mistake of tying their name to the defense of a dangerous street. There’s plenty of time to work together with them and other business owners to make sure a future NE 65th works for everybody. But their letter sounds awfully combative and misinformed (or at least confused), which is unfortunate.

      • A says:

        Just because a business is “local” doesn’t mean they’re good for the city or community, nor does it mean they deserve our undying support.

      • Kathy says:

        Are there lots of accidents now on 65th? Why do you think it’s unsafe?

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for pointing that out. I ride AND have a 120-bottle wine cellar – and will not be restocking at McCarthy & Schiering!

      This reminds me of how the owner of GM Nameplate on 15th Ave W in Interbay ranted about how he’d have to relocate the business to Kent because of ‘traffic and safety issues’ if Nickerson were put on a ‘road diet.’ That was years ago – road diet went in, safety on Nickerson improved, there was no impact to traffic…. and GM Nameplate is still doing business on 15th Ave W.

    • Gene says:

      Add me to the list of cyclists who purchase wine and bike it home.

      • gcm says:

        I wrote the wine shop back and had a truly pleasant exchange of ideas. It sounded to me that the owner is concerned that the city has already made up its mind to make a cycle track similar to the one on NE 65th St from the BG to Magnuson all the way though on NE 65th St. He supports better bicycling facilities on NE 75th St instead. I know 75th St has its own issues, but I think I’d rather have a discussion over where to improve than a fight over whether or not we should improve anything. Unfortunately the way he communicated his opinion in the newsletter came off as a statement of fact.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        Thanks for the update, gcm!

        I think maintaining a positive relationship with them is a good idea. In the end, we may need to agree to disagree, but I would much rather see a working relationship w/ a little give, a little take and a lot of wine drinking and bike riding!

    • RTK says:

      The business doesn’t seem to appear on the Bicycle Benefits site. Shocked.

    • Kathy says:

      What’s wrong with moving cyclists from arterials to residential streets? They are safer. What’s the demand for the cycle track in this area and does it warrant the investment? Maintenance? Replacement costs? Has SDOT done cycle traffic counts to know what usage is now?

      • RTK says:

        So would a low count of cyclist be an indicator that there isn’t a need or that the street is currently so unsafe that people avoid it when cycling?

        I ride on some sections of 65th twice each work day, but avoid it completely when out riding with my children.

        On Sunday we rode from our home in Ravenna down through Ravenna Park and along the BGT to Fremont. There we ate lunch and shopped, returning along the same route in the late afternoon. We made this ride of several miles instead of a possible ride along several blocks of 65th to visit similar merchants.

  3. Keef says:

    It’s so ridiculous to think a wine shop would lose revenue due to this. I ride back from Bellevue to W.Seattle regularly and there’s a wine shop (Esquin) on my ride every day, and I’ve picked up a couple of bottles in time for the weekend on a couple occasions. That’s money that wine shop wouldn’t have got if I simply drove all the way home, and went elsewhere. Just because I ride a bike doesn’t mean I don’t have spending dollars. Duh.

    • Gary says:

      “Spending Dollars” There’s quite a bit of evidence that commuting via bicycle is cheaper than that using a SOV car, so you probably have even more cash to spend on booze!

  4. no traffic lights says:

    If they fail to evolve based on shifting consumer sentiment, they’ll go away quietly in the end. Hopefully they get it together and find a way to leverage the changes.

    I lived on 19th ave and 65th (3 blocks away) for years and I never noticed this place… even with all the time I spent next door at the RavTav. I buy a considerable amount of wine. Something tells me that when they eventually do fail, it’s because of Whole Foods, not transportation improvements.

  5. Kathy Anderson says:

    The change in sales activity is not caused by an increase in bicycle activity, is it? I’m no statistician, but studied some statistics, enough to know to question what the report infers. Increased sales activity is generally tied to increases unemployment and income. So, I suggest that it is not accurate to attribute this to additional bicycle traffic. Especially on NE 65th, which cyclists use mainly as a commute route.

    • Andres Salomon says:

      There’s not enough information to know if increased bicycle activity is the reason for the change in sales activity (the study says as much). However, we can draw the conclusion that the removal of those 12 parking spots in favor of a bike lane did not harm the businesses. That’s kind of the point; the furor around NE 65th is that removal of parking will negatively impact businesses. Other concerns (such as congestion) can easily be addressed by comparing the street to others in Seattle that have had similar changes, such as road diets.

      An intercept survey before and after would tell us if the increased sales was due to bicyclists (or pedestrians who prefer the new road configuration).

      • Chuck Taylor says:

        I have an open mind about putting bike lanes on arterials, but let’s be honest here. This study proves nothing, least of all that “we can draw the conclusion that the removal of those 12 parking spots in favor of a bike lane did not harm the businesses.”

        In fact, the sales spike is such an outlier that there has to be something unusual happening, like the opening of a new business or something. (The Scarlet Tree?)

        For all we know, the removal of that parking prevented an even bigger increase in business.

        If you concede that one cannot attribute an increase in business to the presence of bicycles, you cannot then conclude that parking removal did no harm. What you can conclude is that you have a worthless dataset.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        Click through to the STB post to read more about the study and methodology or read the full report here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B0xHj6OM3QVWMUxScjZuMndxVkk/edit

      • Chuck Taylor says:

        I did look at the study’s methodology before I concluded that it doesn’t really reveal much of anything. In fact, the study’s author is far more cautious than anyone here seems to be:

        One could argue that the economic success certainly wasn’t the product of customers accessing the businesses by car, but without mode-split data before and after the project no conclusions can be made to assume which mode was most responsible for the economic change, or if it even had a correlation to a transportation mode.

        In fact, the study’s author concludes that that there has to be a better way to quantify the effects of transportation redevelopment:

        … one cannot point a finger at the businesses for resisting change given that they have little to no information on how street improvements will affect their business. Additionally, planners are not able to tell them anything useful, aside from that they hope and predict that the new facility will be beneficial.

      • Andres Salomon says:

        Opening a new business is not an outlier. It’s proof of a vibrant business district. Would a new business open in a place where no one wants to drive, walk, or bike? Would it be successful so shortly after opening so as to drive sales up 400% if the place were a gridlocked nightmare with no parking?

      • Chuck Taylor says:

        A new business is an outlier if you’re purporting to measure the impact on existing businesses.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        I agree, Chuck, that there’s no point to ridiculing business owners who don’t already understand how safe streets and bike facilities can help their business. And I do hope that the owners of businesses who are against such a plan can keep an open mind.

        There are a bunch of studies from cities all over our region and the world that have found bike facilities to be good for businesses. I have yet to see one showing that bike facilities are bad for business, and I challenge people to find one.

      • Andres Salomon says:

        Except the study is purporting to look at the entire business district as a whole, not individual businesses. No one’s claiming that Bob’s Mattress Store won’t suffer if they lose all of their parking. However, the data here implies that Jim’s Frozen Treats and Frank’s Kitten Emporium next door can more than make up for the loss suffered by Bob’s Mattress. 400% increase in sales means that rent and property values will likely increase as the business district becomes more desirable. Bob might just decide that rent/land is cheaper just outside the corridor, and move there (and get his own parking lot in the process). Bob might even keep a small storefront in the business district, with deliveries and customer pickups being done at his warehouse shop.

        And yes, you’re right that keeping those extra parking spaces might have resulted in a 500% sales increase. However, the rhetoric that we’re hearing from businesses is that a loss of parking will destroy *all* small businesses along the corridor. That’s simply false, and this study is an example of how the loss of parking did not ruin this business district.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        It’s also absolutely vital to point out that if Bob’s mattress store has a delivery need that’s vital to their business, then that’s the kind of thing that can be worked out during the design process. I will personally help Bob make sure we create a street that both increases safety and allows people to make deliveries, etc. It’s silly to assume that any changes will absolutely ruin Bob’s business (or ban emergency vehicles from an assisted living facility, which in a million years would never happen). We can work things out block-by-block.

  6. Takin' 'er easy says:

    I have grave doubts about the relative safety of any cycle track configuration on NE 65th, especially east of 20th. If two traffic lanes wide enough for busses and a parking lane wide enough for delivery trucks are provided, you are left with seven feet for a two way cycle track. I submit that that is a dangerously narrow roadway. Then consider the fact that this is a very hilly area. Now you’ve got novice cyclist coasting down a hill in a narrow lane at 30+ thinking they are perfectly safe because they are separated from MV traffic, not understanding that turning and crossing vehicles, distracted pedestrians, and oncoming cyclists grunting up the hill at 3.5 mph all have the potential of ruining their day (that started out so well) with a spectacular crash. Am I missing something here?

    It also seems that bus patrons waiting for their bus would have to do so in the bike lane, further endangering speeding cyclists. And then there are the passengers who exit the bus and blunder straight ahead for several steps without looking. Am I missing something here, too?

    It looks to me like the present situation on 65th is safer than a cycle track. A better solution may be a series of climbing lane/sharrows combos. For those unwilling to mix with heavy traffic, 68th is always an option. Its hills are a little nastier, but it runs all the way from 55th to 8th and carries very little MV traffic. And I once say a one-legged man pull one of those hills on his bike, so they can’t be all that bad.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      There’s no design yet, so it’s impossible to know. Certainly, there are fewer challenges west of 20th than east. I think a compromise option that will very likely come up would involve a cycle track west of 20th (a great potential) neighborhood greenway route), then a different bike route to the east (maybe 68th or both 68th and 60th?). While this is certainly not my preferred option, it could be the path of least resistance going forward which will obviously be politically appealing. And if it builds bridges with the more reasonable opponents, that’s great.

    • Kathy says:

      I agree. And thanks for doing the math on the real amount of space available and the realities of behavior of cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders. 65th is “tight.” There are fewer bus routes on 75th.

      Not sure cycle tracks are a good idea everywhere. Sand Point Way? West lake Ave. North?

      There also is the issue of owning the asset–in addition to acquisition, there are costs to maintain and replace over the life. Does no one know if the City has projected that and is prepared to fund it? Or will cycle tracks fall into the pit of deferred street maintenance?

  7. Al Dimond says:

    There are really only a couple narrow stretches of 65th. In particular, it’s between 20th and 25th that 65th gets narrow (there might be ). East of 25th and west of 20th it’s wide enough to essentially be a four-lane street when peak-hour parking restrictions are in effect.

    Between 20th and 25th is the narrow part of the road, the flat part, and the core of that particular business district. It’s the only part of the street with any commercial parking pressure. Heading west there’s a gradual climb that gets steep as it approaches 20th, then the road widens. I think it’s only between 20th and 25th that there’s any unusually strong opposition to a bike facility.

    As the cycling network stands today, 65th is important as a through route because it’s the least bad E-W route that goes through and has arterial crossings better than “a stop sign and a prayer”. Maybe 75th will get fixed but it gets weird around I-5; 70th crosses I-5 but doesn’t give much help at 25th (it’s also broken up east of 25th). 68th doesn’t go through I-5 and will never get good enough arterial crossings that close to 65th. Nothing south of 65th goes through anything. And it’s important that routes go through, because turns onto and off of arterials are hard to solve. See the east end of the Wallingford Greenway — totally inadequate, and anything remotely adequate would require a lot of work on 45th.

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  9. d wilson says:

    Ridiculous “statistics.” If someone asked me how I got to a business I shopped in recently on Capitol Hill, I would say I walked. But how did I really get there? I drove to a friend’s house and parked in her driveway and walked down 14 blocks. If I could PARK I would shop there a lot more often, but – NEWS FLASH – there isn’t any place to park on Capitol Hill. Or if there were any real city-like public transportation – they call them “subways” in other places – I would be so happy to take that. As far as this RIDICULOUS 350% increase in sales after the bike lane project it is of course due to the fact that THERE WAS NO BUSINESS during construction because NO ONE COULD PARK ANYWHERE, despite the sad hopeless “businesses on this street are open,” signs. No one wanted to deal with the trademark Seattle hassle of construction navigation. I am so sick of the shabby provincial mentality that has turned this place into a collection of self-congratulating greeny cliques with a mayor who is absolutely determined to prevent any kind of normal flow of human traffic. If this is our idea of progress, let’s just go back to wooden sidewalks and call it a day. For that matter, why not just put walls around all these neighborhoods with guards at the Gates who only allow bicyclists with the right tattoos to enter. To think that they are even considering this sort of ridiculous, expensive project in a city that is absolutely GRIDLOCKED as it is is unfathomable.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      I’m not sure the statistics above are the ones being “ridiculous.”

      I’m sorry that the facts don’t line up with the conclusion you’ve already made. Sometimes that happens, and you have to reassess your opinion.

    • Gary says:

      Hmmm, if the city is “gridlocked”… adding more cars isn’t going to help. We need to add alternatives to driving and removing 12, count’m 12 parking spaces isn’t going to change much on the gridlock or the business.

      On the car positive side, when I have to buy a lot of heavy stuff I nearly always make it a car trip. So locating a store which relies on street parking to sell heavy stuff that I carrry out isn’t likely to be a winner. Not saying that it isn’t possible via a cargo bike but that it’s less likely to succeed.

  10. High fives to d wilson.

    BTW – the “Seattle Customer Survey” is a link to business “vitality and on-­‐street parking
    on Agricola Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia.”

    Statistics 101 is to arrive at objective conclusions, not tailor made setups that reinforce an agenda. Since this is the “Bike Blog”, the point is to cheerlead and sing to the choir here.

  11. Susan says:

    I already avoid 65th if at all possible because the traffic and parking is already horrendous. I can’t imagine how much worse it will be if they lose the extra lane at rush hour. I love Peaks Frozen Yogurt but have quit going because I can never find parking. 65th between Greenlake and Ravenna is much calmer than 65th from Ravenna to 25th and it always has been.

    • RTK says:

      There is a massive parking garage, street level parking lot and roof top parking just across 65th in the Whole Foods complex. The specific location you mention has the best parking of anywhere along 65th. Now why did you quit going there?

  12. Eli says:

    That’s funny. And I stopped doing business on 65th because it was so unpleasant to walk!

  13. I too was excited to see this. Unfortunately, after interviewing two business owners in the two-block, eight-business district covered by this study on Monday and today, I’m all but certain there’s a flaw in this data.

    “I would be shocked if that was rooted in truth,” Patrick Wilson, the manager of the bar on this corner, told me on the phone just now. “The business across the street from us was a self-dog washing place and a drunk driver plowed into it. … A bakery/coffee shop went in there but
    that bakery coffee shop recently closed due to, you guessed it, lack of revenue. Mona’s, the bar next to us, has been steadily in decline since 2010.”

    Wilson, who seemed to be a youngish man himself, said he likes the bike lane but doesn’t think it draws much commerce by itself.

    His assessment was basically identical to that of Kate Hansen, who runs the antique shop across the street, except that she thinks the loss of auto parking just outside hurt her business slightly. (Grain of salt in both cases, I’d say.)

    This was an undergraduate senior project that was well-intentioned but never ground-truthed — the author never interviewed any of the local business owners to ask whether it seemed plausible that retail revenue o their block quadrupled without any substantial new development. It seems much more likely to me that this jump is due to a change in the way the retail data was being recorded, reported or coded by the state.

    I don’t think this is a safe study for bike advocates to be touting, especially with a high-profile separated lane proposal just down the street.

    • Kathy says:

      Thanks for this comment, Michael. I was pretty in-sensed at the graphic that was in the study that displayed a bicycle access installation at one point in time followed by a major increased retail activity. I’m calmer now. Glad to know that we have a highly educated group of people to call “b.s.” on these misleading displays. Retailers in the area should be concerned and so should cyclists.

      What criteria is the City using to determine where theses cycle tracks go, and does it make sense to try jersey barriers before investing in a more permanent asset?

      I did not read the whole report and, in all fairness, I should do that.

      I don’t see how removing parking and replacing it with cycle tracks translate to more pedestrian traffic and increased economic activity in the area.

      I stopped cycling to work after having an accident in 2005. I found using side streets through the neighborhood to be safer. Is that really a problem for cyclists today?

  14. Doug Bostro says:

    For those of us stuck for whatever reason with anachronistic modes of transport (M&S et al), rather than worry to much about imaginary problems it would be better to focus on the real and present inexplicable lack of left-turn signals at 65th and Ravenna/25th, both directions. As w/so many intersections in Seattle, the absence of turn signals where so many people turn leads to chaotic last-minute lane changes, ambiguity and other dangerous confusion.

    Meanwhile, the diurnal doubling/halving of traffic lane counts adds even more hazardous ambiguity, as well as a moral hazard for those who become inappropriately alpha when stuck behind a steering wheel. What’s the point of scrupulously obeying a 30mph speed limit and staying to the left of pedestrians and bicycles when oblivious testosterone junkies are whizzing by and “winning” in the so-called “curb lane” (unmarked, natch) at 40mph?

    Dump the magically disappearing rush-hour lanes, install bike lanes, gain back efficiency by improving safety and flow at intersections.

  15. sandi kurtz says:

    I’m not a bike rider, and so my observations here are from a sideline, but I live in the Roosevelt neighborhood and so watch traffic patterns here with interest. In the long run, it might be a good idea to include a dedicated bike lane along 65th, for many of the reasons mentioned above, but traffic through this neighborhood for the next few years will be really messy while they’re building the Sound Transit station — it might be better to wait until that project is more complete before tackling a dedicated bike lane.

    • Matt says:

      Absolutely correct. What’s being argued about now is whether to put a cycletrack into the 20 year plan for NE 65th, not whether we should start construction. Finding money and figuring out the design and timing are another matter entirely.

  16. Ken says:

    I don’t understand what the acronym in the graph is supposed to be. NBD??

    Nobodies business domain?

    Nothing but death?

    Spell these things out at least once in the article please.

  17. Ces bo says:

    Sue the city its all more dangerous all round. look at 11th ave on the left the passanger
    Cant open the door on the right open a car door and a biker goes flying or pull out on traffic to get run over. Measure the legal status of a parking lane and youll find its short.
    Just like cheap melting black tar replace me ever couple yrs. they cut corners
    On roosevelt the drivers guide asks for 3 ft distance cars actually pull out to on coming traffic to get around bikes and the bike dont even use the lanes 11th is another dangerous street
    Id bet accidents and injuries have increased
    What a mcginn we’ve gotten into

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