A new study shows that 70 percent of city mayors support improving bicycling in their cities. In the Menino 2015 Survey of Mayors, 89 mayors in 31 states responded to questions about their goals, policies, and priorities. These mayors indicated that they would choose greater bike-ability, even if it meant sacrificing parking spaces and car lanes. The study highlights a growing understanding of the important role cycling plays in an effective transportation strategy.
One notable point was the mayors’ indication that forfeiting some parking for better biking options would be a worthwhile tradeoff. Eliminating parking can create a sense of worry, especially among local business owners. If there is nowhere to park cars, how will people have the opportunity to visit, shop, and generate revenue for the city?
The parking issue is especially pertinent in Santa Barbara, where narrow streets challenge planners working toward finalizing the new Bike Master Plan. Creating safer, continuous biking routes remains a priority, as gaps in the current routes pose a hazard to current cyclists and a major obstacle for residents who might otherwise ride. Updating the streets requires effort, and flexibility, and sometimes repurposing space once used for parking.
Adding green bike lanes to Micheltorena recently became a point of contention as the lanes would replace on-street parking, eliminating 85 curbside spots. While efforts to mitigate the impact for residents living on Micheltorena should be made, history indicates that area businesses should fare well after the transition.
Studies have shown that repurposing on-street car parking to bike lanes does not negatively impact local business and may actually result in better revenue. A case study in Seattle showed that when 12 on-street spaces were replaced with a bike lane, business sales in the area saw a large increase.
In Salt Lake City a protected bike lane and improved crosswalks were part of an overall road diet that eliminated about 30 percent of the parking in a nine-block stretch. Businesses in the area reported a slight increase in sales after the project was completed. The lanes may not have caused the increase in spending, but removing parking clearly didn’t harm the businesses in these areas.
Moving toward people-centric transportation has been shown to improve safety for all road users. The first major academic study of protected bike lanes in the United States combined data from five cities, and the report found the lanes to be very effective at increasing both ridership and safety. Among other things, researchers looked at more than 200 hours of video footage of over 20,000 cars and over 12,000 bicycles. They found zero injuries and only six “minor conflicts” that required cyclists to brake or alter their course to avoid a potential collision with a car. Nearly 80 percent of all the residents surveyed in the five cities studied said that based on their experience, they would support building more protected bike lanes.
While protected bike lanes provide the greatest safety improvement, even non-separated lanes can increase bike-ability and safety. Replacing parked cars for basic bike lanes eliminates the potential collision between car doors and cyclists, and it allows pedestrians better visibility when crossing the street.
Cities are more vibrant and more efficient when they are planned around activity and interaction among residents. Downtown State Street is a great example of a bustling, profitable corridor with ample crosswalks, bike lanes, and no on-street parking. Walking along the red-bricked sidewalks, residents and tourists shop, eat, and share a space that is clearly designed to facilitate interaction on a human scale. Broadening this design into the surrounding neighborhoods makes sense.
When cities move toward pedestrian- and bike-friendly infrastructure, the entire community benefits. Just ask the mayors.