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Bicyclists, pedestrians and TriMet riders outspend drivers at small businesses: Portland State University study
Author: Joseph Rose, Oregonian
Posted: December 14, 2012

Click here for full article.

For every motorhead who has asked, "Now, why would they get rid of perfectly good car parking spots for bike corrals?": A new Portland State University study has a pretty good as answer.

Actually, it can be summarized this way for Portland area businesses: Cha-ching!

In the report "Consumer Behavior and Travel Mode Choices," (PDF) a team of researchers found that non-car users handily outspend drivers at restaurants and bars.

Why?

Is it because fewer trips to the gas pump leave bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users with more disposable income?

Is it because it's easier to stop off at a local business when you're not driving?

Maybe. And possible. Actually, Professor Kelly J. Clifton, who led the study for the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consurtium, can't pinpoint a solid reason for the spending discrepancy.

Yet.

Clifton, who called the study the first of its kind, said, "the results are an important first step in understanding the relationships between business patronage and transportation."

Although the study examined only a few business types, mostly food related, it was clear that car-free patrons are the most frequent and spend-happy consumers. "What I think this means is that as cities move to make their transportation system more multimodal, we have some evidence that it is not bad for those business types included in our study," Clifton said.

Of course, there's also no denying that "built environment" matters.

The study found residential and employment density, the proximity to rail transit, the presence of bike lanes and the amount of automobile and bicycle parking all likely play into the equation.

"In particular," Clifton writes in her report, "provision of bike parking and bike corrals are significant predictors of bike mode share at the establishment level."

Researchers surveyed customers at 89 businesses in the Portland metro area. Merchants tend to overestimate the number of patrons who use automobiles, leading them "resist measures to support multimodal travel, such as reducing parking or installing bike lanes, for fear the developments will hurt their businesses," according to the report.

However, in some Portland neighborhoods, there's evidence that's a fading worry.


View City of Portland On-Street Bicycle Parking Corrals in a larger map

 

Around the city, the Bureau of Transportation removes car parking spots to install a bike corral only when a business request one.

In 2008, there were 10 bike corrals in the city. Today, the number is approaching 100 with a long waiting list. And it's not hard on a clear day to find many of them popping at the staples with locked-up bicycles.

"Estimates put the total number of bike parking spaces in (the corrals) at more than 1,500 and the total number of car parking spaces removed to create corrals at more than 150," said PBOT spokesman Dan Anderson.

The city currently has more than 50 applications on the waiting list for bike corrals. "Another 50 businesses have expressed interest in getting a corral," Anderson said.

With a little courage and the right planning, suburban commercial areas could be next, Clifton said. "There is evidence that there is a significant amount of nonmotorized activity outside of Portland," she said. "I think that if we can better connect residential areas with retail by walking and cycling, we will see people use them."

Because many suburban shopping districts are out of walking distance from residential tracts, the bike may be even more important to focus on, Clifton said.

At the same time, according to Grist, a new bicycling superpower is challenging Portland's and Minneapolis' bikeable-city supremacy: Chicago.

The city is rolling out an impressive plan build 645 miles of bike lanes by 2020. And, if the PSU study is on target, that means double green for Second City's merchants.

Of course, researchers found that one food-related business where motorists still spend more than car-free consumers: Supermarkets.

That makes sense, given that it's easier for drivers to load up on groceries. Then again, cargo bikes are becoming more and more ubiquitous in the Portland area.