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No, bike lanes don’t hurt retail business

bike lane
Shutterstock

City retailers tend to overestimate the importance of parking to their business. They fail to see the many downsides of free parking (congestion and low shopper turnover, among them). They believe more people arrive at the store by car than actually do. They may not even realize that while driving customers spend more per visit, non-drivers spend as much or more in the long term.

And yet whenever a city considers installing a bike lane, rest assured some retailers will protest the perceived loss of automobile access. Take the bike lane that stole a dozen parking spaces from 65th Street in Seattle a couple years back (for reasons that will seem far less arbitrary in a moment). The typical comment from a bike lane opponent to the city's department of transportation went something like this:

Please do not take away the 65th St. traffic lanes for bicycle lanes. Traffic is congested already and eliminating street parking for cars will [be] detrimental for all small businesses located on 65th.

If you find such claims strong on emotion and light on empiricism, you're not alone. Kyle Rowe, who's studying the built environment at the University of Washington, decided to put that standard retail response to the test. He put together a case study to see whether businesses really had a beef with bike lanes, or were making a fuss about nothing [PDFvia Transportation Issues Daily].

Rowe collected city data on taxable retail sales in the corridor before and after the bike lane on 65th Street went into place. He compared the 65th Street sales figures to those generated by a similar retail corridor where no changes had been made to the street, and also to the sales made by retailers in the entire neighborhood. What he found isn't exactly subtle (the green bar is when the lane was installed):

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Do cities really take the lead on climate change?

San Francisco
PhilippeLPhotography pifou95

Climate change is at least a distant fifth in line for attention from the federal government, behind sequestration, debt ceiling, gun control, and immigration. Couple that position with the fact that many congressional lawmakers don't even think warming exists, and the United States isn't likely to take meaningful climate action anytime soon. That means it's up to localities to take the lead -- states in a general sense, but really cities themselves when it comes to the details.

To better understand the motivation for local action, UCLA urban planner Rui Wang has been studying how cities go about taking action on climate change. Wang recently reviewed California planning surveys to determine climate actions taken in 2008 and 2009 by the state's 480 cities. In an upcoming issue of Urban Affairs Review, Wang reports that cities tend to adopt climate change policies in increments -- pushing simple policies first, then in some cases working toward more challenging ones.

In other words, writes Wang, cities pick for the "lower-hanging fruits."

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Why New York’s Sandy commission recommendations matter

Hurricane Sandy
Reuters / Rich-Joseph Facun

From a behavioral perspective, the hardest thing about adapting to the slow process of climate change is creating a sense of urgency. After a close call with Hurricane Irene a couple years back, and a horrible clash with Hurricane Sandy this past fall, New York is beginning to accept the fact that when it comes to weather patterns along its coasts, there's a terrifying new normal.

Late last week, just two months after Sandy, a state commission released a massive, 200-plus page blueprint on ways to develop resilience in the face of tomorrow's environment [PDF]. The NYS 2100 Commission — one of several formed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo following Sandy -- evaluated the state's critical infrastructure systems and recommended a gradient of goals, from broad to specific, to reduce their vulnerability.

"There is no doubt that building resilience will require investment, but it will also reduce the economic damage and costs of responding to future storms and events, while improving the everyday operations of our critical systems," write commission co-chairs Judith Rodin of the Rockefeller Foundation and Felix Rohatyn of Lazard in a foreword.

While the commission offered statewide suggestions, its emphasis fell naturally on the New York City metro area -- especially coastal parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Long Island -- where Sandy hit hardest.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy