A recent report by Cullen McCormick uses a road diet in Northeast Los Angeles as a case study to examine the economic impacts of reducing mixed-use travel lanes and increasing bicycle lanes. Despite the traditional opposition of local businesses when diets are proposed in front of their stores, McCormick's case study finds there was little difference in the hyper local economies after a portion of York Boulevard underwent a road diet in 2006.
McCormick chose a 2.2 mile stretch of York Boulevard between Eagle Rock Boulevard and Figueroa Street because of the on the ground conditions. ""The socio economics are the same between Eagle Rock Boulevard and Figueroa Street," McCormick explains, "except part of it has a bike lane and road diet, and part of it doesn't."
In 2006, the City of Los Angeles put 1.1 miles of York Boulevard on a road diet. They narrowed the street from four mixed-use travel lanes to two mixed-use lanes, a turn lane, and two bicycle lanes between Eagle Rock Boulevard and Avenue 52, dividing in half the corridor McCormick would study in 2011 and 2012.
McCormick is aware of two competing ideologies when it comes to the issue of bikes, bike lanes and retail profit. On one hand, retailers around the world fear a change in the status quo and often fight against changes to the existing transportation infrastructure. On the other "bikes are good for business" has been a mantra for bike advocates, especially with the launch of the Bike Friendly Business District model in Long Beach that is catching on around the country.
"I wanted to come into it with as neutral a stance as possible," McCormick explains. "I was curious to see what the data had to show."
McCormick picked seven metrics where he compared the west side of the study area (where there is a road diet) to the east side of the study area (where there is not). What makes McCormick's study interesting is that instead of comparing a segment of street in the pre- and post- road diet areas, he was able to study one stretch of street that has both street configurations and experienced the same external factors that impacted their business, such as the "Great Recession."
First, McCormick surveyed business owners and patrons to ask them their impressions of the businesses, transportation experiences, and local economies. The surveys showed little difference in attitudes regardless of whether the diet was in place. The only difference was that more people bike and walk to businesses than the owners believe they do. He writes:
Survey responses are generally similar between merchants and customers and between both corridor halves. A noteworthy exception is that merchants’ perceptions about their customers’ travel patterns do not align with customers’ stated travel modes; merchants assume more customers drive to their businesses than reflected in customers’ responses
Next, he looked at the economic impact of the diet on property value and taxes collected. Again, the study found the diet had no impact on property values, although there was a slight increase in taxes collected in the dieted area versus the area with the original configuration. The higher tax receipts, which points to higher sales, wasn't higher enough east of Avenue 52 for McCormick to make a firm statement.
There was also a significant difference on the east and west sides of Avenue 52 in the number of businesses closed, businesses opened, or property resale value to state whether or not the diet had a definite impact.
While bicycling advocates clearly would have preferred the study state that businesses were doing better and property was selling at a higher rate than the non-dieted area, the report is still valuable for those advocating road diets. After all, if there is no economic impact to putting a road diet in place, then detractors are only left with the argument that road diets are inconvenient for drivers. That argument has not proven to be a winner against an argument, backed up with statistics, that road diets make streets safer.