Business Has Nothing to Fear From Bike Lanes

florent080506_1_250.jpgFlorent Morellet. Photo: Kevin Cooley/New York Magazine

As City Council Member Alan Gerson attempts to codify opposition to livable streets improvements, Lower Manhattan restaurateur Florent Morellet (a.k.a. the "Unofficial Mayor of the Meatpacking District") has filed a refreshing op-ed in The Villager, touting the commercial benefits of cyclist and pedestrian infrastructure. 

Our excerpt offers a taste, but this myth-busting column deserves a full read.

Regarding loss of business due to loss of vehicular traffic, I have a couple of points to make:

First,
every study seems to show the same very low number of actual customers
driving in and around the city, under 20 percent. The more on-street
parking, the more traffic generated by cars searching for spaces,
reaching close to 40 percent of traffic in Soho on some days.

Second,
the latest loss of business in Little Italy has to be taken with a
grain of salt; there is not one friend of mine who has not seen his
restaurant business drop dramatically as of late. With the greatest
collapse of Wall St. ever, I don’t think it is fair to blame business
loss on the little [Grand Street] bike lane that could.

Furthermore,
my former restaurant — Florent, on Gansevoort St. — did very well when
people could park. It did better when people couldn’t park. And when
traffic came to a standstill because of the nightlife, it was packed.

New
York is not so different from London, Paris and other cities. If you
make it attractive to people — i.e. pedestrians — they will find their
way and come en masse. Businesses will flourish.

  • Brooklyn

    Wow.

  • kmc

    You’re missing the point. Commerce can be drastically effected by bike lanes if they are not implemented properly. Businesses have all been negatively effected by the bike lanes on Grand St. The Grand St bike lanes are a disaster.

    Commerce comes before bike lanes, tolls and congestion pricing. Bike lanes don’t drive commerce.

    When will the city finally use the subway system for commercial deliveries? Think of all of the cash the MTA can make from freight.

  • Max Rockatansky

    Why do bike lanes scare people? The idea that a city with so many public transit options should be held hostage by a minority who drive is unbelievable.

  • J’adore Florent.

  • J

    KMC,

    Commerce is drastically effected by traffic. The space taken by bike lanes is minimal compared to the space taken by private cars in the area. The bike lane actually addresses many of the delivery problems in the area by designating loading zones. Previously, deliveries were done illegally in the bike lane. Now they are done legally in the loading zones. The bike lane is usable and deliveries are legal.

    Your point may not be without merit, but I have yet to see a specific example of how the bike lane is negatively affecting Grand Street businesses. Please keep in mind that we are in the worst economic recession since the 1930s, so a general decline in business is not really a good example.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “When will the city finally use the subway system for commercial deliveries?”

    After it spends tens of billions of dollars to build freight sidings so freight trains don’t block passenger traffic, and condemns dozens of high-cost buildings for equipment to bring freight to the street.

    Might have been a good ideal when the IND was built in the late 1920s.

  • Jaywalker

    Why can’t we get people like Florent represent us in public office?

    This single editorial has already proven he is smarter than at least half of the City Council combined.

  • No, kmc, I’m pretty sure that in fact, it’s you who is missing the point.

    The point of the op-ed is that there is this hysteria that is not borne out by any statistics and has no basis in reality. It is just that people see a change and react as if it was a cancer, the way the body fights a harmless substance when you have an allergy. It’s not actually that there is anything wrong. It’s just emotion.

    That being said, providing safe space so that some people are not run over means that other people have to give up some convenience. You’re hallucinating if you think that it has ever (in recent decades, at least) to park in this neighborhood. The small number of people who drive to shop or go to restaurants aren’t going to be materially affected by the removal of a small number of parking spaces. Businesses need to get their deliveries and that’s a purpose that’s being addressed through modification of parking rules.

  • “Commerce comes before bike lanes, tolls and congestion pricing. Bike lanes don’t drive commerce. ”
    Inherent is this statement is a valuing of wealth over human life; it is also an assertion even if stated as fact, and in the case of the latter sentence, an easily disputable one. As Jan Gehl has proven with his work in Copenhagen, devoting less space to cars speeds traffic rather than slows it, and with a reduction in private vehicles, commerce-related traffic is facilitated.
    The pulmonary health of all New Yorkers is vastly more important, however, and that should trump your commerce. If it doesn’t, do life and limb?

  • CH

    For the most part, defending bike lanes on this website is preaching to the choir, but it is truly amazing how much knee jerk reaction there is to losing parking spaces to either bikes or buses. In fact, when planned properly, buses and bikes can share a lane as they do in successfully implemented lanes in Paris and other cities.

    Manhattan will never be car-free and nor should it be, but it is truly a step in the right direction that the city is considering creating more facilities and amenities for peds and cyclists to better the non-auto network.

    There will always be growing pains. However for businesses to cry foul about the loss of curbside parking space is really sad in this city when the majority of shoppers are pedestrians. Improving bike connectivity and mobility just opens up a new means for people to get around and… shop.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    This comment thread reminds me of the great old MTA “vibrancy” statement from a while back:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2006/10/25/mta-response-to-pokey-traffic-congestion-vibrancy/

    Compare the two photos of New York City and Copenhagen street scenes. Which street looks like it’s friendlier to shoppers and business owners: the one designed for motor vehicle traffic or the one designed for pedestrians and cyclists? I mean… How is this not obvious to Downtown Manhattan retail business men and women? Cars don’t window shop!

    I’m also reminded of how the City of London is handling the holiday shopping crush these days. Rather than issuing a “gridlock alert” and standing back and watching the chaos, London is pedestrianizing the city’s major shopping districts. Has this hurt business? Hmmm….

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2007/12/10/this-holiday-season-londons-streets-are-absolutely-jammed/

    Doesn’t look like it.

    I’d absolutely LOVE to stroll down a pedestrianized Prince Street with my kids and do a little holiday shopping at the Apple store and some other SoHo shops this weekend. I’m quite certain that I’d end up buying a bunch of crap that I didn’t even intend to buy and make some local businesses quite happy if Prince Street were a nicer place to actually walk and sit and stay for a while.

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2006/12/14/rethinking-soho/

    Thanks, however, to the fine work of the SoHo Alliance, I’ll be doing my shopping online this weekend. What’s the opposite of the Jane Jacobs Medal? Sean Sweeney should be awarded that.

  • rex

    That was a refreshing editorial. Morellet accurately identifies fear of change as a primary objection to the direction DOT is pointed. Don’t be ruled by fear, change happens whether you want it or not.

    If we are headed for a Grapes of Wrath kind of economy, well run businesses that offer non-frivolous products and services and have good access for bikes, peds, and transit will thrive. Strong commerce is not about mobility, it is about accessibility.

  • da

    Marty B., please don’t abandon our local businesses and shop online. Locally-owned and -operated businesses here in NYC need all the help they can get.

    But it might be a nice touch to keep our helmets on while we shop on streets served by bike lanes, and congratulate the business owners and staff on their good fortune for being located on such a street. We have to communicate the fact that the reason we’re there is because we ride bikes and because they are on a bike lane.

  • JK

    Thanks Florent. We need many more of you. Thanks for pulling away the curtain and once again revealing that when it comes to taking away curbside parking or charging more for it, the core of the opposition is from store owners and their employees who want to park in front. Whether it’s Fordham Road or Grand Street, they will remain angry no matter how many studies show that 95% of customers come by foot or transit. Access for deliveries and motoring customers are red herrings. If retailers and their allies were really concerned, they would support higher meter rates to ensure higher turnover and better access for customers who must drive. They would also support commercial metering and rules which open curb space for truckers delivering to them. It’s extremely rare for retailers to support these things, which is why you have double parked trucks everywhere. Interestingly, the big Business Improvement Districts do support these progressive parking policies, because they understand they are to everyone’s benefit.

  • kmc

    Ian,

    No. I am not missing the point. People are reacting to the change because it has a negative effect on their way of life. That’s the point you’re missing. Don’t be so selfish.

  • J

    kmc,

    What are the negative effects? When you speak about your way of life, do you mean your personal convenience to drive everywhere? Everyone opposed to this keeps talking about the negative effects, but I haven’t heard anything that seems very legitimate. Please, tell us and we can have a conversation.

  • Max Rockatansky

    Ironic that kmc uses the term selfish when a minority of people who drive are dictating the terms of street usage.

  • Grinner

    So, as i was riding home on the Grand Street bike lane in the rain last night, i thought about Marty B.’s and DA’s comments (#s 11 and 13), and looked for business i might visit while doing my Christmas shopping next week. After i turned on Christie, i realized that the opponents are right: the bike lane is not bringing business to SoHo. Since i don’t get $85 + 15-20% haircuts, and know no one who would like a $85 canvas grocery bag with “Juicy” on the side, it wasn’t until i got to Ferrara’s that i found a place with anything in my price range in this post-bailout world.

    That got me to thinking: maybe SoHo’s businesses look to the Larrabee’s and their chauffeur-driven RR’s for their clientele. After all, we all know that automobile=affluence, and anyone who doesn’t drive to the boutique on Grand can’t afford to be shopping there.

    On the otherhand, i may have just been riding too fast, since i didn’t have to worry about merging out into traffic to dodge a car parked in the bike lane, or worry about a car merging into me to pass the “slow morons” in front of him. Maybe if there had been more congention, i might have seen just the perfect gift, shining like a beacon from a display window. I guess i’ll just have to look again tonight, and tomorrow, and Monday.

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