More People Get to Fulton Street By Bike Than By Car

Is parking really that important for merchants? Not according to surveys of their customers. Image: FAB Alliance [PDF]
Is car parking really that important for merchants? Not according to surveys of their customers. Image: FAB Alliance and Pratt Area Community Council [PDF]
When shop owners oppose new plazas or protected bike lanes, even in the city’s most walkable neighborhoods, they often say their businesses rely on street parking to attract customers. Removing even a handful of spaces, they claim, would lead to economic ruin. The reality, of course, is that an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers don’t drive to do their shopping, and making streets better for walking and biking tends to pay off for merchants even if some parking spaces are removed. A new survey shows that Fulton Street in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill is another New York City shopping street where the vast majority of people arrive without taking a car [PDF].

The Fulton Area Business Alliance and the Pratt Area Community Council partnered on a survey of 477 neighborhood residents, shoppers, and visitors between June and August this year. People responded to the survey online and in live interviews along Fulton Street between Ashland Place and Classon Street. One of the survey questions asked respondents how they “typically access Fulton Street,” giving the option to choose more than one mode of travel.

Of the 401 people who responded to that question, 75 percent said they typically walk to Fulton Street. About 59 percent said they take transit, about evenly split between the bus and subway, and 16 percent said they bike, either on their own bicycles or with Citi Bike. Just 15 percent said they take an automobile to Fulton Street regularly. The survey did not distinguish between taxis, liveries, and private vehicles, which all fall under the “automobile” category.

More than half of the respondents said they visit Fulton street at least twice a week. Two-thirds of respondents live nearby in Fort Greene or Clinton Hill.

  • BBnet3000

    It doesn’t matter. We don’t plan based on facts, and we certainly don’t plan based on a desired outcome (ie more comfortable, safer streets, better public health and environmental sustainability). We plan based on the whims of aging community board members who drive everywhere and imagine that everyone else does too.

    Gotham has the cycling network it deserves but not the one it needs.

  • Reader

    “Removing even a handful of spaces, they claim, would lead to economic ruin.”

    What shop owners really mean is that they themselves are more likely to drive to their stores, and depend on easy, free, or cheap parking. And a lot of store owners are also community board members, so they have a vested interest in preserving their own status quo.

    Motorists complain much louder than pedestrians, cyclists, or transit users. If you can’t find a parking space, you let a shop owner know, especially if a few spots were “lost” to a ped plaza or bike corral. But if you’re walking or biking, what are you going to say when you walk in? “Everything was easy and I experienced no delay in running my desired errands” or nothing?

  • datbeezy

    There’s a minor foundation problem: “Is car parking really that important for merchants?” – when the answer is that ~17% of your customers arrive by car, the answer is yes (to say nothing of the spending habits by mode).

    Imagine if the question were “Is bicycling really an important commuting mode?”

  • Jeff

    I actually do explain the CityRacks program and application process to businesses if I have trouble finding a place nearby to lock up. But I would never say anything about the pedestrian environment being sub-par. That would just be weird.

  • J

    The question isn’t whether car parking is important or not. It is. The question is HOW important. Right now, many merchants treat parking as if it’s the MOST important thing, opposing minor reductions in parking, even when they’d provide major benefits to the 83% of customers that arrive by other modes.

  • qrt145

    The merchants are afraid they are going to lose a large fraction of the 17% of customers who drive. That the other 83% will have a better street experience is not important to the business unless it increases sales. The possibility that a pedestrian plaza might actually increase the number of non-driving customers more than it decreases the number of driving customers seems speculative from a merchant’s point of view. That would be the data that is needed to persuade a reasonable but self-interested merchant to support a plaza. Merely implying that drivers don’t matter because they are only 17% doesn’t cut it, because no one want to risk any decrease in sales.

  • Andres Dee

    This essay indirectly raises a very important issue. Many neighborhood shopping districts in NYC are an awful experience, whether you come on foot, on a bike or by car. Hunt for parking. Double parking impeding traffic flow (especially of buses). Shoppers maneuvering their cars from store to store, as if they were shopping carts. Crosswalk bullying. Incessant honking. I’ve long thought that this was a necessary evil, to accommodate visitors from the suburbs. That the best we could hope for is to encourage a percentage of these motorists to park once. Now I realize that it’s a small minority ruining it for everyone & they’re barely necessary.

  • J
  • qrt145

    Good luck convincing of anyone of anything if you start from that assumption!

    I never said the data didn’t exist; only that the data presented on this particular post wouldn’t be enough to convince anyone. I’ve seen some of the studies and the evidence seemed a bit weak in my opinion, but I’ll take a look at the links you posted to see if there’s anything more compelling that I haven’t seen before. Keep in mind that I’m strongly in favor of pedestrian plazas, bike corrals, etc. but not because I think they increase business. I’m in favor because I think they improve quality of life and safety.

  • J

    I think they do both, and I think both are compelling reasons. I understand that small businesses view change with fear, but I think their fears are misplaced and overly dominated by their own, typically windshield, perspective. The data shows over and over again that the projects are good for business, I’m not sure i have a good way to overcome those instinctive fears except by demonstrating over and over again that these projects are good for business.

  • Daphna

    Also to keep in mind: In this case the 15% of customers that are arriving by car do not all need parking because this includes taxis, liveries which are not parking. Only the much smaller percentage (unknown from this survey) would actually need parking.

  • Joe R.

    Let’s frame it a bit differently. 17% of the customers arrive by car, buy goods, and NYC gets some taxes as a result of this spending. However, those same people also cost NYC money due to the effects of air pollution, street space for parking which might be put to another use generating more revenue, extra policing for collisions/enforcement, extra medical costs due to auto-related carnage, etc. Is the positive side of the equation larger than the negative side? I highly doubt it. We have to get over the idea that more business, any kind of business, is always better. Some types of businesses and some types of customers produce so many negative externalities society would be better off if they just didn’t exist.

    Also lost in the 17% number is how many extra customers might you get coming by bike, public transit, or on foot if these modes were now a lot faster/more pleasant due to fewer customers who drive? Again, I think we might find we’re better off without the customers who insist on driving.

  • Joe R.

    They’re really not necessary at all. The cost to everyone of accommodating this minority who drives far exceeds the revenue they generate. It’s a win-win situation to just stop accommodating them altogether. We need measures such as no curbside parking, no car access at all to the more congested parts of the city, perhaps even requiring city residents to have an off-street parking space if they wish to own a car. For too long we’ve let the gloom-and-doom prognostications of business owners dictate how we allocate street space. Now we’re finding that they’re wrong about how their businesses will wither and die if we make it harder for people who drive. Armed with these facts, we should start reallocating street space in direct proportion to the number of users who come by each mode. 17% of street space allocated to cars in most of NYC sounds about right to me. Queens Boulevard would go from a combined 12 lanes for parking/traffic down to 1 lane in each direction for cars, the rest for other modes.

  • vnm

    And also people who are dropped off by someone they got a ride from.

  • vnm

    Amen! And when the FDNY tried to put in a fee for cleaning up all the car crashes they have to respond to, it got shouted down by motorists and branded as a “crash tax” by the tabloids (especially the Post). So the rest of us will all keep paying for it then.

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