What’s Good for Green Transport Is Good for Business in the East Village

evill_sidewalk.jpgSecond Avenue shoppers are far more likely to arrive via bus, bike, or foot than private car. Photo: akuban/Flickr

Wherever parking spaces are replaced with infrastructure for sustainable transportation, you can usually find a local merchant yelling about how it will destroy his livelihood. With the redesign of First and Second Avenue bringing safer biking and faster buses to their neighborhood, five NYU undergrads set out to measure what local merchants stand to lose or gain. Their findings suggest that protected bike lanes and Select Bus Service are going to be good for business in the East Village.

The overwhelming majority of shoppers along
Second Avenue walk, bike, or take transit to get there, according to the NYU students’ research, which you can look over here. Overall, shoppers who don’t arrive by private car spend more than 26 times as much as motorists at East Village businesses every week. 

Employing a method recommended by Transportation Alternatives, the students conducted 500 random interviews along Second Avenue between 14th Street and Houston Street, asking people on the sidewalk how they got to the neighborhood, how often they visit, how much they normally spend in the East Village, and other questions to gauge their shopping behavior. 

Their findings were striking, if unsurprising. Of the people they interviewed, 45 percent had come to the East Village by transit and another 43 percent on foot or a bike. Another five percent had taken a taxi, leaving only seven percent who took private cars. 

Drivers spent much less money in the East Village than non-drivers. Interviewees who had arrived in a private car spent an average of $82.20 in the neighborhood each week. Everyone else spent an average of $154.13 a week, almost twice as much. Altogether, drivers spent only $2,712 of the $74,690 that the interview subjects spent in the neighborhood weekly, making them a rather small fraction of merchants’ bottom line.

The students’ findings echo those of a 2006 study of SoHo shoppers by Bruce Schaller. That study, also based on sidewalk interviews, found that almost no SoHo shoppers were arriving by car and that transit riders, pedestrians and cyclists tended to be the big spenders.

The NYU report did find that, per trip, drivers spent more money in the East Village than shoppers who arrived by other means. That might help explain why some local merchants believe that parking is so important, even while the overwhelming majority of their business comes from people who take transit, walk, and bike. However, this argues for implementing performance parking measures in conjunction with Select Bus Service and street safety enhancements. Together those changes would generate more foot traffic from sustainable modes and increase parking turnover while reducing congestion caused by shoppers cruising for spots.

The students certainly see the conclusion of their research as unambiguously pro-transit. "We recommend that businesses support the [East Side] project," they write, "and we recommend that Community Board 3 specifically, and community board 6, 8, and 11 more broadly, vote in favor of the project."

  • Glenn

    I’m shocked at how low the taxi figure is, although this might be because they asked about the arrival mode, not the departure mode. To be honest, I’ve probably never taken a cab TO the East Village, but sometimes take one home late at night FROM there (I’m looking at you MTA service cuts).

    But this is a good analysis. Money talks. Shopkeepers should really think twice about protesting against bike/ped safety improvements. A small boycott from that segment of their customers could easily cost of business whatever it might have thought it would gain from more cars…

  • JK

    Nice work, now please get students at a dozen more schools. I’d like to see a survey of store owners and workers along with shoppers. Ask them how they get to the store/restaurant, and how they believe their customers get there — quantify the perception gap. I’d bet that a much higher share of owners and their staff drive than customers. But I’d like to see real numbers. My guess is based on informal discussions with store workers and small BIDs, and experience with the retail strip on upper Broadway where I live. That retailers perception gap is important because curbside parking policy is historically based on the demands of retailers, and they still heavily influence policy via community boards. (Meters are supposed to increase turnover which is good for retailers. Except that in NYC, many retailers are parking at the meters and don’t want to move their cars.)

  • dave

    Seems to me that people that are arriving / leaving the ‘hood in cars are not likely walking around the sidewalk (answering surveys)…

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Same conclusion was reached by same method in the Union Square area of San Francisco. Shoppers arriving by foot or transit outnumbered and outspent those arriving by car. The only interesting question left to answer is why so many merchants are clueless about this fact.

  • Westchesterite

    dave: the East Village ain’t a Walmart parking lot. Anyone who is coming to the East Village has had to park blocks from their final destination, so they would need to walk.

  • vnm

    Glenn, the MTA service cuts will take effect June 27, so they shouldn’t have been influencing your behavior just yet.

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