After 18 Months of Bike Lane, Columbus Ave Retail Looks as Strong as Ever

You might remember a wave of news stories that broke around this time last year with headlines like: “Columbus Avenue Business Owners Say Bike Lanes Driving Down Bottom Line,” or “Lack of Parking Destroying Columbus Avenue Business,” or “Study: Street Redesign Hurting Upper West Side Businesses.”

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The Columbus Avenue bike lane, with its 28 pedestrian refuges and parking-protected space for cycling, was a recent addition to the streetscape, and some merchants said they were having a harder time with deliveries. A few claimed the loss of some parking spots was repelling customers from one of the most walkable, transit-accessible places on Earth. Filtered through the New York media megaphone, the story turned into a bike lane-induced cataclysm for merchants.

Here we are a year later, and this piece of news in the Commercial Observer seems worth amplifying: “Columbus Avenue BID Boasts 100 Percent Retail Occupancy.”

The bike lane extends five blocks into the area covered by the Columbus Avenue BID, or about a third of its territory. According to the Observer, retail occupancy in the BID usually hovers around 94 percent. We don’t have retail occupancy rates for the whole length of the project, and it’s too early to say if the bike lane is making retail space more attractive, but there sure doesn’t seem to be any cataclysm. (From a safety perspective, there’s no doubt that the bike lane improved Columbus: DOT reported last year that traffic injuries declined 27 percent after installation.)

Will there be follow-up coverage from Tony Aiello and company?

  • Danny G

    Y’all are missing the obvious. If this community board-requested bike lane was never installed in the first place, we would have AVERTED the ENTIRE subprime mortgage umemployment et cetera economic COLLAPSE, and by now Columbus Avenue would have a far higher retail occupancy rate than just 100%.

  • Ben-I agree with you, but this sentence appears too late in your post.   

    …it’s too early to say if the bike lane is making retail space more attractive, but there sure doesn’t seem to be any cataclysm.

    None of the evidence presented seems to bear out the conclusion that bike lanes are bad for business. There is also no evidence here that bike lanes are good for business.  What’s good for business, is a prosperous, dense neighborhood and a recovering economy.  The Columbus Ave bike lane is great and I use it once a week at least, but it’s going to stay because even though change is difficult because  people like things that already exist and usually are able come up with all kinds of totally unrelated and ridiculous reasons to support the status-quo, even when it includes a bike lane.  

  • Last part should read: 

    …even though change is difficult, people like things that already exist and are able come up with all kinds of totally unrelated and ridiculous reasons to support the status-quo, even when it includes a bike lane.   

    BTW, Disqus sucks.  

  • Driver

    There is a simple solution for much of the problem with making/receiving deliveries on Columbus Ave.  The right side of the street should be parking for delivery trucks between 7 and 10 am rather than the current no standing 7-10 am.  The current no standing 7-10 am is supposed to make the curb lane a traffic lane?  Even when it is not blocked by parked trucks, I have never seen it used as an actual traffic lane, and morning traffic doesn’t seem heavy enough to require the shoulder lane to be free.  This is a simple solution but would cost the city money as they make a fortune ticketing the trucks that have no choice but to park in the no standing zone. 
    Columbus would also benefit from having more truck loading zones, especially in the 60’s.  Metered parking for cars makes it nearly impossible to get a legal spot in a truck.  This section of Columbus is constantly congested because of double parked trucks which have no other parking alternative. Again, the current situation is a big money maker for the city, so there is a disincentive to change the status quo.

  • J

    I would be a little careful declaring victory based on this data. The bike lane runs on the east side of the street from 96th – 77th. The Columbus Ave BID runs from around 68th – 82nd Street, giving the 5 block stretch of BID with the protected bike lane that you describe. However, only one block (81-82) includes businesses directly adjacent to the bike lane, where most of the impact is felt. For the 4 block stretch between 81st & 77th, the bike lane is adjacent to the Museum of Natural History, and the bike lane had almost no impact on business deliveries and little impact on parking as parking removal was minimal (only one turning bay) and parking was only removed across the street from businesses. Basically, the businesses within the Columbus BID experienced very minimal impact from the bike lane, and were not likely the ones screaming when it was implemented. 

    It’s still great to see protected bike lanes coexisting with a thriving business district, but again these were probably not the same businesses that were protesting the lane last year, and I would urge caution before declaring victory if you don’t know the story for the areas which experienced the greatest impacts (the east side of Columbus, between 81st – 96th). The story wasn’t about bike lanes, and if there were businesses that closed farther north, this type of story might direct attention to them, even if they closed for reasons entirely unrelated to the bike lane.

  • Tila

    Wait: injuries are down, the avenue looks more beautiful (hello new tree pits!), speeding is way down, average auto transit time is unchanged, and now you are saying that businesses are thriving on at least the part of the Columbus Ave corridor that we have data for? When will the community board at last embrace this success story and ask for an extension to the new lanes coming up from Chelsea to 59th Street? When can we get this medicine for Amsterdam Avenue?

    J, it’s odd that you want to focus on businesses within some 50 feet of the bike lane and pedestrian improvements, i.e., dismissing businesses across the street as though their customers are predominantly drivers who only stop in if they can find a parking spot immediately in front of the shop. That’s nonsense. The positive “impact” of better street design and walking conditions is felt by the whole neighborhood, not just the storefront closest to the lane. And as for who the ones “screaming” were, in fact one of the loudest critics shortly after implementation was the flower shop on the block you describe, who has come around and is now responsible for the most beautiful tree pit on the whole stretch. It’s great advertising for the business, and a public benefit to boot.

    If you check out the area, you’ll see vacant storefronts all up and down Columbus and Amsterdam, and it is indeed newsworthy that the BID is fully occupied, even in the five block section where critics unfairly foretold doom because of the Columbus Ave project.

  • Marcia Krameritis

    Someone needs to print this and drop it in the mail to Tony Aiello. Ask him to run a follow-up.

  • Luddite

    It’s really too bad that Tony Aiello and other members of the mainstream media don’t have access to the Internet. If they had the ability to read stories like the one in the Observer we might be spared a similar level of hysteria the next time a bike lane is installed somewhere.

  • J

    @7383ae7a2fcf779efd43365af1653146:disqus Thanks for the information. For what it’s worth, I’m all with you. I think the project is wonderful and has all the benefits you describe and likely more. I even went to several CB meetings to support it when this project was proposed. Your anecdote about the flower shop is really enlightening, showing how businesses adapt to and even benefit from the bike lane improvements. Also, thanks for pointing out that that 81-82nd block itself was such a hotbed of controversy for the project. In my laziness, I hadn’t gone back through the article the Ben linked to. Now that I’ve gone through them, I found a quote from the Columbus BID itself at the time, with it’s director calling the parking reduction and lane configuration a “travesty”. I’m sure the BID won’t be saying the same thing after today’s news.As for my comment, I wasn’t trying to ignore impacts to businesses across the street from the bike lane, nor was I trying to diminish what is certainly positive news. I was merely pointing out that many of the complaints about the bike lane focused on increased difficulty getting deliveries, which I feel is a pretty legitimate concern. I also think it is pretty rare for delivery trucks to park across Columbus Ave from the store where they are delivering to, resulting in delivery impacts that are limited to the side where the bike lane was implemented. Is this correct? You are absolutely right, though, in that this news shows evidence that businesses can survive and thrive even after such changes have occurred, and that the changes in parking combined with ped/bike improvements did not kill businesses at all, quite the opposite in fact. I think this could be very strong evidence to support future bike lane implementation, but I just wanted to make sure it’s solid.

  • Driver

    “I also think it is pretty rare for delivery trucks to park across
    Columbus Ave from the store where they are delivering to, resulting in
    delivery impacts that are limited to the side where the bike lane was
    implemented. Is this correct?”
    I can tell you from firsthand experience that parking across the street is not at all unusual if there is legal parking available there.  On Columbus, the west side of the street is no standing during prime delivery hours of 7-10 am, so the east side has the only legal option during those hours. 

  • HamTech87

    Thanks for this reality check.  I’m at Joe’s coffee on Columbus pretty often.  The idea of drivers pulling over in their cars to shop on Columbus is laughable.  Does any driver do that ANYWHERE in Manhattan?  And are any shoppers on Columbus arriving by car?  I seriously doubt it.  

    But let the BID know: I NEVER used to walk over to Columbus when on the Upper West Side.  Most of my business was on Broadway or West End.  But the new streetscape is so charming and pleasant, I find myself walking over there all the time.

  • Tony A.

    We’re sending “Mobile2” up to investigate.

    Marcia’s pretty sure the man on the bike could still be a terrorist, though.

  • ml

    “Cause we control the streets suckas”, (Cyrus, Leader of the Gramery RIFS, from the Moveie the Warriors)

  • Doc3osh

    So… will they extend it down past 72nd St??


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