No Parking, No Business 1: What if the other guy actually has a point?

Last Saturday morning, the 23rd of June, I thought to ask an open question to several of our New Mobility Agenda fora as follows:

Has anyone out there ever run across a solid report or study showing that local businesses suffer financially when a zone is pedestrianized or made bike accessible? Or that real estate prices take a nose dive when such improvements are made? Most of us here are familiar with the other side of this coin, but it occurred to me that this such critical references might be useful to us all, given that these local conflicts and claims come up time and time again in cities around the world.

My reason for doing this was that this matter of nearly ubiquitous business and political resistance to pedestrian and cycling improvements, if they come at the price of reducing convenient parking and easy car access — is a battle which comes up time and again with almost the same arguments advanced on the two sides, and which results far more often than not in an impasse. City after city, country after country, you can count on it.

So faced with this I had decided to write a thinkpiece setting out a range of strategies for local government, activists and others who favor softer transport means. And since what I know of the literature is by and large supportive of the out-car in-bike/ped approach, I thought that before leaping into the fray to see if we might do well to get a better grasp on the downside when it comes to real world applications and debates. Or in other words, maybe the other guy just may have a point.

Today, only four days later, we have already received more than two dozen cogent and diverses communications from academics, consultants, activists and people involved in local government in more than a dozen different countries who set out some very thoughtful perspectives and background, which makes it clear to me that this is an area of transport policy and practice that requires a careful and balanced approach. But let’s think about handling this in two stages, starting with the open dialogue without editorial or analysis on my part.

Let me today invite you to see the responses that have come in thus far which are all summaries on our World Streets Facebook site at You will see the original question and the responses to date if you simply scroll down the page.

For the rest, once the flow is stemmed, we can get down to that strategy piece and recommendations. But for now let’s continue to read and reflect, including listening to the other guy.

Kind thanks to all who have generously joined in

# # #

PS. You never know where the next good idea is going to come from.

# # #

Reader responses as of 26 June 2012:

Lars Barfred
I reckon that the current mix of outlets on a given road may include shops which will suffer, as they may cater to motorists, not due to their intrinsic value proposition, but simply as parking does attract motorists, and if parking is eliminated, they will lose some of their current clients, and it may take some time before new cyclist/pedestrians pick-up and replace that revenue.

However, as motorists have load road utilization/effectiveness, a prioritization in dense populated areas, will increase total potential customer flow, which will increase revenue.

I am currently working on a project which will use the biggest omnibus consumption research in DK, to document the attractiveness of bicyclists, compared to motorists. As cars are really expensive, motorists will use a high share of their disposable revenue on the car and less at non-retail/restaurant/entertainment outlet. This is probably partly off-set by higher rent/interest on cyclists residence, as it is often closer to city-center. Also many students and retired people have low car-ownership and income, still I believe the analysis will be really interesting.

David Hembrow
Lars makes a good point. After all, a garage in a pedestrianized area would certainly sell less petrol after pedestrianization. This is an extreme and ly event (though in the 1970s there was a garage in Assen on one of the streets which is now prioritized for bikes), but it’s quite likely that other car related businesses would see a similar effect.
Saturday at 12:05pm •

Christer Ljungberg.
I don’t think there is any…
Hälsningar från/ Kind regards
Saturday at 12:29pm • • 1

Harsha Devulapalli
If there is any report, do let me know. :)
Saturday at 12:32pm • Like

Peter Markusson
As stated above: Businesses which are concentrated on pure car- and motorcycle related goods and services will suffer. And shops which have concentrated their marketing efforts on long distance customers who are expected to travel by car to the shops. They will have to spend time and money to switch their marketing to local/pedestrian. But as long as they’ve got working windows, they will increase revenue as pedestrian and bicycle traffic increases.
As for the main question: I don’t know of any real, scientific study about that. My conclusions are only based on logic, not real research. There are studies showing the opposite – that local businesses flourish when their location is pedestrianized/bicycleized.
Saturday at 3:43pm • Edited • • 1

Gail Jennings
Would love to see any! We’re talking to businesses who are afraid that proposed pedestrianisation will damage their businesses, so would to see if there are examples where this has happened.
Saturday at 1:48pm via mobile • • 1

Lars Barfred
I think you need to realize, that even a butcher or a take-away pizzaria, might have a lot of loyal customers who drop by, in part because of easy parking, they may need to adjust their value proposition. What the merchants need to realize, is that even though their business may drop in the short run, their potential will in cases rise, so they need to reassess their business and cease the new opportunities. All changes in the surroundings present such challenges, new housing complexes, new office builds, lower speed limits, bike lanes, everything. But as long as the customer potential increases, it is 100% the business-owners own responsibility, to make good. You can’t sign a lease and expect the world will stop turning after that.
Saturday at 1:59pm • • 1

Lars Barfred
A macro way to do it, is to ask building owners, if they are able to charge a higher rent after, if they are business is better. The most expensive rents we have for commercial space in DK is on “Strøget” and the small streets around it. Strøget is the main shopping street in inner Copenhagen, 100% dedicated to pedestrians.
Saturday at 2:02pm • •

Sergio Wheeler

I know for a fact that when some streets of the historic district of down town Mexico City where pedestrianized, the value of real estate grew a good 200% due to the increase in revenue. I don’t believe what you are looking for exists, but if you come across it, please share. ¡Best wishes from Guadalajara, Eric! :)
Saturday at 3:05pm via mobile • •

Peter Markusson ‎
@Lars, can you provide us with a link to that study of business development on and around Strøget? I don’t remember where I first found it, years ago…
Saturday at 3:48pm • •

Lars Barfred
I don´t know if there is a particular study, it’s just common knowledge, that the most expensive leases are in general are on Strøget. The big problem for Danish retail, is not cars, bicyclists or pedestrians. It’s that they don´t get the internet, they simply don´t. That’s where the competition is coming from, not from lack of parking lots.

With the heritage we have in bicycles, you would expect Denmark to have both great bike brands and great international internet resellers, we don´t, and this is not just in the bike category, in is in every damn shopping category.
And the great thing about internet shoppers, is they don’t arrive by car ;-)
Saturday at 4:03pm • •

Richard Layman, Washington DC.
Well, in the US, there were a number of pedestrianized malls created in the960s and970s. With a couple of exceptions, most have been removed. They weren’t successful for multiple reasons: (1) cities were depopulating; (2) locally-owned stores in downtowns were decamping to the suburbs; (3) community mental health facilities weren’t created as a part of the deinstitutionalization movement and so center cities became a kind of holding place for “street people” (people with health and substance abuse issues that made it difficult for them to live “normally”); (4) locally owned department stores failed, further reducing the impact of downtown as a commercial destination.

So basically, streets were pedestrianized simultaneously with a severe decrease in the number of pedestrians, and an increase in other problems. As someone said on a now defunct Project for Public Spaces e-list on public space (maybe it’s another list topic to pick up and run with as part of the New Mobility Agenda), plants don’t animate places, people do. And so having motorized traffic has been considered to be an important albeit not lovingly component of place activation.

The places in the US where pedestrian malls continue to be successful are limited, but are in places where there are great numbers of pedestrians, either as college students (Boulder, CO; Burlington, VT; to some extent Charlottesville, VA–there are vacancies there) or in tourist areas (Santa Monica, CA; Miami Beach, FL [I think]). I wrote a blog entry about Boulder’s pedestrian mall a few years ago, which is cited within this entry:

1. Boulder’s mall in fact is highly managed to be active, which is key to its success.

David Feehan, formerly director of the Intl. Downtown Assn., co-authored a journal article on the topic (I don’t know if it was accepted), and I can ask him if I can forward it to the list. He also distinguishes between “transit malls” Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis and6th St. in Denver, where transit is part of the mall, just not motor vehicles. (There is also the bus mall in Portland, OR, although cars do go on it too. It has been recently redesigned. When I was there in 2005, I thought it was grim.)

2. A professor, Kent Robertson, wrote a bunch of articles on the topic in the990s. E.g.,

3. As far as one way streets go, interestingly, I read an article in the Ann Arbor Observer more than 20 years ago about the impact of making Glen St. one way in the late960s. The gas station located on the street had a 50% drop in business. In fact, the IRS audited them because they didn’t believe it.

4. When I was in Montreal for vacation in July 2010, some merchants on St. Catherine Street had a campaign against the Art Festival on the street, which banned cars for many blocks (from the Rue Berri-UQAM station pretty far down but not all the way (I think) to the Papineau Station.

And Montreal has a number of other pedestrian street initiatives–near McGill U, and in the Old City. I bet Zvi Leve could offer some insights as to what merchants think today.

Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space: Today’s trends with pedestrian malls
‎”A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic …
Saturday at 4:20pm • • •

Dave Wetzel, London UK
Barcelona claimed that trade increased in their pedestrianized areas.
You ask: “Or that real estate prices take a nose dive when such improvements are made?”
The value of the buildings won’t change because of alterations to trading conditions – what does change is the land value or site value when a location benefits (or disbenefits) from alterations in trading conditions.
Buildings will always need maintenance and repair and therefore devalue and depreciate over time. It is the location value or land value that reflects increases or decreases in trade over a particular period or because of a particular event.
Hence land values are a much better basis for taxation than buildings (or indeed wages or sales).
Saturday at 4:25pm • •

Merlin R Rainwater

Slightly tangential – a recent survey of visitors to six Seattle neighborhood business districts found that a much lower percentage of visitors arrived by car than business owners thought. These business districts have not been “pedestrianized” but still attract many visitors who walk, take transit or bike.

SDOT Neighborhood Business District Access Intercept Survey
SDOT Neighborhood Business District Access Intercept Survey
Saturday at 6:15pm • • •

Lars Barfred
On the major shopping streets in Copenhagen, Østerbrogade, Amagerbrogade, Vesterbrogade etc. only5% of customers arrive by car. You don´t have to be the big mathematician to figure out, that a 20% increase in bicyclists, pedestrians and public transport passengers, will be advantageous to keeping the car traffic at all.
Saturday at 6:21pm • •

James Laird []
No hard evidence but I would expect both losses and gains in trade.
Different sorts of businesses are attracted to different sorts of locations. Altering the attributes of a location will therefore affect the sort of businesses attracted to a location.

Stereotypically shops on a busy street will specialise in passing trade and shops in a pedestrianised area will be more specialist. So takeaway the passing trade and the shops in that area will lose custom and will complain. Some may close. Either way new businesses may move in who are more specialist and attracted to high quality environments. Typically such businesses are more profitable and land rents will go up – assuming of course it is still possible to get to the pedestrianised area by car or PT.

So I would expect incumbent businesses to oppose pedestrianisation as they could be losers, but for society and new entrants to the market to gain.
Saturday at 6:23pm • •

Lars Barfred
If there is on-street parking in both directions, removing parking will usually double width of sidewalks and bikelanes, this will easily give you the growth in total traffic, which eventually will grow business revenue
Saturday at 6:24pm • Like

Pascal J.W. van den Noort, Amsterdam.
We have no knowledge of such reports and we have been looking for them.
Pascal J.W. van den Noort
Executive Director
Velo Mondial, A Micro Multi-National  Saturday at 6:26pm • Like

Larry Schweiger
with any anecdotal reports you have to separate out the complaints generated from experiences with the construction phase of any project. which may have limited access etc.
Saturday at 7:26pm • •

Todd Litman, VTPI, Canada:
Here is information on walkability impacts local economic development impacts from the “Walkability” chapter of our Online TDM Encyclopedia –
Online TDM Encyclopedia – Pedestrian Improvements
Walkability reflects overall walking conditions in an area (Evaluating NMT). Wa…
See More
Yesterday at 8:48am • • 2 •

Craig Townsend, Montreal.

I don’t have a clear answer, but I might be able to contribute with some references which might provide leads:
1. There was some recent debate concerning Montreal’s largest seasonal pedestrian street earlier this year:
2. Montreal has an extensive underground city that has been well-studied (for a recent article see and comprises mainly commercial space.
3. Carmen Hass-Klau had a book (The Pedestrian and City Traffic) that I have not read, but which may help address these questions.

4. My colleague John Zacharias has studied pedestrian zones in many cities. He had a 2007 International Journal of Sustainable Transportation article on Tianjin’s pedestrian core (
Craig Townsend, Ph.D. Associate Professor
Department of Geography, Planning and Environment Concordia University

Rue Sainte-Catherine: l’espace piétonnier pourrait être amputé | Pierre-André Normandin | Montréal
Yesterday at 9:34am • •

Michael Glotz-Richter.
Some feedback from Germany:
We see some at first glance contradictory trends:
in larger cities, the pedestrian areas are of big success and are/will be extended. The combination with nice historic and leisure sites (tourism, restaurants, museums etc) increases the ‘gravitation’ of the city centre. In my city (Bremen/Northern Germany), we are now discussing an extension of the pedestrianised area in order to allow (more) loops for pedestrians – even considering to take away a parking garage!
smaller cities and towns suffer under the reallocation of shopping to the periphery (shopping centres). Here we can see that pedestrianised areas are or will be re-opened for cars but in a “traffic calmed” way (partly shared space). But I think that the decline of these city centres are nor due to the pedestrian zone but would have happened anyway with the (planned) growth of peripheral shopping centres / malls. There is not much you can do in the town centre.
In total, “gravitation” is a crucial point – and this depends on more than the number of shops.
Best regards from Bremen
Michael Glotz-Richter
Free Hanseatic City of Bremen
Senate Department for Environment, Construction and Transport
Senior Advisor “Sustainable Mobility”
21 hours ago • •

Sunny Kodukula. ICLEI.
There is always a perception from the businesses in the area of their sales being down, this is to corroborate their earlier perception that such a project harms the business. But a research will show the opposite. I don’t think there is document proof of sales going down. It will be great to see such a report.
21 hours ago •

Shaw, John – DOT (TOPS) []
I agree with Todd Litman.
Retail is a fickle land use: occupancy is subject to ever-changing consumer tastes and fashions. Street environments with “character” sometimes support successful retail, but the right character depends on the market. Who is the customer? Sometimes beauty sells, sometimes grunginess sells.
If pedestrianization appeals to the consumer it can be a big success (State Street in Madison, Wisconsin). If the target consumer doesn’t value it, or it doesn’t fit with the kind of businesses that are on the street (and their own business plans), then it is unlikely to succeed (State Street in Chicago, Illinois).
14 hours ago •

Simon Norton, Cambridge UK.
I think I understand why people might believe that pedestrianisation might harm their business.
Suppose one believes that
(a) For people who have a car available for a given shopping journey, the choice is likely to be between driving to a car friendly area and to a pedestrian friendly area;
(b) For people who do not have a car available, there is likely to be no choice at all because of limitations on how far one can walk or cycle, or (especially for people living in rural areas) the availability of public transport;

Then it would seem to follow that there is nothing to lose and everything to gain by being car friendly. Pedestrians and cyclists may well be spending more overall, but they will be doing so in any case (assuming that what they buy is determined primarily by what they need, which of course may not be the case, but I suspect it’s more likely to be so for them than for motorists).
I often feel that consumer resistance to the idea of paying to park has not been overcome, and there are many motorists who as a matter of principle will drive to somewhere where they can park free even if this means paying more in extra fuel costs than they are saving. (Though they will simultaneously complain about the high price of fuel !)
I think that there is only one way out of this problem: impose a tax on parking space provided by shops for their customers. Even if retailers in peripheral areas choose to absorb this tax, they will be in a less favourable competitive position than if they are able to make society as a whole pay for the cost of the traffic they generate.
Simon Norton
about an hour ago •

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2 thoughts on “No Parking, No Business 1: What if the other guy actually has a point?

  1. Agree with most of the comments posted. Pop-up parks on less busier streets can fill in a niche space-time transition point from car-priority to car-reduction policy oriented pathways. There are a few journal articles on the cost-benefit regarding where a retail strip’s primary customers originate from. A retailer’s perception is often skewed towards car customers, where in fact tram/cyclists often account for equal or more spending. Collecting retail receipts can of course backfire if the opposite occurs. But in general, really poor empirical-evidence-driven policies regarding car parking and/or removal of car parking.

  2. I note that there does not seem to be much research done in this area.
    Let me share my own personal (unscientific) observations of the house I live in. 3 out of 4 units shop using a car, and create enormous amounts of garbage. While our unit, that shops only by bicycle (daily), hardly produce any garbage. I suspect there is a correlation between consumption of food (& junk) and transport mode. A lot of what the others buy seems to result in garbage. I.e. they consume and throw away more stuff. While I presume we spend more on restaurants, concerts, travel and other immaterial services and goods (assuming our incomes are comparable). If more people lived like us I presume there would be a shift in the type of commercial activity that lost and gained.
    There seem to be many aspects that could benefit from being researched on.


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