A rendering of a proposed bike lane from Palmers Green to Enfield Town. Cycle Enfield

The London borough of Enfield is the latest to raise a widely debunked concern over sales.

Every time a city proposes taking away street parking for a bike lane, you can count on a chorus of businesses to sing the blues. The refrain is sounding right now in the London borough of Enfield, which just got a £30 million grant from Transport for London’s “Mini-Holland” program to redesign its streets with segregated bike lanes on either side of the road. Over at The Guardian, Nick Mead writes that retailers on the street are crying bloody hell:

From cafes to hairdressers, furniture stores to funeral parlours – and, strangely, even one shop selling bike parts – almost every non-chain business along the high streets of Winchmore Hill and Palmers Green is protesting against the scheme. “Let’s ruin local businesses and the community – all for a cycle superhighway to nowhere,” reads one poster. “Watch out, there’s a bike about,” warns another.

It’s natural for a business to worry about … business. But as we showed in our extensive (but not even exhaustive) global literature review from March, there’s no strong evidence that replacing street parking with bike lanes has a ruinous impact on retail sales. At worst, cyclists and drivers end up spending about the same, while everyone in the city gets a nicer street. At best, people on bikes end up spending much more.

Just this week, Michael Andersen over at Streetsblog points us to yet another study reaching similar conclusions. A stretch of Broadway in Salt Lake City recently went on a road diet and came out with 30 percent less parking and new bike lanes lining the curb. When the city compared retail sales from before and after the change, they found a jump of nearly 9 percent along the corridor—above the citywide rise of 7 percent over that same period.

The nature of the purchases made by drivers and cyclists might be different. Sure, you can’t take home a plasma TV on a bike (though it stands to reason that these types of bulky, delivery-friendly purchases are being made online with more frequency anyway). But while cyclists often spend less per trip, they tend to make more trips, and over the long term the little purchases compensate for whatever big ones are lost.

The loss of street parking is the primary concern; indeed, Mead quotes one Enfield retailer with that very fear: “We know these businesses are reliant on customers who park; they are dependent on ‘stop and shop.’” Thing is, merchants tend to overestimate the number of customers who arrive by car—sometimes wildly so. One study of Dublin found that retailers guessed that 19 percent of their customers arrived by car, when in fact it was 9 percent.

What makes that fear even sillier in Enfield is that, according to Mead, the area is going out of its way to supply additional parking for the street spots lost. With 24 adjacent street spaces gone, but 91 more created in nearby lots, there’s a net gain of 67 spots. So far from harming car-reliant customers, the new configuration might actually promote more driving in the area. If anything, then, it’s the proponents of balanced transportation who should be up in arms.

About the Author

Eric Jaffe
Eric Jaffe

Eric Jaffe is the former New York bureau chief for CityLab. He is the author of A Curious Madness and The King's Best Highway.

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