In the last couple of weeks I've been thinking a lot about bicyclists and businesses.
At the rate we're adding bicycle facilities in the Boston/ "Camberville" area, we're going to run out of low-hanging fruit pretty quickly. We'll add bike lanes where there's plenty of width, and toss sharrows around with abandon, but soon we'll start to run into places where there's demand for real cycling infrastructure, and to truly make that infrastructure safe there will have to be a reduction in automobile infrastructure. There is virtually nowhere in this area where the solution is just to add a couple of feet of width to the road.
And increasingly the issue is going to be bicycle space vs car parking spaces. Parking is at a premium in the Boston region, especially in the winter, where you regularly hear about fisticuffs breaking out over the poaching of a space laboriously cleared of snow. Very few urban neighborhoods have much in the way of driveways and garages, and businesses with off-street parking lots are probably a minority, at least in the close-in areas. Parking garages are expensive, and on-street parking is underpriced, giving people incentive to circle endlessly looking for a virtually free spot instead of paying $10-$20 or more to park in a garage. On street car-storage on public streets is a subsidy for automobile drivers, as each car takes a couple of hundred feet that could dedicated to a wider sidewalk, or a bike lane, or both. Difficulty in parking does gives people an incentive not to to drive to downtown areas at all, and a lot of what gives such areas their charm is the pedestrian scale and the hustle and bustle of people in these neighborhoods. When tourists from Dallas come to downtown Boston they're not there to see the parking lots.
But businesses are convinced that parking is an absolute necessity for their survival, and they will fight anything that potentially limits that parking. At the meetings I was at for both the Beacon Street reconstruction and the Longwood area/ Brookline Ave bike facilities, there was a direct tradeoff between parking and bike facilities. On Brookline Ave, they are taking spots at the Park drive end, but closer to the hospital, where traffic is worst the bike lane dies away to only sharrows so that there can be 5 parking spots in front of the Dunkin Donuts and the gym. No matter that my guess is that 95% of the patrons of those businesses arrive there on foot, because they're already in the area.
On Beacon, at rush hour, even without a bike lane, and with crappy cratered pavement, there are as many bicyclists as cars- an amazing statistic. Beacon is a pipeline between the cheaper residential areas in Somerville and Arlington and the high-tech jobs in Kendall, and the throughput on that pipeline is enormous.
All those people going down Beacon, whether in cars or bikes, need milk and laundry soap, maybe sometimes a pair of shoes or a birthday card. They eat dinner in restaurants, get coffee, go out for drinks. Yet we dedicate a huge amount of public space to parking cars near the businesses that provide these things, but very little of that public space to facilities which create a minimum standard of safe access to these businesses for bicyclists.
The question is, how to convince business owners, in many cases in dense areas, small business owners that reducing street parking is not a negative thing for them? In Part 2 of this post, I want to address the statistical arguments, why those arguments are not necessarily helpful, and open the field to discussion of how bicyclists can be noticed and counted as consumers.