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Common sight in Amsterdam where 31% of population regular commute and shop by bicycle.
Common sight in Amsterdam where 31% of population regular commute and shop by bicycle.

Bikes Good for Local Business

It's well known that bicycles are one of the dominate forms of personal transportation in many European countries, but what role, if any do they play in the retail shopping sector? The European Cycling Federation (ECF) set out to quantify it and came up with some encouraging numbers for local retailers.

It's a well understood phenomenon in America, at least, that when "big box" stores come to town, it's almost always small local retailers who suffer, succumbing to the competitive pressure of narrower margins and cheaper prices. In my town alone, two local grocers were driven out of business when Target and Walmart built their stores on the edge of town. The same with the downtown hardware store when Home Depot and Lowes invaded.

Of course, those mega retailers depend on the availability of large, sprawling, free parking lots and the volume of clientele they have to attract, something many small town Mom & Pop stores often can't provide. But then America has lots of 'empty' land it can afford to pave over. But what happens in cities that are hundreds or thousands of years old, where space is at a premium and cars more an inconvenience?

A fair number of people take to bikes for their shopping needs, at least in some parts of Europe. The European Cycling Federation decided to try and quantify that the economic impact of cycling versus shopping by automobile might be across the 28-member European Union. Here's a sampling of what they found: this from their "Shopping By Bike: Best Friend Of Your City Centre."

"In Copenhagen, cyclists create more revenue in shops and supermarkets than car drivers (2.05 billion EUR for cyclists, 2.04 billion EUR for car drivers)."

"In Bristol, retailers overestimated the share of car-drivers among their costumers by almost 100 per cent: In a survey, they stated that 41 per cent of costumers would come by car, while the actual value was only at 22 per cent. For cycling, it was the other way round: Shopkeepers estimated the share of cyclists among their customers at 6 per cent, while the actual share was 10 per cent. Shopkeepers also overestimated the distances customers would travel to their shops: They thought that only 12 per cent of clients would live less than half a mile from the shop, while the real value was 42 per cent."

"In France, a survey in 6 cities found that cyclists spend more money per week in shops than car drivers (24.35 EUR for cyclists, 21.65 EUR for car drivers). They spend less money per visit, but visited shops more often.

"In Bern, a consumer survey found that clients coming by bike create 7 500 EUR of revenue per square metre of dedicated parking space, while car drivers only brought 6 625 EUR."

Thankfully, the phenomenon isn't limited to Europe. In bicycling-centric Davis, California, a study of the first 1,900 shopping trips to a new store found "cyclists spend $250 per month, car drivers only $180."

Until ECF did their study -- and you can see the data and assumptions they used to make their calculations in the report -- it was pretty much assumed that bicycling shoppers were few and far between and their economic impact minimal. This was due, in part, to retailers under-estimating the share of clients coming by bicycle versus by car, which they usually over-estimated. That the study discovered is that while shoppers arriving by car might "spend more per visit" they tended to shop less frequently. In contrast,

"Clients coming by bike spend more than those coming by car, be it during a certain time period or related to the parking space that has to be provided for them."

The ECF extrapolated from various EU data sets that "At the moment, customers going shopping by bike account for a consumption volume [of] €111 billion (US$11.43 billion) in the EU-28." They further noted that doubling the "modal share" - the percent of trips made by a type of transport: cars, buses, bikes, etc. - would significantly boost the economics of "city centers, towns and villages all over Europe."

In addition to the jobs created by the cycling industry, estimated at some 650,000 payrolls, the report also pointed out that the economic benefits of improved health and "reduced mortality" amounted to between €114-121 billion. The benefits of easing traffic congestion adds a further €25 billion to the bottom-line.

Perhaps most encouraging of all, despite retailer concerns that giving more space to pedestrians and cyclists, while lessening that offered cars, would seriously harm business, it was found that such a policy is "more than compensated for by the clients that come by foot or by bike afterward."

Which makes what's happen on the other side of my little town really interesting. A developer is tearing up several acres of asphalt what used to be one of those sprawling strip mall parking lots, this one once anchored by a long-shuttered Walmart. The plan? To convert it into new multi-use space for residences, businesses and public space: meaning fewer cars and more people and… hopefully, more bikes.

Posted By: Bill Moore [03-Jan-2017]

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