Salt Lake City Cuts Car Parking, Adds Bike Lanes, Sees Retail Boost

The new 300 South, a.k.a. Broadway. Photos: Salt Lake City.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Protected bike lanes require space on the street, and removing curbside auto parking is one of several ways to find it. But whenever cities propose parking removal, retailers understandably worry.

A growing body of evidence suggests that if bike lanes and parking removal contribute to a street with calmer traffic and a better pedestrian environment, everybody can win.

In an in-house study of its new protected bike lane, Salt Lake City found that when parking removal was done as part of a wide-ranging investment in the streetscape — including street planters, better crosswalks, public art, and colored pavement — converting parking spaces to high-quality bike lanes coincided with a jump in retail sales.

On 300 South, a street that’s also known as Broadway, SLC converted six blocks of diagonal parking to parallel parking and also shifted parallel parking away from the curb on three blocks to create nine blocks of protected bike lanes on its historic downtown business corridor.

It added up to a major road diet on part of the street (from five general travel lanes to three) and much less auto parking on another part (a 30 percent cut total).

So what happened?

Using sales tax data, the city compared retail sales along Broadway in the first half of 2013, before the changes, to the first half of 2015.

Along the project route, sales rose 8.8 percent, compared to 7 percent citywide.

retail sales data 570

It wasn’t just a matter of dollars. The city’s “business ombudsman” also did door-to-door surveys with managers of the street’s 90 retail, restaurant and service storefronts, asking what they thought of the changes and recording them “being conservative so as not to overstate support.”

Ninety percent of the businesses were reached. Here’s what they said:

business impact slc 570

opinions of retailers slc 570

“Both customers and employees love the bike lanes,” Jeff Telicson, manager of the Copper Onion restaurant, told the city. “We need more bike parking!”

On October 17, the city is planning to celebrate these great results, along with the official opening of one of the country’s first protected intersections, at SLC’s first Biketoberfest block party downtown.

How could the addition of bike lanes be related to higher sales? One way, of course, is that protected lanes increase bike traffic on the street. Customers arriving by bike not only tend to be more loyal, they also require much less parking space per wallet, so it’s the best kind of traffic for a business.

Bike traffic jumped 30 percent after the bike lane’s installation, the city found.

But that’s probably not the main reason for the sales jump. Instead — as on New York City streets, which found similar results in a 2013 study of sales tax data — Salt Lake City’s experience suggests that bike lanes can make street a more pleasant place to linger, which is good for retailers.

“I think the key thing is the feel of the street,” said Phil Sarnoff, executive director of Bike Utah.

Sarnoff said that thanks to the parallel parking and reduction of motor vehicle lanes, car traffic had slowed down and more people in cars tend to stop for people at crosswalks.

“It’s never felt like a Broadway,” Sarnoff said. “Prior to this, it didn’t feel like a street that people want to walk up and down. I think it’s changed a little bit.”

Where Broadway intersects with 200 West, the streets will get a protected intersection to improve biking and walking safety.

That’s why even the owner of a plant store, John Mueller of Paradise Palm on Broadway, can see sales go up as a result of a project that makes biking easier.

“The bike lanes and lower speed limits help to calm car traffic and increase pedestrian traffic — all positives for my business,” Mueller told the city. “Business is up 20 percent since last year.”

Becka Roolf, SLC’s bike and pedestrian coordinator, said that even people who drive to shop downtown spend much of their time walking from place to place. That’s why the walking experience on Broadway seems to be more important to business there than the speed at which people can drive past or the ease of finding a parking spot.

“It makes it feel like you’re not always being surrounded by moving traffic,” Roolf said. “It just makes the street a better place to hang out. And most of time Americans when we hang out, we spend money.”

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  • “…the walking experience on Broadway seems to be more important to business there than the speed at which people can drive past or the ease of finding a parking spot.”

    Love that.

  • Jeez. SLC is more progressive than all us coastal cities! Here’s looking at you SF.

  • bikecar101.com

    Southern California is past due for these changes in planning for greater bicycle use.

  • Nate Briggs

    As a local bicycle commuter in SLC, some quick thoughts:

    – It’s been a big transition, since 300 South is one of the east-west “racetrack” streets that connects downtown with the University. Retail development toward the northern end of downtown sucked a lot of the vitality out of this street: which is why I think it was picked as an experimental venue.

    – I hardly ever ride this street because, in my mind, I tend to forget that it’s been redesigned. So…awareness takes some time.

    – I think our current mayor, Ralph Becker, would make a good subject for a profile. Very quietly, he’s changed the whole landscape of bike and pedestrian activity in this town – and, of course, not everyone has been thrilled by the changes.

  • p_chazz

    The headline is misleading since adding bike lanes and removing parking weren’t the only improvements. “…when parking removal was done as part of a wide-ranging investment in the streetscape — including street planters, better crosswalks, public art, and colored pavement — converting parking spaces to high-quality bike lanes coincided with a jump in retail sales.” A better title would have been “SLC Makes Street Improvements Sees Retail Boost” since other non-bike, non-parking related improvements were as responsible if not more responsible for the retail boost. And of course, the retail boost might have been caused by an improving local economy and have nothing to do with the improvements.

  • Rick

    SLC and Utah are very unique. Both have extremely homogeneous populations and is over 70% Mormon. Without getting too political, having such a monocultural society allows people to be extremely trusting of each other, in a way that multicultural cities simply cannot either due to cultural or language barriers. It’s also why Utah has very low rates of homelessness, because despite their state being very conservative they “take care of their own”. As applied to SLC they want to be a city on a hill so they do a lot of things more diverse cities cannot. On another note, Utah is also the only state in the country attempting to build a new next-gen nuclear power plant.

  • Yes. Their homogeneity is not lost on me. It is still amazing how it is manifesting itself in its urban form though.

  • ranzchic

    Bike lanes are a big part of this ‘improvement’.

  • unitedelectric

    Well this is completely bass-ackwards. Salt Lake City no longer has many Mormons in it, especially downtown. They all left for the suburbs years ago. It’s got a huge gay population, is largely a waaay left blue city with very few conservatives in it. Booze consumption has nearly tripled in 15 years and it has a MASSIVE homeless problem. There. Fixed it for you.

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