FAQ: People Friendly Streets are good for business

We all want our local businesses to thrive - People Friendly Streets create high streets that are attractive places to walk, cycle and spend more leisure time.

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FAQ: People Friendly Streets are good for business
Chapel Market, CC BY-NC kevincburke on Flickr.

We all want our local businesses to thrive. A TfL study from 2018 reports:

People walking and cycling visit high streets more frequently and spend more money there compared to people in cars. High Streets that are nice places to walk, cycle and spend time in attract more shops, making the high street more economically viable and vibrant.

This compelling graphic illustrates their findings:

Some people incorrectly think that if the cars go away then so will the customers on which local businesses depend. But retailers consistently overestimate the importance of the car.

This was shown in the Austrian city of Graz in 1991 (see Sustrans paper) and since then on many occasions in the UK.

For example in 2006:

in two neighbourhood shopping streets in Bristol - once again, we [Sustrans] found that retailers overestimate the importance of the car. We [Sustrans] also found that they overestimate how far their customers travel and underestimate how many shops each customer visits. [...] The researchers interviewed 126 retailers and 840 customers. [...] Although both of these streets are urban arterial roads, with relatively limited parking, traders assumed that most of their customers were visitors to the area. They estimated that just 12% of customers lived within half a mile, and 40% more than two miles away. In reality, 42% had travelled less than half a mile and 86% had travelled less than two miles. Most customers are local.

and, a London Councils report in 2012 found that:

  • In 2011, in London town centres, walkers spent £147 more per month than those travelling by car;
  • Compared with 2004, spending by public transport users and walkers has risen; spending by car users and cyclists has decreased; and
  • Shopkeepers consistently overestimate the share of their customers coming by car. In some cases, this is by a factor of as much as 400 per cent.

and, in 2018 Roman Road Trust and Queen Mary University London carried out a Shopping & Transport Survey with both businesses and shoppers in Roman Road, Bow:

The survey results showed that 69.3% of businesses thought it would be beneficial if easier and cheaper car parking was implemented in Roman Road to attract more people. However, out of the 288 shoppers surveyed, 228 people walked, 19 took the car, 18 took the bus, 17 cycled, and 6 people took the Tube/DLR to Roman Road. 30 people out of those that walked to Roman Road spent over £50 with 7 of them spending over £100. There are 8 people in the survey that spent over £100 on Roman Road, 7 of which walked with the last person using the bus. The highest weekly spend recorded in the survey by car users was £30-49.99.

and, the Living Streets report The Pedestrian Pound is a thorough examination of the hidden and underestimated economic contribution of people on foot to high street economic vitality:

If more space is given for walking and cycling and less to cars, the absence of customers arriving by car is more than compensated by people arriving on foot or by bike. For example, in San Francisco, the first trial ‘parklet’ increased pedestrian traffic in the area by 37% on weeknights and increased people walking with bikes at the weekend by 350%. A similar scheme in Shoreditch, London, increased takings in an adjacent shop by 20%.

and, if you still need more, the Bloomberg CityLab report references more studies showing similar results.

In summary: research has repeatedly shown that the customers that businesses should value most are those on foot and on bicycles. As the Roman Road report so modestly puts it:

This suggests that it may be a good idea to implement a transport infrastructure that is most beneficial for pedestrians and cyclists.

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TfL - Walking and Cycling: the Economic Benefits, 2018

Sustrans - Shoppers and How they Travel, Information Sheet LN02, 2006

London Councils: 'London The Next Four Years: High Streets and Town Centres - A London Councils Member briefing – 2014'

Roman Road Trust research, 2018

Living Streets report: The Pedestrian Pound

Bloomberg CityLab, 2012