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The Business of Green Lanes

Zach Vanderkooy is International Programs Manager for the Green Lane Project. The Green Lane Project is an initiative of Bikes Belong, an America Bikes coalition organization. This post was cross-posted from the Green Lane Project blog.  

2012 was a landmark year for green lanes, with the total number of lanes nearly doubling across the United States. It's not just a feel-good effort; green lanes are a practical, common sense and cost-effective way for cities to help people get around, especially for short trips. Besides helping people go from A to B safely, green lanes are proving to be good for business. In this new slideshow, the Green Lane Project captures six snapshots of how investments in next-generation bike lanes are making cities better for employers, retailers and customers.

1. Washington, DC business district gives green light to green lanes

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Washington, DC cut the ribbon on the L St NW green lane in December, 2012. The 1.3 mile one-way protected lane stretches from Georgetown into downtown, linking to the 15th Street two-way lane. Dignitaries at the ribbon-cutting included Mayor Vincent Gray and representatives from the Downtown DC Business Improvement District (BID).

The BID supported the project (which included removal of about 150 parking spaces) because they are anticipating a 12% jump in travel demand during peak periods over the next 2 years, according to Ellen Jones, Director of Infrastructure and Sustainability for the BID. The increase is due to major new developments (including retail, office, hotel and residential space), a thriving entertainment scene, and more people working in existing office spaces as telecommuting and portable workstations reduce needs for large individual offices.

Providing a range of transportation options, including making riding a bike a safe, attractive and convenient choice for short trips, is key to the BID’s mobility strategy, says Jones.

2. Austin developer uses green lanes to add appeal to new project

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Protected lanes are being built into the redevelopment of Austin’s old Mueller airport. The plans for the new Mueller mixed-use urban village were approved by the City of Austin over a decade ago, but were shelved during the economic downturn.

Just a few miles from downtown Austin and the Texas State Capitol, the area will eventually be home to over 10,000 people and host 10,000 jobs. When construction resumed a few years ago, the developer included modern protected green lanes on the main streets rather than the standard bike lanes shown in the original plan. The goal: to make going by bike safer and more appealing, especially for the families who were beginning to move in. 

3. In Memphis, here comes the neighborhood

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Volunteers in Memphis created a new green lane through an intersection on Cleveland Avenue as part of a city-endorsed, community charette to re-envision the massive shuttered Sears Crosstown building and the surrounding neighborhood.

Once a thriving district, the area now suffers from underused and unused buildings and unsafe traffic conditions in the streets. While volunteers with spray paint is not the standard practice for installing new green lanes, the improvements are a very low-cost and rapid way to transform city streets.

4. New York green lanes & plazas bring more customers

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Image courtesy NYC DOT

Measuring the Streets,” a 2012 study from the New York City Department of Transportation provides a new set of metrics to measure the value of protected green lanes and other street redesign projects.

The study showed greater increases in sales at local shops and restaurants, reduced vacancies and fewer crashes along corridors where green lanes, plazas and other street improvements were installed compared to similar corridors without changes.

5. Chicago's green lanes help attract the best & brightest

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A model for both its location and the speed with which was developed and implemented, the two-way protected lane on Dearborn Street through the heart of Chicago’s loop has bike supporters nationwide cheering and calling for faster progress in their own cities. But a passion for bikes isn't the driving force behind the project; it's part of a rational economic development strategy.

“It’s part of my effort to recruit entrepreneurs and start-up businesses because a lot of those employees like to bike to work,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who campaigned on a promise of building 100 miles of protected bike lanes in four years. Bike-specific traffic signals at each intersection help ensure safety.

6. People on bikes spend more at local businesses

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People shopping on bikes spend more money at local shops and restaurants than those who arrive by car or public transportation, according to new researchfrom Portland State University.

The preliminary findings make intuitive sense. When shoppers arrive by bike or on foot they spend less per visit, but come more often, making their net monthly spending greater. It's also much easier to stop for an impulse purchase when rolling by at 12 mph on a bike than speeding by at 35 mph in a car.

An added bonus for retailers: twelve customers coming by bike can park in the same amount of space as one car.

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