“It’s a steady stream of cyclists coming down the Second Avenue bike lane heading for the bridges to Brooklyn or downtown,” he said. “And the Ninth Street lane is the same going east-west – particularly in the morning.”
For Birchard, those bike lanes offer a tempting preview for potential customers. Passersby aren’t speeding by at 40 miles per hour; they’re traveling at a pace where they can be enticed by the sight and scent of fresh pierogies on the plates of patrons in the sidewalk café. “For me,” Birchard said, “bikes mean business.”
In the minds of many business owners, though, there’s still a direct correlation between cars and customers. Too often, the opposition to bicycle infrastructure is led by retailers who believe ample car parking space is critical to their customer base. But that belief could be depriving businesses of their best potential patrons: cyclists.
Just this summer, the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives did a travel study in Birchard’s neighborhood, the Lower East Side. They found that only a tiny fraction – just four percent – of customers arrived by car. In contrast, 23 percent arrived by bike. A study of travel patterns in the city center of Utrecht in the Netherlands showed similar results: customers on bikes significantly outnumbered those in cars (26 versus 17 percent). Even individual businesses are taking stock of how customers get to their door. The East End Food Co-Op in Vancouver, BC, conducted a survey that showed that 24 percent of its patrons usually pedaled to the store – more than the number of people who drove.
That’s good news, because a growing body of research shows that people who arrive on two wheels have a bigger impact on the bottom line, too. Recent research out of Portland, OR, showed that cycling customers spent more per month ($75.66) than their car-driving counterparts ($68.56) at bars, restaurants and convenience stores. A 2009 study of Bloor Street in Toronto, ON, found that customers who arrive by foot and bicycle visit the most often and spend the most money per month.
Why do people who arrive on bicycles spend more money? Researchers in Muenster, Germany, suggest that because bicyclists buy smaller quantities and thus shop more frequently, they’re “exposed more often to temptation” – more likely to get extra items that aren’t on the shopping list. So it’s not surprising that a survey of 1,200 consumers in Bern, Switzerland, found that businesses made more profit per square meter of bike parking ($9,900 per year) than car parking ($8,800).
For Birchard getting more bike parking is more than an amenity for bicyclists – it’s a business imperative. “Across the street from me, the coffee shop put in a bike corral, and it’s always full,” he said. “We need many, many more.”
How Businesses Are Cashing In on Bicycles
Jeff Motch wasn’t trying to cater to fellow bike riders when he put a bike in the logo of his business, the Blind Lady Ale House. But as soon as he opened his restaurant in San Diego, CA, his clientele started asking: So what’s the connection to biking?