One of the tropes of urban planning is that traders think car parking (and car access generally) for their customers is far more important than it might actually be.
Here are some live examples in Melbourne right now.
In Caulfield, traders reckon their businesses will suffer if separated bike lanes, part of the Principal Bike Network, replace car parking. Some residents, who seem to believe they have the unalienable right to park on a public road in front of their house, are also not happy.
Save Elizabeth Street!
Even in the CBD, belief in the importance of car parking is a thing. Some traders in Elizabeth Street are up in arms at proposals to give more place to pedestrians:
Andrey Eierweis (from Ekselman watchmakers and jewellers): “We’re losing business because there’s no access to the shops and people can’t find a parking spot close enough.”
And he makes this amazing claim: “The city’s dying. No one’s coming here.”
No sir. The city’s not dying. It’s busier than ever. That’s precisely why the council is proposing these types of changes, to make space for more people.
Perhaps what you mean is no one’s coming into your shop. Which is a different problem.
It should be noted that Ekselman possibly is a business that genuinely does benefit from parking nearby, because, the article says: in the past they had sold and repaired a lot of large clocks but that had dried up because of a lack of parking.
The parking in front of their shop disappeared when the tram superstop was installed some years ago.
I suspect that if their business relies on people being able to bring in large clocks by car, they should move their premises to a different street. Most CBD streets have easier parking than Elizabeth Street.
Meanwhile in Sydney Road
Meanwhile in Sydney Road, some traders object to the council proposing a trial of fewer car spots, in favour of separated bike lanes.
Jessica Tolsma (Jessicakes – great name!): “The proof in Melbourne is that when you remove parking from strip shops like Acland St and Bridge Rd, it doesn’t work and decimates businesses.”
So how bad is Acland Street?
Is Acland Street doing as badly as the Sydney Road traders claim?
Recently removed the parking was removed and the footpaths were widened, and a new two-platform accessible tram terminus was constructed. So how bad is it?
I stopped past on Sunday morning for a quick look. At 10:30am, the street wasn’t especially busy, but there were certainly some people walking around browsing the shops, and some of the cafes were packed.
On neighbouring Barkly Street, which is still a through-route and does have lots of parking, there were plenty of cars, but no people browsing the shops, though one bloke in the barber was having a haircut.
According to this report from Victoria Walks, despite what the traders in Sydney Road might think, the Acland Street traders decided to study it rather than shout it down.
The traders quickly discovered that more than half of all their customers walked to Acland St to shop – and only around a quarter drove. More than that, though: more than half the shoppers in the area lived locally, and locals made an average of 184 visits to the shopping precinct every year. In fact, almost a quarter of the people surveyed said that they shopped in Acland St every day.
It’s also worth noting that Acland Street has substantial numbers of car parks within walking distance, so the removal of spaces on the street presumably didn’t have a huge impact even on motorists.
I don’t know Sydney Road and Inkerman Road well enough to cast judgement, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Acland Street was far from unique.
No shortage of studies have shown that providing better access for cyclists and pedestrians is actually an economic positive.
In part this is because car spaces are just so space-inefficient, and limit the number of shoppers.
A study of Lygon Street, Carlton, found that while the average cyclist’s retail spending is only $16.20/hr compared to a car driver’s $27.00/hr, six bicycles can park in the space required for one car. Therefore, while one car space equates to $27.00/hr retail spending, six bicycle spaces equate to $97.20/hr.
I would also imagine that passing cyclists and pedestrians are far more likely to stop on a whim than passing motorists, because they can more easily see into shop windows, and don’t have problems parking – which in busy centres is an issue even where kerbside parking is provided.
Perhaps it’s the same phenomenon as with park and ride — the most visible, space-hogging access mode is assumed to be the most important. Another factor might be that traders themselves might tend to drive, because they often have stock or equipment to carry to/from their shops, so they see access to their shops from the perspective of a motorist.
In any case, actually getting some actual evidence about their customers (and potential customers) wouldn’t go astray — rather than just assuming they all need to drive.