Verdict is in: Studies show bike lanes as beneficial to businesses, and drivers should want fewer cars
“A battle over a Brooklyn bike lane is in high gear!” read one article in 2011. “It’s a Bike Lane War on Prospect Park West!”
I am old enough to remember the New York bike lane wars of 2011. When transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan led the fastest and largest wave of bike lane installation the world had seen, the objections were the same we hear today in Cambridge: “Businesses can’t survive without some sort of public parking!” (Letter: “Our economy requires cars, and parking is vital for Cambridge’s struggling small businesses,” Oct. 22.) These predictions were wrong then and they are wrong now.
The verdict is in. The areas with new bike lanes saw retail sales increase, while injuries for all road users decreased. And it’s not just in New York City. Study after study in city after city has found that bike lanes increase road safety for all users and have either positive impact or no impact on retail and food service. While cyclists tend to spend less per trip than cars, they make more frequent trips. I encourage you to read a fantastic, brief summary of findings from six U.S. cities in a study out of Portland State University.
Opponents claim that the planned bike lane on Massachusetts Avenue in North Cambridge would hurt retail, despite this evidence. The burden of proof is on them. They claim that the process to decide on the bike lanes was undemocratic, because it was passed during the pandemic – when all public meetings were held via Zoom, with greater access than ever before! And the bike lanes are part of the Cambridge Bicycle Plan, a city vision effort created with very broad public engagement in 2015 and a renewed round of engagement for the updated plan in 2020. I am proud that our city councillors make infrastructure decisions that reflect these democratically created plans and that are based on research, not Nextdoor posts.
The mystery is why people who rely on cars object to city efforts to get some people out of their cars. This should be a win-win, since those who can and want to bike will be able to do so more safely, and those who need or want to drive will have fewer cars on the road competing for space and parking. There cannot be any other solution to Cambridge’s traffic and parking woes. The population is increasing, the number of jobs in Cambridge is growing and the amount of road space remains fixed. The only way to avoid making today’s unbearable car traffic even worse is to make it easier for people to switch from cars to bikes, walking and transit. Adding cars benefits no one.
I have little doubt that the bike lanes will be built. The support is real, and city councillors know it. Cambridge is making the right decision on this bike lane, and the next one, and the next one. And if voters review the research, they will conclude that our city councillors are right, and the worried opponents are wrong.
Sam Ribnick, Sixth Street