Bilking the Bikers: East Village Gets Cyclist-Centric Business District

bikelane Bilking the Bikers: East Village Gets Cyclist Centric Business District

What’s good for bicyclists is good for business? (Kristine Paulus, flickr)

The city has a love-hate relationship with its cyclists, but at least a few savvy Village business owners have embraced the city’s two-wheeled denizens for fun and profit.

Last month, Transportation Alternatives, the pro-transit advocacy group, in collaboration with Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, opened the city’s first Bike Friendly Business District on the Lower East Side. The district, a network of some 150 businesses and institutions now dedicated to better bike infrastructure, was proposed as way to increase customer traffic to local businesses. It’s an idea that has, according to the latest study, worked remarkably well.

The East Village Shoppers Survey came to the rather self-evident conclusion that people on foot and bike spent more overall and per capita at local businesses than those who drove. It also found that more women bike regularly in the neighborhood than in New York City as a whole.  A fact easily confirmed by The Observer’s impromptu survey while drinking coffee outside Think Coffee on Bowery and Bond—yet another personal sacrifice in the name of journalism. But the presence of more female cyclists is no accident. Woman are, according to the report, more inclined to ride a bike because of the protected bike lanes than their male counterparts.

And what business in its right mind wouldn’t want to cater to all those coffee-swilling hipsters cycling through the neighborhood?

“For me, bikes mean business,” Tom Birchard, the owner of Veselka restaurant in the East Village, told The Observer. “Bike lanes make our neighborhood more vibrant and safe and bring customers directly to our restaurant. Since bike lanes were installed outside, I’ve seen a huge increase in the number of bicyclists going by Veselka, and it’s been great for our bottom line. The Bike Friendly Business District will help bring even more customers though our doors.”

Although the city still has a lot of work to do to make the city more bike friendly (besides bike share).  The survey notes that the biggest barrier to riding in the neighborhood is the lack of dangerous driving enforcement, with 42% of those surveyed marking it as their biggest worry.

For a city driven by business, and a Mayor seemingly obsessed by metrics, bike-friendly business districts might be biker’s best hope of securing more coveted green lanes in the future.

“Streets that promote bicycling and walking mean more business for local shops and restaurants,” said Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives. “When it comes to the impact bike lanes have on local businesses, it’s a case of ‘if you build it, they will come.’ It’s no surprise that in the East Village, which is home to some of the city’s best street safety improvements, bicyclists and pedestrians play a critical role in the local economy.”

kdillon@observer.com