Traffic Calming has Positive Economic Effects on Small Businesses and Property Values

The proposed redesign of Massachusetts Avenue incorporates many “traffic calming” elements such as: pedestrian bump-outs, cross-walks, landscaping, addition of bike lanes and the reconfiguration of vehicle lanes. The goal of traffic calming is to encourage multiple types of transportation (car, bike, walk and bus) and improve the safety and “livability” of a neighborhood for all users. What sometimes gets overlooked is that safer, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods are also the types of places where people want to shop, dine-out and own a home. In short, traffic calming improves the economic bottom line for local businesses. Many communities across the country have engaged or are planning to engage in similar traffic-calming projects as a way of revitalizing local businesses and residential property values.

One example is Valencia Street in San Fransisco. They used to have a road similar [see p. 5] in design to Massachusetts Avenue in East Arlington with two vehicle lanes going in either direction. Around the year 2000, the street was redesigned to include bike lanes and reconfigure the vehicle lanes to one vehicle lane in either direction with a shared turning lane in the middle. Prior to the project, many small business owners were skeptical of the redesign. As part of this study, conducted four years after the traffic calming project was completed, these same business owners were polled to assess how they felt about the redesign of Valencia Street. The results were striking:

66% of the merchants believe that the bike lanes have had a generally positive impact on their business and/or sales;

37% of merchants reported that the bike lanes have increased their sales;

73% of merchants thought that the bike lanes have made the street more attractive;

not one merchant reported that the bike lanes had made conditions “worse”;

and 46% reported that reduced auto speed was a good condition for business.

This report, funded by the State of California and the U.S. Government, surveyed the results of traffic calming projects in communities across the country. A few highlights from the report:

A 1999 study by the Urban Land Institute of four new pedestrian-friendly communities determined that home-buyers were willing to pay a $20,000 premium for homes in them compared to similar houses in surrounding areas;

Another study showed that a 5 to 10 mph reduction in traffic speeds increased adjacent residential property values by roughly 20%;

Walk-ability and bike-ability attract customers: Vermont is known for its pedestrian-friendly communities. In 1992, an estimated 32,500 visiting cyclists spent $13.1 million in Vermont – about twice the amount of money generated by Vermont’s maple syrup producers in a good year;

Following its traffic-calming redesign, the city of Lodi, CA credits the pedestrian improvements, as well as economic development incentives,with the 60 new businesses, the drop in the vacancy rate from 18% to 6%, and the 30% increase in downtown sales tax revenue since work was completed in 1997.

Nationwide, many communities are now undertaking traffic calming projects similar to the type proposed for Mass. Ave. The PBS News Hour recently did a story [bottom of page] on how St. Louis plans to use traffic calming measures to revitalize its downtown, currently “dominated by speeding cars and the occasional endangered pedestrian.”

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