Sustainable Streets Linked to Positive Economic Impact

A new report on the 21st Century Street project in NYC details how bike, bus and street improvements can have a dramatic affect on retail activity, safety and traffic. The why's, how-to's, metrics and results are all inside.


What Happened?

A new report from the NYC Department of Transportation, “Measuring the Street”, details how designing smarter streets leads to increased retail activity in those areas.

What Are 21st Century Streets?

The city set forth a goal of building great public areas that enhance economic value neighborhood vitality. The plan to use new technologies with time tested tools is called 21st Century Streets. The methods are as follows:

  • Design safer streets for all street users (pedestrians, bike riders, drivers and public transportation)
  • Improve bus service to bring rapid transit beyond the subway
  • Reduce delay and speeding to allow for faster safer travel
  • Add efficiency in parking and loading to improve access to businesses and neighborhoods

Study Metrics

In order to gauge the success of the DOT’s program, the city used the following methodologies as measurement:

  • Crash and injury stats for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists
  • Volume of vehicles, bus riders, bicycles and public space users
  • Traffic speed
  • Economic vitality
  • User satisfaction
  • Environmental and health benefits

The Results

On Page 4 of the report you can see a visual of how NYC implemented the first bike protected lane in Manhattan. Key data shows that by adding the bike lane, pedestrian safety islands, left turn bays and signal phases, as well as mixing zones for bikes and left-turning vehicles, a 58% decrease in injuries to all street users occurred. Additionally, a 49% increase in retail sales was seen in businesses in the impacted area.

In Union Square, the city added pedestrian plazas, simplified intersections and added a protected bicycle path. Speeding decreased by 16%, injury crashes dropped by a quarter and business vacancies dropped by almost 50%.

In Brooklyn, the transformation of a parking area into a pedestrian plaza boosted retail sales by 172%. In the Bronx, changes to bus routes – allowing truck deliveries at scheduled times only, giving buses signal priority – helped to increase local retail sales by 71% as well as ridership by 10%.

Dedicated Lanes

On First and Second avenues in Manhattan, dedicated bus and bike lanes were added, leading to a 177% increase in bicycle volume, 47% fewer commercial vacancies and a 37% decrease in injury crashes. Bus lanes are painted red and bike lanes are painted green, with the bike lanes separated by a painted island from vehicle traffic.

Technology Plays a Big Role

A number of technologies played a major role in the success of the city’s efforts:

  • Smart parking meters allow the city to raise parking rates during peak demand periods
  • Advanced traffic signals with remote communications allow engineers to make real-time changes allowing for better flow in response to congestion
  • Microwave traffic sensors and EZ Pass readers measure congestion levels

Further Reading

Gov1 covers transportation rigorously, typically from the angle of how intelligent transportation systems and efforts can transform communities. Please click on our Transportation category to learn more about how other cities and towns are approaching this sector.

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