This post is part of the Thesis Chronicles series.
Several years ago I was spurred on to investigate why there weren’t more bike parking spaces in front of my favourite indie cinema in Lygon Street in Melbourne. Given that I was working at the time as a transport planner with the City Council I really had no excuse for my lack of answers. Upon further investigation I uncovered the truth- that it was too difficult fit more bike parks on the already crowded footpath and too difficult to look at touching car parking spaces in this busy commercial strip unless there was a robust economic justification for doing so.
So under the auspices of my Master of Urban Planning thesis I looked into the expenditure patterns of visitors to the area, and discovered that there was an economic justification for turning car parking spaces into bike parking spaces.
Public space used for parking in Lygon Street is predominantly (99% of it) used for car parking. Only 1% of public space used for parking is used for bike parking. This felt inherently unfair to me, so whilst questioning the use of public space generally I was most specifically concerned how parking space could be used more equitably in line with visitor needs but also have the spin off of supporting expenditure in the area too.
Looking at a case-study from Lygon Street in Melbourne, this is what I found:
Firstly, let’s be clear: car drivers do spend more money shopping when they park than cyclists do. But because bikes are more space-efficient the space used to park bikes produces more economic activity in a shopping strip than if it were used by a car.
• Space used for car parking is less efficient at generating expenditure than bike parking
It may initially seem logical to conclude that if car users spend more, then public space should be dominated by car parking to attract more ‘high spenders’ to make the retail precinct successful and vibrant. However, the relative space efficiency of each mode needs to be considered. Table 1 shows that average cyclists’ expenditure in Lygon Street is 73% of a car users’, however the space required to park a bike is 12% of the space required to park a car. There are much smaller financial returns which result from the investment in land for car parking compared by bike parking although the potential for increases in bike trips may be limited in current circumstances. Each square metre of space allocated to cars reaps just $6 per hour in expenditure, whereas each square metre of space allocated to bikes reaps five times as much ($31 per hour).
Table 1: Comparison of average expenditure and space efficiency
Mode $ spent per hour parking space measurement hourly revenue generated per m2* BIKE $47 1.5m2 $31 CAR $65 13m2 $6
*Based on car occupancy of 1.2 people per car and bike occupancy of 1 person per bike.
Put in another way:
• Incrementally replacing car parking with bike parking makes economic sense
The financial benefits of replacing car parking with bike parking only makes sense where people cycle. Replacing car parking with bike parking which is then unoccupied would reduce the amount of expenditure derived from that public space. So how many car parking spaces should be removed and replaced with bike parking?
It’s fairly laborious and inexact to determine precisely, however the best bet is to take an area which has a high demand for bike parking, and replace two car spaces to begin with and see if demand then justifies more.
In 2008 the Melbourne City Council constructed a semi-permanent curb-outstand, removing two car parking spaces for bike parking spaces. Some months later the Council made it permanent with the curb-outstand shown in the image below. The project was extremely successful, with the bike parking allocated full at peak periods, from about 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., and very full around lunch time also.
• Further Reading/Investigation
Streetfilms features a number of projects which have achieved this reallocation of public space using semi-permanent structures. Here’s an example from San Francisco.
My full thesis can be accessed here.
I gave a summary of the project at the Bike Futures Conference 2009, $ Value of Bike Parking.
The case has also been written up in the academic journal Australian Planner:
Lee and March (2010), Recognising the Economic Role of Bikes: Sharing Parking in Lygon Street, Carlton, Australian Planner