Northumberland Street, in my home town of Newcastle on Tyne, is the most expensive location in the UK to rent a shop, outside of London. The streets throng with pedestrians and it’s been car-free since the 1980s. Suggest opening it to cars and there would be uproar.

COMMENT: Car-free streets fuel retail boom

Yet, from 1928 to 1975, it was part of the A1, the main road from London to the north. The street was choked with motorised traffic. A footbridge had to be used to span the busy street.

The bridge; the tramlines; the cars; the kerbs; all were swept away to make Northumberland Street the prime retail location it is today. Buskers and performers entertain crowds where before most of the room was given over to the infernal combustion engine.

Look at Britain’s streets and roads and it’s hard to imagine them sans cars. But Northumberland Street –and many similar streets – show that it’s possible for a town or a city to thrive without providing through access to cars.

To many retailers – except bike ones, of course – this seems counterintuitive. Bikes are for poor people; cars are expensive so motorists must be more affluent. In fact, many studies have shown the opposite is the case.

A report for Toronto found that only 10 per cent of patrons at local businesses arrived by car and those arriving by foot and bicycle spend the most money each month.

In the 1960s, Copenhagen –despite resistance – created the world’s longest pedestrian street. Providing better access to cyclists and pedestrians resulted in a boom in business.

Recent studies from Bern, Switzerland, show that parking space devoted to bikes generates more business than an equal amount of space for cars. A study in Munster, Germany, found that cyclists buy fewer goods on each trip but spend more overall over a greater number of trips. A motorist that spends through the nose for the upkeep of a car – and parking – has less money to spend.

Actor Matthew Modine, founder of Bicycle for a Day which encourages people to use bicycles more, believes cycling puts money in pockets. Bikes can be parked for free:

“Imagine how wonderful life would be if you don’t have to [pay to] park to watch a musical; you have an extra $30.”

So, exactly what are you doing to encourage cycling to your shop? Do you provide for bike parking? Do you lobby your local council for more car-free areas in your town or city? Get on the case, you’ll benefit from increased sales.

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