In 2006, the City of New York began implementing a series of improvements to the streets designed to enhance pedestrian movement, improve bicycle access and safety, and elevate the aesthetics of the streetscape. These projects included the construction of pedestrian plazas and parking-protected bike lanes, implementation of select bus rapid transit service, and corridor streetscape enhancements. New and controversial, these changes shifted space among different uses and altered the appearance of major public spaces. The Department of Transportation sought to evaluate the economic impact of these improvements, and specifically to identify whether these street improvement projects contributed to greater economic vitality in the surrounding neighborhoods.
The Department of Transportation engaged Bennett Midland to design and execute a study to understand the economic impact of a discrete set of street improvements implemented between 2006 and 2010. To complete this work, Bennett Midland developed a novel approach to evaluate the economic impact of street improvements using sales tax records as a measure of economic activity. We examined eleven sites where improvements were completed, and identified a set of similar sites to serve as a comparison group. For each improvement or comparison site, Bennett Midland obtained data on quarterly sales tax records from businesses operating in Retail Trade and Accommodation and Food Services from the New York City Department of Finance. At each site, we compared sales in the year prior to improvement to sales one, two, and three years after improvement.
Our findings strongly suggested that the City’s street improvement projects did not detract from commercial activity at the site of implementation; they may have even contributed to economic growth. Bennett Midland’s study was the first of its kind to use highly localized sales tax data to evaluate the effects of street improvements.
With broad interest in the study nationally, Bennett Midland teamed up with PeopleForBikes and Portland State University to conduct the study in seven additional cities.