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Turns out, pedestrianization actually increases retail sales volumes

As many of you know, I have been keeping a close eye on the pedestrian-only pilot that is currently underway on Market Street. And judging from all the engagement that my tweets usually get, a lot of you would love to see a lot more of this kind of urbanism both here in Toronto and elsewhere. (When Kensington Market?) The below photo was taken on Friday evening and Cirillo’s Academy, which is a culinary event space at the foot of the pedestrian-only stretch, was running some sort of event. All of the tables were filled with diners and it was basically a full fledged restaurant in the middle of the street. It was great to see.

But the question that always comes up with these sort of initiatives, particularly here in North America, is: Will it hurt the businesses? To answer that, here’s a study that @economistcarson shared with me on Twitter that looks at the economic impact of street pedestrianization in Spanish cities. What the researchers did was essentially look at card transaction data from a major Spanish bank and then overlay it on top of land-use changes from an Open Street Map dataset. In doing so, they discovered some pretty important takeaways.

Here’s what they found:

  • Pedestrianization actually increases retail sales volumes
  • Geographic location within a city tends to be insignificant
  • The two key factors for driving revenue are: (1) store density and (2) store category
  • For store category, the largest positive effect was observed for cafes, restaurants, bars, and other non-tradeable, local consumption activities

What this last point is saying is that people, at least in Spanish cities, tend to prefer pedestrian-friendly environments when it comes to experience-based activities. And that makes complete sense. On the other hand, if you’re just running out for a little toilet paper and hemorrhoid cream, having a nice pedestrian-first experience is less critical. And this also makes sense.

Some of you, I’m sure, will correctly point out that Spain has, on average, better weather compared to a place like Canada. And that their store densities and overall densities are likely higher, and that they have deep historic urban fabrics to rely on. All of these things are certainly factors. But I don’t think any of this should stop us from working to better optimize our cities for pedestrians. There are lots of successful examples all across Canada. It can work. Just look at Market Street.

1 Comment so far

  1. Peter Smith

    I’ve just spent a few day in Montreal and Quebec City, which both have more challenging climates than we do. They both have a number of pedestrianized streets at different scales e.g. rue Ste-Catherine and rue de la Gauchetiere. All seem to be doing phenomenally well. We can do it too!

    Liked by 1 person

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