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It’s the Bike Lane? Stupid.

February 7, 2011

Here’s another brilliant example of bad reporting from deep within the news room at CBS  in New York:  Lack of Parking Destroying Columbus Avenue Businesses.

When the Department of Transportation installed a bike lane on Columbus Avenue in November, it changed the whole street design and took away parking spaces.  That lack of parking spaces is now wreaking havoc on local businesses.

So how many local business owners does CBS’s Peter Haskell interview for his story?  Just one.

Ivan Pharmacy owner Ivan Jordan said his business has declined by 25 percent and the major cause is the parking trouble.

Is parking really the problem?  Maybe it has something to do with the record amounts of snow we’ve had since the Christmas weekend blizzard and the fact that it’s been impossible for people on foot, on bike, on car, or whatever to get anywhere.  The piles of snow covering street corners and other parking spaces hasn’t factored into it?  I’m assuming many of Jordan’s customers are elderly people.  I wonder if the icy, narrow sidewalks are keeping a lot of them at home?

A simple search for pharmacy near 691 Columbus Avenue, New York yields nine other pharmacies within walking distance of Ivan Jordan’s business.  There’s a Duane Reade just across the corner at 700 Columbus Avenue.  Maybe the encroachment of chain stores into Jordan’s neighborhood has something to do with it.  There’s also the Internet; I’ve seen those Soap.com ads everywhere.

Of course, there’s this darn recession.  Fewer people with jobs, fewer people with health insurance, fewer people filling prescriptions…that could be the reason, right?  Nope.  It’s the four parking spaces that Jordan’s block has lost.

“The decline in business was the most immediate because people got frustrated looking for a parking spot that they just went elsewhere,” Jordan said.

This is absurd on its face.  I doubt too many people drive to one location in New York and, when they can’t find parking, drive a few blocks away to a land where parking is free and abundant and the businesses are all exploding with profits.  Parking sucks in Manhattan no matter where you go.

This is all my own theory, done with not a whole lot more than a few seconds of thought and an Internet connection.  I can’t say what the real cause of Jordan’s loss of business is, but then again, neither can Jordan.  And more importantly neither can Haskell.  But that doesn’t stop him from airing it on CBS radio.  It probably took Haskell as much time to produce his radio piece as it took me to write this blog post.  But that’s the state of old fashioned media these days.  It’s sad.

I’ll add that CBS is not alone in this regard.  Here’s the headline from AMNY, the free daily: Study: Street redesign hurting Upper West Side businesses. Well, not exactly.  Area businesses aren’t very happy with the bike lane and are blaming it for a decline in business, but correlation is not causation.  A study by members of CB7 and local politicians even says that the study “did not ask merchants to quanitify the impact of the street redesign to their business.”  The bike lane may not be perfect, but without verification it’s a stretch to say it’s the sole or even leading cause of lower profits.

For a better, researched take on the Columbus Avenue bike lane and potential tweaks in its design, please read this piece filed by Kate Hinds at TransportationNation.org.  There are statistics, facts, figures, quotes from local officials, and multiple points of view are presented.  It’s journalism.

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