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Pedestrian zones have little effect on spending, shows ULB study
According to a study carried out by students of environmental sciences at Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), customers remain loyal to businesses even if their locations become partly pedestrianised.
The study was carried out at the request of cycling union Gracq. It wanted to know if business owners located on streets and squares that would soon greatly limit access to cars needed to worry about losing revenue.
While the study showed that most shop owners are worried about that happening, shoppers themselves have no intention of changing their spending habits in the area.
The study was carried out among business owners and consumers in Boulevard de Waterloo and Avenue de la Toison d’Or, separated by the Louise tunnel, as well as in the Sablon. Both areas are in the planning stages for urban renewal projects that will see them resurfaced, creating more space for pedestrians and cyclists and less for cars.
The students interviewed nearly 300 regular customers and 88 shop owners in the areas. In Toison d’Or, more than 57% were convinced that limiting traffic would have a negative effect on sales. In the Sablon, that figure jumped to 85%.
Some 65% of shop owners in Toison d’Or and nearly all shop owners in Sablon thought that a majority of their shoppers arrived by car. It turns out that the opposite is true, at least in Toison d’Or: Among the customers interviewed, only 19% came by car. The rest arrived on foot or by bike, many passing through on their way to or from work.
In Sablon, meanwhile, a majority actually do come by car – 57%. However, a whopping 84% of drivers said they would return to those businesses after the works were carried out. They are prepared, they said, to come on foot, park further away or take to a parking garage to continue shopping in the neighbourhood. In Toison d’Or, this figure was 93%.
“This survey shows that the fears felt by shop owners is partly unfounded,” said Florine Cuignet of Gracq. “Concerns are based on assumptions made about the mobility habits of their customers and not considering that transport choices continue to evolve.”
Some shop owners did say that, while they thought the works themselves would greatly impact their custom, the final result would have no effect – or even bring more customers their way. “The transformation of shopping streets into more user-friendly and attractive spaces has a positive net effect on the local economy,” said Cuignet. “Pedestrians and cyclists form a regular clientele who spend the same as automobile users.”
Image: Boulevard de Waterloo and Avenue de la Toison d’Or are set to become nicer for pedestrians and cyclists