Thursday 7 February 2013

Dear Highstreet,

Dear Highstreet,

I read recently that the boss of Tesco has said a few mean things about you, like calling you medieval. But my mum always taught me not to call people names. 

Actually that’s not true. 

She was a Scouser with a vicious tongue and wit to match, so if she’d have thought it was funny, you’d have been called much worse than medival.

I wanted to give you my humble opinion.

I am not as important as the big boss of Tesco, but I hope you will take the time to listen to the people you are calling on in your valiant campaign to get people to #shoplocal.

You are probably quite intelligent and have realised that I cycle a bit.  The clue, after all is in the blog title.  But I also drive.  I used to drive in the T.A. and have a love of Landrovers and big trucks.  Now I drive two (albeit not at the same time) 4x4’s.

Often I have to ‘fire up the Quattro’ just to nip to the shops.

When I get there it’s a flipping pain in the arse.  Finding somewhere to park, often having to get change for the parking.  And the Quattro is ruddy enormous, I often drive round and round trying to find a big enough space.

To be honest, once I am in the car, I may as well go somewhere that is free to park and has a big multi-storey carpark.  

Does this sound like somewhere familiar?  You see, the moment I utter the words ‘FIREUP THE QUATTRO!’ you have lost me.  

The money it will cost me in petrol, insurance, parking, etc etc I may as well go a bit further afield and get a few more things.  Shopping that I know will probably go off and be thrown away before I eat it, but hey, I was there, it was on special offer……..

As for clothes shopping….I mean… you've seen the Trafford Centre right?  And if my kids wanted to spend the day shopping, would I let them go on the bus into town? Hell no! I would escort them directly to the door of <insert local indoor massive shopping mall> and arrange to pick them up later. They are dry, safe, etc etc.

But I don’t want to do that.

I want to go to my local Butcher and buy tonight’s tea. Not £150 of over manufactured crap. I want a steak, or some sausages. I want to go to a proper Greengrocer for the veg.  I would like to go on my bike, not have to worry about parking or change. I just want a nice trip to the local shops.

I would like it to be a nice place to go. I don’t want to have to cross roads and negotiate busy junctions. A town centre choked to death by cars is not a pleasant place to be (there aren't any cars in the Trafford Centre right? Well OK one, but that’s a Bond car and it’s not going to run my kids over)

Don’t believe me huh? Mad Manc Bike Mummy you’re thinking?

In the voice of Through the Keyholes Loyd Grossman "Lets look at the evidence".

A study by the New York City Department of Transportation found that small businesses near protected bike lanes installed in 2007 saw sales grow much more sharply than the borough average. Another study by Portland State University found that people in Portland who drove to local businesses spent more money per visit than bicyclists, but cyclists visited the same businesses more often and spent more overall.

ok yep *nods*

A study by the Frontier Group think tank last year found that annual miles travelled by car among 16- to 34-year-olds dropped 23% from 2001 to 2009.
It also found that people in that age group took 24% more bike trips in the same period. A 2011 study by researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that the percentage of young drivers with licenses is declining.

So young people aren't driving as much. So they must then chose to live somewhere that makes non car ownership easier.

 "I think a lot of cities have found that bike infrastructure helps you keep your highly educated young people in the city after they graduate."

Keeping highly educated people. That sounds like a good plan. They've got dosh right?

But you still want to focus on more parking and cheaper parking do you??? OK we can continue……

Jobs. Who doesn't want to create more jobs?

Overall we find that bicycling infrastructure creates the most jobs for a given level of spending: For each $1 million, the cycling projects in this study create a total of 11.4 jobs within the state where the project is located. 
Pedestrian-only projects create an average of about 10 jobs per $1 million and multi-use trails create nearly as many, at 9.6 jobs per $1 million.
Infrastructure that combines road construction with pedestrian and bicycle facilities creates slightly fewer jobs for the same amount of spending, and road-only projects create the least, with a total of 7.8 jobs per $1 million. 

On average, the 58 projects we studied create about 9 jobs per $1 million within their own states.  University of Massachusetts

Create more jobs, shop local! They go hand in hand!

Evidence shows that for every £10 spent in an independent shop £25 is generated for the local economy compared to £14 spent in multinationals.
Getting to local shops easily is especially important for elderly, vulnerable and those without transport. Keeping your shops open by buying locally helps the whole community.

This is my favourite one so far…..

Research in Leicester has found that as motorised traffic flow increases so does the proportion of vacant shops along that particular street.
“Leicester Environment City Trust, 1993 Streets, traffic and trade: A survey of vacant shops sites in Leicester City Centre. Leicester: Leicester Environment City Trust.”

Yet here is Mary Portas completely ignoring the evidence and saying the opposite.

 “changing planning rules to allow councils to provide more parking spaces in town centres so they can compete with out-of-town supermarkets

She goes on to say about her project “ensuring its sustainability". How do you do that if you are increasing the use of cars?

Still unsure? 

How about a good old fashioned case study? Everyone likes a case study.

Valencia Street, Mission District, San Francisco

Traffic lanes in this street were slimmed to slow down cars and accommodate other users. Merchants reported that street changes enhanced the area. Nearly 40 per cent of merchants reported increased sales, and 60 per cent reported more area residents shopping locally due to reduced travel time and convenience. 

Overall, two-thirds of respondents described how the increased levels of pedestrian and cycling activity and other street changes improved business and sales. A network of complete streets appears to be more safe and appealing to residents and visitors, which is also good for retail and commercial development.

What's even better, they close some of the roads for a couple of Sundays in the Year.

If you wouldn't want this happening outside your shop, restaurant or bar, on a Sunday, maybe retail isn't for you!

What a wonderful sense of community, but Hightstreet you probably don't care about that, just look at the HUGE FOOTFALL!

I shall continue.....

A German study showed that:
·         Motorists are not better customers than cyclists, pedestrians, or public transport users. 
·         Because they buy smaller quantities, cyclists shop more frequently (11 times a month on average, as opposed to seven times a month for motorists).
·         Approximately 75 per cent of motorists purchase two or less bags of goods, and so could carry their goods by foot or bicycle.
·         Most shopping trips involve distances that could be walked or cycled

MORE MORE!!! Give us more case studies!

Changing car parking to bicycle parking in Lygon Street, Melbourne, Australia

Lygon Street, Carlton, is a popular cycling route near Melbourne University. It is a mixed use mainstreet – groceries, cinema, comparison goods, cafes, etc.

It has few bicycle parking spaces.  Surveys have shown that the average cyclist’s expenditure is 73 per cent of a car user’s, but space required to park a bike is only 12 per cent of the space required to park a car. Cyclists spend more on comparison goods, such as clothing and eating out, and less on groceries/cinema per visit.
In Lygon Street:

•           Each m² of space allocated to cars generates $6 per hour.
•           Each m² of space allocated to bicycles generates $31 per hour.

Put another way, the researcher estimated that:

•           1 car space produced $27/hr retail spend, but
•           6 bike spaces replacing the car space would produce $97/hr in retail spend.

The report concludes that incrementally replacing car parking with bike parking would therefore make economic sense

So, to cut to the chase my lovely dear highstreet, we all want you to survive and do well. 

You make where we live individual and a nice place to be.  I don’t want to live in A.N Other copycat town. I want you to be special.  

We should be joining forces. The people asking for better cycling provision and the #shoplocal brigade. WE ARE ON THE SAME SIDE!

But it’s a two way street. 
You must listen and evolve.  
You must stop competing for more motorised traffic.
Because therein lies your ruin.

Some references and just good old bedtime reading 


  1. Don't blame the likes of Tesco for the death of the high street.

    I'm 52 and can remember high streets full of shops like greengrocers, grocers and butchers. I can remember these shops all over towns, not just on the high street.

    People willingly deserted them for the new, small (by today's standards) high street based supermarkets, just as they willingly deserted buses and their bikes as soon as they could afford a car.

    And when the local high street became too clogged for easy parking because people insisted on making the shortest trips in their nice new cars, the supermarkets left, went out of town and took the opportunity to grow to enormous superstores.

    The people duly followed and the high street shops died.

    Most people are very proud to own and use a car and they will put up with traffic jams and all the other inconveniences of car ownership rather than use a bus or a bike. And many people enjoy the pseudo-sophistication of big stores and shopping centres like the Trafford centre.

    Grim, but that's just the way it is, and why all cycling 'initiatives' fail completely or nearly completely.

    Present day superstore operaters like Tesco are the result of peoples love of the car and supermarket shopping, not the cause of them.

    1. I didnt blame Tescos for the death of the highstreet. I blame our car centric culture to which Tescos (and all other big out of town stores) have adapted to beautifully with fantastic skill. I admire their business model. You cant not really.

      But what I am trying to get across is the fact I hear time and time again that people think that fighting back on those terms will do anything other than send them under. The highstreet needs its own set of rules. Which coincidently Tesco for one is catching on to by buying into a local looking chain of coffee shops.

      I genuinely think, given a decent safe choice of good infrastructure people will move away from their cars.

  2. In recent years farmers markets have proven to be increasingly popular. Independent stalls set up in towns like Lancaster and independent shops in places like Hebden Bridge have drawn people to visit for the day. I see this first hand. Grown up kids having a day out with their mums and grandmas - these places thrive on being different and are places not reliant on cars. Both have great train links to them & both have a sturdy number of cyclists passing through them.
    Look at how popular the xmas markets are in various cities around the country. The public want something more than supermarkets.

    I can confirm what a wonderful place Valencia St in San Francisco is having spent a few weeks based very close to it last year for a holiday where we hired bikes to get about. Because we were going at a slower pace, shop windows intrigued us and we could stop easily to look around. No need to worry about having a quick pint or glass of wine after wandering the shops either.
    Valencia has a Green Wave set for bike speed so once you hit the wave you can get almost 40 blocks through the city without ever having to stop. You certainly beat the cars between the traffic lights.
    We found the 'cycle highways' around the whole city invaluable and wonderful and to say I was cycling on the wrong side of the road, with traffic rules different to our own, I felt hundreds of times safer cycling there than here at home in the UK.
    We used the BART (tram) system to take our bikes further afield and explore. Much better facilities and definitely there has been a shift over the last 5 years in San Francisco towards this ever growing bike culture that has now moved away from Critical Mass to being much more mainstream where all road users have a greater understanding of each other. Fantastic to see it really starting to work somewhere. Now if only we could get our act in gear.

    1. Georgie, you have painted a wonderful picture. It sounds fabulous. I would very much like to visit San Francisco one day. My husband despairs that future holiday destinations do not revolve around him sitting on a beach doing not very much. He is being coerced into a trip to Denmark next.

  3. I'm not optimistic about this matter.

    The number of people concerned that our towns centres and high streets are being ruined by the car is tiny when compared to the number who are fully convinced that their inability to park when and where they like for next to no cost is some sort of conspiracy by the council to fleece them of money and probably an infringement of their human rights too.

    Look how many of these people adore awful places like the Trafford centre, both for its dreadful shops and its free parking.

  4. Great post. Of course, Portas, when she is not telling us how to run our high streets, is busy helping local shops like, er, Westfield...

  5. I've made this point on a few blogs now, but that people choose to drive to malls in part reflects their choice to shop in a completely pedestrianised space with absolutely no cars. If you suggested opening a mall where people could drive and park outside the shops, people would think you mad.

    People already choose to forego their cars where it is common sense, they just don't necessarily see it.

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