Columbus Developers: Transit Riders Are Bad for Business

It’s hard to believe, in this day and age, that some people still harbor a negative attitude about bus riders. But the sad truth is, transit users continue to be stigmatized in many quarters.

This prejudice bubbled to the surface recently in the city of Columbus, Ohio, where business interests want to dispel crowds of bus riders at a major downtown commercial street. According to the Columbus Dispatch, “Downtown developers have complained that COTA passengers waiting for transfers near Broad and High streets, and buses lining the curbs make the area less attractive for retail stores and their customers.” Development interests have implied that a transit mall on High Street should be replaced with on-street parking, and they complained particularly about transit dependent riders, who they claim “don’t shop” and “can be intimidating.”

Development interests near Broad and High streets in Columbus, Ohio want bus riders to get lost. Photo: My Quality Time

To say nothing of the ugly class and racial implications of those kind of statements, John Wirtz at Xing Columbus has taken the time to analyze the developers’ claims:

I have a hard time believing that all those bus passengers waiting for transfers are a problem for businesses. Mr. [Cleve] Ricksecker [head of a local special improvement district] says transit dependent riders don’t shop. Is there any data to support this?  It sounds like a gross over-generalization to me.  Second, he suggests that people can be intimidated by the idea of walking on the same sidewalk as bus passengers. It sounds crazy to me, but I suppose there might be someone out there that is scared of transit dependent bus passengers. If they have that phobia though, they’re probably not willing to come downtown at all, so changing the urban design of downtown to accommodate these people doesn’t sound like a very good strategy to me.

I don’t see any way the parking could generate even close to as much pedestrian traffic as the buses currently do.  So if I were someone promoting downtown businesses, I wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice the bus lanes on High Street unless a very good alternative solution could be found that would be both convenient for bus passengers and keep them walking down High Street and passing those potential retail locations.

According to Wirtz’s analysis, the local transit authority brings about 14,000 passengers into downtown daily, all of whom are potential customers — far more than the number of people who would come to downtown Columbus if the city converted street space to metered parking.

Elsewhere on the Network today: SoapBoxLA looks enviously at the city of Baltimore, with its Bicyclists’ Bill of Rights and Complete Streets legislation — two areas where the city of Los Angeles has fallen short. The Chicago Bicycle Advocate recommends a new iPhone App that can help cyclists cover their bases in the event of a crash. And Riding in Riverside explores the connection between multiple-car households and the failure of a California state parks levy.