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Were COVID Pedestrian Streets Good for Business? Interviews and Surveys Reveal a Recipe for Success


During the COVID pandemic, at least 97 cities closed downtown streets to vehicles, implementing commercial pedestrian streets to encourage active travel and economic activity at a safe social distance. This study seeks to answer two research questions: “How did a pedestrian street program impact a business’s revenue and attitude toward commercial street closures, as compared to other businesses in the area, whose streets did not close?” and “If located on a pedestrian street, what factors influenced a business’s experience with the program?”. I created a geographic database of these pedestrian streets and identified and collected contact information for over 20,000 businesses within close proximity to them. I interviewed a diverse sample of 38 businesses on pedestrian streets to understand the impacts of the program on their business, which informed a survey which was distributed to a large sample of identified businesses. The interviews and survey results highlighted issues surrounding parking, access for the elderly and disabled, safety, shifts in client base, deliveries, winter conditions, general atmosphere, and city involvement. I also tested the effect of pedestrian street intervention on business revenue by surveying a large sample of businesses near, but not located on, a pedestrian street (pseudo-control businesses). I found the effect of pedestrian streets on revenues to be uncertain but on average negligible. I conclude with actions that cities can take to maximize the benefit of pedestrian streets to local businesses.

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