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How many times have you thought: I’d love to sit outside but it’s kinda noisy and stinky with the cars right there?

This is my fourth post in a series on transforming our shopping districts into more pleasant places to get to safely and hang out in.

We’ve reached an awkward moment in Vancouver’s history where trips by active transportation and transit are increasing without updating our shopping districts to accommodate those modes as well.

If as of May, 2015 50% of all trips in Vancouver are made by walking, bicycling, or transit and we haven’t updated the safety for those modes in any of our shopping districts yet, is this affecting how well businesses are doing? It seems it must be.

Janette Sadik-Khan, likening a City to a business for a moment, said about updating streets: “If you didn’t change your major capital asset in 50-60 years, would you still be in business?”

Now that an interesting amount of data from best practices elsewhere confirms these changes are good for business, it is time for the City to plan improving the streets in our shopping districts with updates such as wider sidewalks including bulges, raised crosswalks, mid-block crossings, protected bike lanes and intersections, better bicycle parking, car-free plazas, space for transitioning between modes, and other additions.

Successful business owners like Jimmy Pattison always talk about exceptional, friendly customer service being the most important step for companies. What they really mean is that the whole customer experience – from the first website visit, to ease of getting there and getting through the door, to the impression the place is clean and appealing indoors and out, through the direct customer experience until the good-bye/see you soon – should be at least safe and pleasant or even fun.

Every successful business also adapts to the times to continue to be desired. They adjust to new ways their customers reach them (both online and via other modes of travel). Businesses are not served well by being seen as on the wrong side of history on the issue of safer streets.

Reach out to the successful ones who intend to be there throughout and after these transitions. The businesses who do well for many years do the following:

  • keep their awnings clean, readable, and free of green fuzz,
  • ask the City to install bike racks near them by tweeting details @CityofVancouver #311,
  • make sure the doors, floors, tables, chairs and bathrooms are clean,
  • greet customers with a smile,
  • make an effort to get to know regulars,
  • are in tune with what menu items or stock their customers really want,
  • have great relationships with their suppliers to get those items on a consistent basis,
  • handle complaints graciously – often with follow-up check-ins,
  • and always say please and thank you.

What we can do to help local businesses – especially through this transition:

  • make an effort to thank and support local businesses and their owners – especially the ones who support safer streets for all,
  • avoid lecturing (or “You should…” sentences to) business owners who have no intention of changing; it’s a waste of energy; they will learn the hard way,
  • go to the business manager or owner before complaining elsewhere if you have any problems: Assume If you like us, tell your friends; if not, tell us! is the motto of every business,
  • spread the word about great experiences in person, on social media, and with your friends and co-workers,
  • every time you visit, casually mention to the server what mode you took to get there,
  • notify the City if you see loose bike racks, street lights out, plastic bags stuck in street trees, etc. by tweeting the details to @CityofVancouver #311,
  • and always say please and thank you.

The City, together with residents, business owners, employees, and our visitors will need to pitch in to improve the health, safety, economic viability, and delightfulness of our shopping districts.

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Image from Marie Sullivan. Check out her blog at https://mariesherrillsullivan.wordpress.com/