Data suggests 8th Street's car-free zone boosted business

Posted at 11:30 AM, May 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 10:30:48-04

BOISE, Idaho — Back in June 2020, the City of Boise restricted vehicles in a one-block section on 8th Street downtown to make it a pedestrian area. The block has several restaurants, bars, and coffee shops and is one of the most popular areas for outdoor dining in Boise.

As Idaho News 6 has reported, businesses across the state have struggled to stay afloat amid the pandemic. The experimental pedestrian zone was met with some push back from several people worried the vehicle restrictions would negatively impact business--but new data shows 8th Street's unique opportunity to become a car-free zone may have boosted business.

Data Analysts at Yelp looked at several different cities that opted to shift to pedestrian-only traffic in 2020, including Boise's 8th Street. They found 8th Street businesses saw a 29 percent boost in consumer activity in comparison to the rest of the city during COVID-19.

“We want communities to understand where there are great places to do business and actually have businesses receive those benefits,” said Justin Norman, Yelp’s vice president of data science told Bloomberg CityLab. “More broadly, as local governments and policymakers carve out policies that enact safer streets, we hope this information adds value to that.”

This data is new--and it's important to keep in mind there are lots of factors to this. Many other local businesses didn't have the opportunity to expand outdoor seating like the ones on 8th, or have the chance to switch to a pedestrian-only street--but this data is not the first research of its kind. Researchers at Portland State University found pedestrian and cyclist traffic had a positive impact on sales, especially for restaurants.

That boost in business is something 8th Street businesses like Juniper say they've seen firsthand.

"I definitely think having foot traffic only is going to help. You already see it," said Kacey Montgomery, Juniper's owner. "If you take the number of people that are walking down the street right now and standing on the sidewalk and outside the restaurants and you try to put that on two sidewalks like it used to be it would be shoulder to shoulder--I know it's working and I know people are enjoying it."

As Idaho News 6 has reported, Juniper quietly opened its doors for the first time in eight months earlier this month.