Parking, pedaling and picture shows: The Indianola bike lane kerfuffle

In modern America, we are conditioned to think that inconveniences to automobile drivers are a threat to economic growth, but the evidence isn't there.

Brian Williams
Eric Brembeck of Studio 35 and other business owners along Indianola Avenue in Clintonville are worried about the city eliminating parking on the east side of street for a bike lane, saying that will hurt business.

It’s not exactly Red America vs. Blue America, but a clash over bike lanes and independent local businesses in Clintonville seems infected by the nation’s rancorous social media and normalized political polarization. At issue is a fear that losing parking spaces on Indianola Avenue is a threat to a movie theater’s viability.

If we can all calm down, we can look at the facts. The sharp red and blue might fade to an aromatic rose and lilac, and we can pedal over to Studio 35 Cinema & Drafthouse and share a nice craft brew together.

But then we’d probably just erupt into debate over hoppy IPAs vs. malty Scottish ales.

Studio 35 is a treasure — clearly one of the most wonderful things about Columbus. Though it’s common now to buy a beer at a movie theater, it was unheard of 50 years ago when Studio 35 brought in the taps and kegs. The effort saved a failing theater and landed it on the front page of The Wall Street Journal a few years later. Quirky double features and beer made a great combo.

Today, most Columbus screens are in multiplexes owned by corporate chains and surrounded by seas of distant parking. Studio 35 is among a small number of independent neighborhood movie houses in the country to which people can walk or ride their bicycles. Many were struggling even before COVID hammered the theater industry. 

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Eric Brembeck has been a good steward of the theater’s 84-year history (it opened in 1938 as the Indianola Theater — one of the city’s 40 neighborhood theaters, plus nine downtown). Frank Marzetti, who first added suds to the screen, would no doubt approve of the way Brembeck has added a bar, a pizza shop and a second screen to the place while maintaining an independent vibe.

But Brembeck appears adamant in fighting what bicyclists consider the best of several options for bike lanes between Hudson Street and East North Broadway — asking people to sign an online petition to the city, favoring an option that is really no safer for bicyclists than the current take-your-chances policy. His recent improvements to the theater show his willingness and ability to adapt to changing conditions. I would hope that adapting to more bikes and fewer parking spaces would be a logical next step.

But logic is not driving the discussion. A lot of bicyclists who like movies, pizza and craft beer — and love supporting local merchants over faceless corporations — are haughtily vowing on social media to never visit Studio 35 again. “Hah! I’ll give up some of my favorite things! That’ll show him!”

In modern America, we are conditioned to think that inconveniences to automobile drivers are a threat to economic growth. The data has other ideas.

Google pretty much any combination of “economic effects bike lanes reduced parking business losses” and you’ll find links to dozens of studies from large and mid-sized cities across the U.S. that come to the same conclusion: If added bike lanes and subtracted parking spaces have any notable economic impact at all, it’s likely to have affected the businesses positively.

The only negative “research” I found was in a newsletter of New York City’s regional trucking industry, which relied on anecdotal evidence from a handful of restaurant owners along one stretch of Queens Boulevard. True, Google will show you studies from bike advocacy groups, but those are data-driven and typically done by academic researchers.

One of the best studies was in New York, which has about 1,300 miles of bike lanes. The city has compared economic data from businesses along new bike lanes (for select periods before and after adding the lanes) with that of similar commercial stretches on streets that lack bike lanes. The studies are based on the finance department’s analysis of city sales tax data, and found that the bike lanes, on the whole, brought new revenue to small businesses.

The Indianola plan would remove nearly two-thirds of the current 299 on-street parking spaces in a roughly mile-long stretch from Hudson to Broadway — with the remaining spaces all on the west side.

With bike lanes, more people are likely to be comfortable riding that stretch of Indianola. The theater is the most visible feature of the small commercial strip, but many drivers may not be aware there’s also an art gallery, record shop, coffee shop, upholstery shop and other neighborhood businesses. If they get out of their cars and pedal down Indianola on new bike lanes, they’ll most likely notice those businesses — and will find it easier to visit them than if they were driving. Especially with streetscape improvements that would make the strip feel safer and more comfortable.

And even if you drive there for a movie, a 600-foot stroll from your car to the theater is much more pleasant on Clintonville streets than in a Lennox parking lot.

Brian Williams is a consultant and freelance writer. A former Columbus Dispatch reporter, he is retired from the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.