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Using Consumer Spend Data to Inform Transit Projects

In this blog, we're highlighting how mobility and economic data can help facilitate difficult public engagement processes that come with ambitious public projects

November 27, 2023
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We’ve all heard this story before: a transformative transportation project faces stiff opposition because a particular stakeholder claims it will wreak havoc and compromise the status quo. As public agencies weigh community feedback like this, Replica allows them to contextualize who is being heard and what voices may be left out, in order to inform the discussion in a more holistic way. There are 3 ways that public agencies should be able to use data like Replica in this context, and we’re working to make them more accessible than ever: 

  1. To easily consider and quantify the economic impact of proposed projects and policies (to drive economic development and have informed conversations with local stakeholders); 
  2. To find comparative examples across the country, given the breadth of our data; 
  3. To have affordable, consistent data in order to measure the impact as it happens.

In this blog we’re highlighting a recent example of stakeholder concern on the grounds of economic impact, and how agencies can respond to this sort of pushback with data. A recent NY Times article highlights the project: a New York City busway on Fordham Road in the Bronx.

Existing Conditions on Fordham Road, ℅ NYCDOT


The benefits here are clear. NYC Department of Transportation touts the corridor as the 2nd busiest bus route in NYC, serving an average of 85,000 daily riders. Replica data demonstrates that the majority of this ridership comes from households with no access to private automobiles. By creating dedicated bus lanes, the project has the potential to reduce travel times for transit riders while reducing congestion, noise, and local air pollution for all. 

Proposed Alternatives on Fordham Road, ℅ NYCDOT

The pushback comes from some businesses in the area who fear the project might alter their patronage. These stakeholders worry the project will hinder private vehicles from using the corridor to visit the Bronx Zoo and Botanical Gardens.

The first metric that can inform this discussion is detailed consumer spending data. Replica’s data is often used to measure how normal the “New Normal” is, and to site projects based on measured changes in demand for facilities, but Replica also features robust, nationwide economic activity data. Replica’s consumer spending data is released at the census tract level on a weekly basis, and can be used to monitor the economic impacts of transit projects. With nationwide historic data, Replica can help agencies find a comparable project anywhere else in the country. 

However in this case we don’t have to look far. We can consider a nearby busway project: Main Street in Flushing Queens, a vital NYC neighborhood that serves as a major commercial and retail hub in the city. The project created bus and truck-only through-travel on a stretch of Main Street, with a pilot phase that began in January 2021. 

Replica allows users to select the census tracts around Main Street, and to input an implementation period, to clearly show a before and after comparison across mobility and consumer spending metrics. In the case of the Main Street busway, Replica data shows that restaurant and bar spending on and around Main Street has increased after the implementation, with spending up 13% for the month of September 2023 as compared to September 2019. Similarly, retail spending is up 10% for the period. 

Conversely, when looking at the same period for the census tracts around Fordham Road, including the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden, restaurant and bar spending is down 6% while retail spending is down 19%. These numbers suggest that perhaps it’s better to consider busway projects as investments that can bring in additional visitors, including those that may not have access to private automobiles, as opposed to a hindrance to recovery.

Replica’s datasets can allow agencies to inform discussions using observed local, regional, and national comparables. The data’s continuous nature allows agencies to stay informed on the impacts of the infrastructure and policy projects in the planning phase, throughout implementation, and beyond. Keeping an eye on projects like Main Street can help us learn what to expect with similar work and how travel and spending patterns are changing both in response to a project and otherwise.

If you would like to see how Replica spending data can help with your work, please reach out.

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