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EDITORIAL (FALL 2017): Bike lanes, good for business

October 12th, 2017 · No Comments

When confronted with the question of whether or not to support the city’s pilot bike lanes on Bloor Street, the Bloor Annex and Korea Town Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) commissioned a study on the economic impact of the bike lanes. The comprehensive evaluation yielded clear results and also found a discrepancy between the attitudes of merchants and the positive impact the lanes appeared to have on their bottom lines.

The comprehensive evaluation yielded clear results and also found a discrepancy between the attitudes of merchants and the positive impact the lanes appeared to have on their bottom lines.

The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) worked with the University of Toronto to do a baseline analysis (pre-bike lane) in 2015, a post installation assessment in 2016, and another in 2017. They also established a control group on Danforth Avenue, which has no bike lanes, to account for other influences not attributable to dividing up the street for cars and bikes. According to Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), no one has ever implemented a more comprehensive study of a bike lane in North America.

The two major issues for merchants were the availability of parking spots and sales.

The pilot bike lanes cost 160 on-street parking spots, representing about 10 per cent of available transient parking. Many merchants reported in the baseline surveys that this loss would harm their businesses. It turns out these fear were misguided at many levels. Most customers don’t drive a car to shop on Bloor Street. Before the bike lanes were installed only 8 per cent of visitors reported they arrived by car. Curiously, that percentage went up slightly to 9 per cent for 2016 and 2017. Of this small group of shoppers, 92 per cent reported that finding parking was “easy or very easy” before the bike lanes were installed. Once the bike lanes were in place in 2016, this number dropped to 51 per cent, then bounced back to 86 per cent in 2017.

Sales went up over the study period, as did the number of shoppers.

According to the Bloor-Annex merchants themselves, during the baseline 50 per cent of weekdays had 100 or more customers per day. A year later it went up to 55 per cent, and by this spring it rose to 65 per cent. That’s a 30 per cent increase from the merchant self-reports. Visitors report a commensurate pattern: 48 per cent said they spent $100 or more monthly, before the lanes. In 2016 that group increased to 59 per cent and by 2017 it grew further to 65 per cent of respondents. There was also economic growth in the Danforth Avenue control area, so it’s important not to draw direct causal connections. However, it can be said with some confidence that business is better, and not suffering as a result of the bike lanes.

Business owners themselves have not been quick to embrace the bike lanes. It appears likely that some of them as individuals have had more negative travel experiences than their customers. At the beginning of the study 49 per cent of owners reported that they drove to work. By the third study period that number had not changed. The transportation challenges endured by the owners are not felt by over 90 per cent of their customers who walk, cycle, or take transit.

The BIAs wanted to take the emotion out of the question of whether or not bike lanes are good for business. It’s easy to be swayed by anecdotal reports and to heeding the loudest voice. There are plenty of strongly held views and those who are unaccustomed to embracing evidence-based policy.

It’s time to look at the numbers, which point to the conclusion that bike lanes are good for business.

Brian Burchell, the publisher of this newspaper, is also the chair of the Bloor Annex BIA.



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