The goal of this research study, commissioned in 2015, was to understand the economic impacts (positive, negative or neutral) of the City of Toronto’s Bloor Street West pilot bicycle lanes, including the travel patterns and attitudes of merchants and visitors to Bloor Street. The study was led by The Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) in partnership with the University of Toronto. The University was responsible for research design, data collection and analysis. For TCAT, this was the third in a series of research studies that looks at the potential impacts of removing on-street parking to install a bike lane.
On October 11, 2017, TCAT released Economic Impact Study of Bike Lanes in Toronto’s Bloor Annex and Korea Town Neighbourhoods. In addition to the full report, other project resources include a Summary Report: Economic Impact Study of Bike Lanes in Toronto’s Bloor Annex and Korea Town Neighbourhoods, an FAQ, and a graphical project findings snapshot. See below for the study background, overview and key findings.
On October 18, 2017 the City of Toronto’s Public Works & Infrastructure Committee reviewed all of the evidence that had been assembled into a staff Report for Action, including TCAT’s economic impact study, and recommended that the Bloor bike lane be made permanent. On November 7, 2017, City Council voted to adopt this recommendation.
In 2019, findings from this research study were published in the Journal of the American Planning Association in an article titled “Measuring the Local Economic Impacts of Replacing On-Street Parking with Bike Lanes.”
The study was originally commissioned by the Bloor Annex BIA, the Korea Town BIA, and the Metcalf Foundation in October 2015, when plans were taking shape at the City of Toronto for a pilot bike lane on Bloor Street in the Annex neighbourhood. As determining local economic impact was originally outside of scope for the City’s study, the BIAs reached out to TCAT and our University of Toronto partner to conduct research on this topic.
In 2016 Toronto City Council approved the pilot bike lane and directed staff to measure a host of impacts. The City of Toronto commissioned TCAT to provide assistance on the bike lane pilot evaluation. To increase confidence in the study results, the City funded an additional data collection period (in spring 2017), over and above the two originally funded by the BIAs and Metcalf, as well as the collection of new data and analysis about vacancies.
Using a case-control and pre-post design, over 3,000 visitor and 625 merchant survey responses revealed that 90% of customers to Bloor arrived by foot, bicycle or transit. Data was also collected on Danforth Avenue, a comparable shopping street with no bike lane, so that changes observed on Bloor could be put into context.
Between 2015 and 2017, TCAT used four different sources of data to measure economic activity before and after the installation of the bike lane:
- estimated customer counts from 525 merchant surveys,
- estimated spending from 3,005 visitor surveys,
- visit frequency from the visitor surveys, and
- business vacancy counts from two street level scans.
Overall, all four indicators point to increased economic activity on Bloor Street following the installation of the bike lane, despite the removal of 136 on-street parking spots and one traffic lane. Most merchants reported a higher number of customers than before the bike lane’s installation, visitors gave higher estimates of spending and visit frequency, and vacancy rates were stable.
The study also examined the travel patterns of customers, both before and after the bike lane’s installation, and found that fewer than 10% drive. Walking remains the most popular travel choice (48%), but cycling almost tripled, growing from 7% to 20%. Over 90% of customers were thus unaffected by the reduced capacity for cars.
The daily commutes of merchants, however, were significantly more impacted. Nearly half (49%) of merchants drive to work, meaning they face traffic and parking difficulties that their customers avoid by walking, cycling and taking transit. There was no increase in the number of merchants cycling to work, which, at 6%, remained their least popular travel choice.
- The number of businesses that reported 100 customers or more per day increased in the study area on both streets. Reported spending increased on Bloor and Danforth at a similar rate.
- Both before and after the bike lane, customers who arrive by foot or on bike reported higher levels of spending on Bloor Street compared to those arriving by car or transit.
- On both streets, locals (those living or working in the area) were 2.6 times more likely than those coming from further away to spend more than $100 per month.
Customer Frequency and Vacancy Rates
- After accounting for other contributing factors such as age, gender and proximity, visitors reported coming to Bloor three days more per month after the bike lane was installed, while on Danforth visit frequency was unchanged.
- People who arrived on foot or on bike visited Bloor the most often, and people who drove or took transit visited nearly four days less per month.
- Vacancy rates held steady at 6% in Bloor Annex and Korea Town. On Danforth, they declined from 10% to 7%.
Shifts in Travel Patterns and Parking
- The percentage of customers cycling to Bloor nearly tripled (from 7% to 20%), a substantially higher increase than on Danforth Avenue, which has no bike lane.
- Walking remained the most popular travel choice, used by nearly half (48%) of visitors on Bloor, and driving is now the least (10%).
- Merchants on Bloor Street preferred to drive (49%) and there was no increase in cycling, which remained the least preferred travel choice (6%).
- The majority of merchants believed that at least 25% of their customers are driving to Bloor; however fewer than 10% of customers reported arriving by car.
- Parking difficulty increased on both streets for visitors who drove, growing by four times on Bloor (from 8% to 33%) and nearly doubling on Danforth (from 14% to 25%), though this street did not have any on-street parking removed.
- When looking at all visitors, the percentage who needed to find car parking and experienced difficulty remained small: 3% of all visitors on Bloor and 4% on Danforth.
Perceptions of Safety and Feedback on Bike Lane
- After the installation of the bike lane, the proportion of visitors who perceived Bloor Street as safe for cycling more than tripled (from 17% to 61%), and doubled among merchants (from 13% to 27%), while perceptions of safety on Danforth dropped (22% to 10%).
- The percentage of women who reported they now feel safe cycling on Bloor increased significantly more than men, from 12% to 58%.
- The majority of visitors (86%) and merchants (90%) provided feedback in response to an open-ended question soliciting thoughts or comments about the bike lane.
- While visitor comments were generally positive, the most common feedback related to the bike lane’s configuration and safety. Merchants raised more concerns than visitors, especially over impacts to business, but safety, parking, and traffic were also important issues.