- What are the study’s objectives? What are you trying to find out?
The goal of the Economic Impact Study for the Bloor Street West Bike Lane Pilot Project in Toronto’s Annex and Korea Town Neighborhoods research study is to understand the economic impacts of the City of Toronto’s Bloor Street West pilot bicycle lanes, including the attitudes of merchants and visitors to Bloor Street.
The study objectives are to conduct pre-installation and post-installation surveys, bike counts, and vacancy counts of visitors and merchants on Bloor Street between Madison Avenue and Montrose Avenue (the borders of the Bloor Annex & Korea Town BIAs), and compare with control surveys of a comparable shopping street where bicycle lanes have not been installed.
The study is exploring whether there is any change in travel patterns, economic activity, and attitudes for both merchants and visitors to Bloor Street, after the installation of the pilot bicycle lane.
- Who is working on the study?
The study is being led by The Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) in partnership with the University of Toronto. The University is responsible for research design, data collection and analysis. For TCAT, this is a third in a series of research studies that looks at the potential impacts of removing on-street parking to install a bike lane.
- How did this study come about?
The study was originally commissioned by the Bloor Annex BIA, the Korea Town BIA, and the Metcalf Foundation in October 2015, anticipating that a pilot bike lane would be installed on Bloor Street the following summer.
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.
- How is the TCAT research study different from the public consultation surveys the City of Toronto is doing?
An extensive evaluation of the Bloor Street bike lane pilot project is underway by the City of Toronto. Multiple partners are working with the City on a comprehensive strategy to measure a host of potential impacts of this new cycling infrastructure, including traffic operations, travel time, parking utilization, mode share, attitudes, and economic activity. The City also put in place an extensive public consultation process, including numerous public drop-in events and online surveys that have been completed by thousands of Torontonians. (Find out more about the City of Toronto’s evaluation methods.) The feedback collected by the City’s Public Consultation Unit has been helpful to Transportation Services to understand any concerns that any members of the public may have, and to address them on an ongoing basis.
TCAT’s research study is, by design, much more constrained and systematic. Our research methodology was defined at the outset of the project, and is not open to change, in order to ensure that our data at each of the three time periods is consistent and comparable.
- What is the study methodology?
There were four primary sources of data collected by University of Toronto surveyors:
- Pedestrian Intercept Surveys. Surveyors were dispatched in teams to both the study area and control site simultaneously in three different time periods (fall 2015, fall 2016 and spring 2017). Surveyors were instructed to approach the third person who passed after the completion of a survey. A Korean translator was on hand in Korea Town. Surveys were conducted at different times of the day/week. The target number of surveys was 1,000 for each of the three time periods (3,000 total).
- Merchant Surveys. Surveyors were dispatched in teams to both the study area and control site simultaneously in three different time periods (fall 2015, fall 2016 and spring 2017). Surveyors were instructed to approach all ground level merchants on both the north and south sides of the study area and the control area, to interview the business owner or manager, and to conduct surveys during off-peak business hours. Up to three return visits were made if the owner or manager was initially unavailable. On the final visit a contact sheet was left with a number for the owner or manager to call and conduct the interview over the phone. Surveys were conducted at different times of the day/week.
- Bicycle Counts. Counters were dispatched in teams to both the study area and control site simultaneously in three different time periods (fall 2015, fall 2016 and spring 2017). People riding their bikes were counted by hand, including estimating the gender and age of cyclists. Counts were conducted at different times of the day/week.
- Vacancies. The entire length of the pilot bike lane installation area, and the control area, was walked by researchers to note which ground level businesses were in use. The first count was in July 2016, and the second will be conducted in July 2017.
- How was the study area decided on? Why were the businesses east of Madison Avenue and west of Montrose Avenue not surveyed?
The study area represents the borders of the Bloor Annex BIA and Korea Town BIA (Madison to Montrose). The BIAs commissioned the study in 2015, before City Council had approved the installation, and the boundaries, of the bike lane pilot. To maintain consistency, the borders of the study remained the same for all three data collection time periods.
- Why were there no pedestrian surveys in the winter?
Our study follows as closely as possible the bicycle count and survey methodology established by the Institute of Transportation Engineers, designed to achieve consistent methods and practices. According to this recommended methodology, counts and surveys should be conducted during the second week in September on different days of the week to obtain a sampling of activity. Our data collection began as soon as the study was approved by our funding partners (October, 2015). For comparability purposes we collected data at the same time of year the following year (October 2016). The final data collection was conducted at a different time of year (spring 2017) to accommodate the timeline of the bike lane pilot.
- How exactly is the study looking at economic impact?
At the outset of the study (in 2015), our research team worked together with our initial funding partners (Bloor Annex BIA, Korea Town BIA, and Metcalf Foundation) to develop an evidence- based methodology to assess economic impact.
Our funding partners helped to shape the survey questions for merchants and people visiting Bloor Street. Whether to include a question about self-reported retail sales data was considered explicitly. It was decided against, due to privacy issues as well as complications in accessing, and confirming, this information in a systematic way within the prescribed budget and timeline.
It was jointly decided to use a similar methodology for providing an indication of economic impact that was used in TCAT’s previous studies, and in similar bike lane pilot evaluation studies in other cities (e.g. Calgary), which is to use averages of number of customers (from merchants) and average spending (from customers). An open-ended question was included on the survey to capture, in a non-leading way, any thoughts or comments that merchants or visitors have about the impact of the bike lane pilot.
All three of our initial funding partners approved the survey questions and approach prior to the start of the study. When the City of Toronto came on as a partner, we began working together with them to pursue what, if any, other options may be available to get access to retail sales data, to complement TCAT’s survey data.
- TCAT’s mission is to advance knowledge and evidence to build support for safe and inclusive streets for walking and cycling. Doesn’t that mean the study results will be biased?
We have assembled an impressive and experienced team of researchers at the University of Toronto, who have been commissioned to design the study, and collect and analyze the data with the utmost rigour. We take our role as researchers very seriously and are committed to publicly releasing the results, no matter what they are.
- Are there any drawbacks to the study?
Every research study has limitations, and this one is no exception. One of the advantages of a research study is that in the final report there is a section dedicated to documenting any conditions that were outside of the control of the researchers that could impact on the methodology and conclusions. Any limitations that may have influenced the results will be described in full.
- Where and when can I read the report that describes the study?
The study is nearing completion. There were three data collection time periods: fall 2015, fall 2016, and spring 2017. In summer 2017 the data will be analyzed and the report written. A public report will be released in October 2017. It will be made available on TCAT’s website.