Toronto is Canada’s largest urban centre, and, as in many other North American cities, removing on-street parking to install bike lanes can be contentious. On three occasions, between 2009 and 2017, TCAT studied the local economic impacts (positive, negative or neutral) of removing on-street parking to install a bike lane and and to understand the role played by the travel patterns and attitudes of both visitors and merchants. The findings have disproved the myth that parking is essential to downtown small business.
- In 2009, TCAT published a groundbreaking study, “Bike Lanes, On-Street Parking and Business. A Study of Bloor Street in Toronto’s Annex Neighbourhood”. It found that only 10% of customers were driving to Bloor Street in the Bloor Annex downtown neighbourhood and that patrons arriving by foot and bicycle visited the most often and spent the most money per month.
- In 2010, TCAT replicated the study in Bloor West Village (Bike Lanes, On-Street Parking and Business Year 2 Report: A Study of Bloor Street in Toronto’s Bloor West Village), another neighbourhood in Toronto in a location further from the downtown, and found similar results. In the Bloor West location the study found that only 20% were driving to shop and the majority of merchants believed that a bike lane would increase their business.
In 2017, TCAT released the Economic Impact Study of Bike Lanes in Toronto’s Bloor Annex and Korea Town Neighbourhoods, a research report about the economic impacts of the Bloor Street pilot bike lane, as well as the effect on travel patterns and attitudes of visitors and merchants. Using a case-control and pre-post design, over 3,000 visitor and 625 merchant survey responses revealed once again that 90% of customers to Bloor arrived by foot, bicycle or transit. The study found no negative economic impacts associated with the bike lanes: both monthly reported customer spending and number of reported customers served by merchants increased on Bloor Street during the pilot. See below for the study overview and key findings. In addition to the full report, other project resources include a FAQ and a Summary Report.
2017 ECONOMIC IMPACT STUDY OVERVIEW
In 2015, plans were taking shape for a pilot bike lane on Bloor Street in the Annex neighbourhood that would remove half of the on-street parking. As determining local economic impact was originally outside of scope for the City’s study, the local business improvement associations (BIAs) reached out to TCAT and our University of Toronto partner to conduct research on this topic.
The research study was led by TCAT, in partnership with researchers from the University of Toronto. Funding was provided by the City of Toronto, the Metcalf Foundation, the Bloor Annex BIA, and the Korea Town BIA.
The research team worked together with the BIAs to develop an evidence-based methodology to assess economic impact, including the survey questions, and partnered with academic researchers from the University of Toronto on study design and to collect, analyze, and interpret the data.
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, four different sources of data were used to estimate economic activities 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 City of Toronto used a comprehensive strategy with multiple partners to measure a host of potential impacts of the Bloor pilot bike lane, including traffic operations, travel time, parking utilization, mode share, attitudes, and economic activity. 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.
2017 ECONOMIC IMPACT STUDY KEY FINDINGS
- 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.