Point/ Counterpoint: On-Street Parking

Point-Counterpoint 1

Illustration by Ian Sullivan Cant from our 2016 summer print issue.

To go with our celebration of the Bloor bike lanes we have an article from dandyhorse issue 13 on the importance (or unimportance) of on-street parking. Want to pick up issue 13? Get it at your door here, or single issues are available at better bike and book shops around town.


Point/Counterpoint: On-Street Parking

POINT: On-street parking will need to be removed to accommodate bike lanes in some location along Bloor Street.

by Nancy Smith Lea

Our main streets serve a multitude of purposes. We navigate them to access local shops, services, cultural institutions, and our homes. We gravitate to them in times of civic celebration, protest or loss, such as ex-mayor, Rob Ford’s recent ceremonial funeral procession. And they help us move around the city, whether on foot, bike, wheelchair, stroller, public transit or car.

This mix of functions is missing from the way streets are tidily described according to the City of Toronto’s road classification system. Within this hierarchical system (see Hess and Milroy, 2006, for an excellent and thorough critique) our main streets are called major arterials and traffic movement is their primary function, with a typical daily traffic volume of over 20,000 motor vehicles per day.

The City of Toronto has close to 5,600 km of roads, of which 14 per cent are major arterials. Despite their small number relative to other road types, major arterials are where the vast majority of traffic collisions occur (close to 70 per cent) where people are harmed or killed. According to Toronto’s traffic safety unit, between 1999 and 2014 there were 955 people killed in traffic collisions on Toronto streets and a further 210,458 injured. Of those killed, the majority (56 per cent) were vulnerable road users (pedestrians and cyclists), a number hugely disproportionate to the 9 per cent who walk or bike to work across the whole city of Toronto.

The volume and high speed of motor vehicle traffic on our main streets, then, creates a very dangerous environment, particularly for people walking and cycling. Additionally, the practice of permitting on-street parking during off-peak hours poses a real risk to cyclists.

According to the City of Toronto’s 2007 pedestrian collision study and the 2003 Toronto bicycle/motor-vehicle collision study, collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists are concentrated in the downtown core, particularly along arterial roads. The most common reported bicycle/motor-vehicle collision in central Toronto involves a motorist opening a vehicle door into the path of a passing cyclist. Almost all cases of “dooring” occur on arterial east-west roads that have high-turnover curbside parking.The resulting injuries are often more severe than those in other bicycle/motor-vehicle collisions.

One of the largest Canadian academic research studies to date on the topic examined the relationship between cycling injuries and route characteristics. University of British Columbia professor Kay Teschke and her team interviewed 690 cyclists hospitalized in Toronto and Vancouver and then compared the injury sites to that of a randomly selected control site from the same trip. They found that the most dangerous place for cyclists to ride is on major arterials with parked cars.

So, in our increasingly congested urban centres, why don’t we simply remove the on-street parking that presents such a hazard to cyclists? Simply put, it comes down to money. Small businesses are the backbone of Canada’s economy. Of Toronto’s 85,000-plus businesses, a large majority (76 per cent) have fewer than 10 employees. It’s rare for a small business operating in downtown Toronto to have its own parking lot and the City has a long-standing tradition of providing public space (on streets and other publicly-owned land) dedicated to this purpose.

According to its website, the Toronto Parking Authority (TPA) operates 17,500 metered parking spaces on Toronto’s streets and a further 20,000 off-street spots, which “contributes significant revenues” to the City. TPA claims that providing almost 40,000 parking spots is “required by commercial strips and neighbouring residential areas to survive” and asserts its relevance today by quoting a Toronto mayor of 50 years ago who said: “business goes today where there is convenience, thrifty parking, and stays clear of locations that can’t or won’t provide it.”

This popular belief in the importance of on-street parking to the survival of small business was virtually untested until Clean Air Partnership published a 2009 study titled “Bike Lanes, On-Street Parking and Business. A Study of Bloor Street in Toronto’s Annex Neighbourhood.” This report examined the public acceptability and potential economic implications of reallocating road space from on-street parking to widened sidewalks or bike lanes.

The results surprised even us. We found that the vast majority (90 per cent) of people shopping on Bloor Street in the Annex are walking, cycling or taking public transit. In other words only one in ten people shopping are driving there. Furthermore, we found that people arriving by foot, bicycle, and transit visit more often and spend more money than those who drive and that the majority of merchants believe a bike lane will increase their business, even if they lose on-street parking.

The startling findings from our local study created a snowball effect of similar studies being conducted in Toronto and other cities including New York and Portland. They all found strikingly similar patterns: a very small minority of customers are driving to small businesses on the main streets of our urban centres. The TPA’s claim that parking is responsible for the “survival” of main streets is likely false and at best, overstated.

We can’t say for sure (yet) if bike lanes are good for business, but we do know that cyclists are good customers. All we ask is for business owners to keep an open mind when it comes to street design. We all win if our local business thrives in a street environment that is safer for all.

Nancy Smith Lea is the director of the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT), a project of the registered charity Clean Air Partnership.
Point-Counterpoint 2
Illustration by Ian Sullivan Cant from our 2016 summer print issue.

COUNTERPOINT: Bloor Street is a street for all to enjoy – yes, even drivers.

By Brent Robinson

The wait is over; we’re finally getting bike lanes on Bloor Street. The upcoming pilot project will install bicycle lanes from Shaw Street to Avenue Road and help connect major bike routes on streets such as Shaw and St. George, offering a much needed back bone to the growing network of cycle lanes in Toronto. The pilot project keeps one traffic lane and one bike lane in either direction and alternates parking lanes on one side the street. This is unquestionably the layout that will best serve all users of Bloor Street.

During the early stages of the pilot project an option for removing all on-street parking was put forward. No longer a consideration, on-street parking was rightly deemed a necessity for Bloor. This is not because the City of Toronto is pandering to car users, but because it realizes that the street must be shared and that there must still be vehicle access.

Bloor Street can be shared between cyclists and car users with a plan that allows everyone to use the road safely without making huge sacrifices. Removing half of the parking on Bloor and installing semi separated bike lines will offer cyclists additional safety, while still allowing other users of the road a similar level of convenience.

It is true that people who ride, walk, or take transit to Bloor make up the majority of the customer base for that area. However, in a survey conducted by the City of Toronto in late 2015, 71 per cent of businesses surveyed on Bloor Street rated parking as important, with over half of the businesses rating it as very important. It is crucial that these businesses which keep Bloor Street vibrant and busy, have the assurance that all of their customers can travel to them with the same level of safety and convenience.

A huge safety issue for cyclists is delivery vehicles and taxis stopping in the bike lane in order to offload both goods and passengers. All it takes is a quick look on the City of Toronto Cycling Facebook page to see how many cyclists are fed up with delivery vehicles and taxis blocking their path. There is no way around this – delivery vehicles must make their deliveries in order to keep local businesses in business. In the same survey mentioned earlier, two-thirds of businesses rated loading for deliveries as either moderately or very important. While some businesses have the opportunity to load from laneways or side streets, this is not the case for all.

In response to a query from dandyhorse the city’s manager of cycling infrastructure and programs, Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati, said that access for delivery vehicles “was an important part of the consideration” and that an option for no parking “was not carried forward for further evaluation because it does not provide any opportunities for on-street loading/deliveries as well as on-street parking.” The upcoming pilot project will also include passenger loading locations similar to the lanes on Sherbourne. This will alleviate some of the tension between cyclists and taxi drivers, allowing both to share the road amicably.

The most important result of this pilot project is to maintain the idea of fairly sharing the street. Bloor Street is no different from other streets in this city and should be shared. Many people use it and they all have different means of getting there and travelling along it. Having a project that will help us all use the road safely while not changing it’s nature will ensure that Bloor Street is a safer place for cyclists to travel, without sacrificing what we all come to Bloor Street for. That’s one small step for a street, but a giant leap for Toronto.

Brent Robinson manages Sweet Pete's B-Side in the Annex. He commutes by bike every day on Bloor, and occasionally delivers bikes between the shops.

Screenshot 2016-08-08 17.57.02

Our new issue of dandyhorse has arrived! dandyhorse is available for FREE at Urbane Cyclist, Bikes on Wheels, Cycle Couture, Sweet Pete's, Hoopdriver, Batemans, Velofix, and Steamwhistle. Our new issue of dandyhorse includes cover art by Kent Monkman, interviews with Catherine McKenna and the women behind Toronto's first feminist bike zine, lots of news and views on Bloor - including this story above - and much, much more! Get dandy at your door or at better bike and book shops in Toronto.

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