Councillor Joe Cressy announces the Tour de Bloor Passport at Bloor and Robert this morning, June 21, 2017.
Tour de Bloor Passport
New program shows new bike lane is a win-win for cyclists and merchants on Bloor
Story by Albert Koehl, photos by Jun Nogami
If a business opposes the Bloor pilot bike lane, does that mean it doesn’t want a cyclist’s business? It’s a question most merchants have probably never had to answer given the reigning political attitude that safe roads for cyclists are discretionary – a privilege to be granted or denied depending mostly upon motor traffic and parking impacts. The fate of the Bloor pilot bike lane will be determined by City Council in the early fall. In the meantime, an initiative by cycling groups to promote local businesses to the thousands of new cyclists on Bloor should help make the business question moot.
The Tour de Bloor Passport, which launches today, includes 75 businesses (including the ROM and HotDocs) along the Annex and Koreatown commercial areas of Bloor.
By shopping at these establishments, cyclists, and other passport holders, can prove --- especially to businesses who remain undecided --- that cycling is indeed good for business. Merchants may not be accustomed to reaching out to cyclists, or vice versa. The passport helps to make the introductions.
The city’s recent survey results for Bloor businesses found opinions almost equally divided between those who strongly favour (34%) or strongly oppose (35%) the bike lane. In the course of our canvassing of local merchants --- with one, two, and sometimes three visits --- to invite them to participate in the passport we didn’t ask their opinion about the bike lane but their reactions usually made their position clear.
The manager of one local restaurant that I’ve frequented for years, waved me off like she might an annoying gnat, saying: “We don’t want the bike lane.” Most businesses, even ones not faring quite as well as this restauranteur, were more civil.
It’s plausible that the opposition of at least some merchants is based on a narrow self-interest, especially when it comes to on-street parking. One business owner complained at a recent BIA meeting that he can’t park in front of his favourite coffee shop anymore – a shop that’s a mere 3.5 blocks from his own store. Before the pilot bike lane, the manager who waved me off often parked her car on Bloor close to (but not in front of) her restaurant, thereby depriving potential customers of choice spots.
Businesses that are in industries suffering declines (which likely includes book, variety, print and video stores) didn’t sign up for the passport, and had negative responses to our visits.
Some businesses, like dry-cleaners and convenience stores, may suffer more than others from the loss of on-street parking given the quick-in, quick-out nature of their enterprise. This, however, serves mainly to bring into question the 3-hour maximum duration for existing on-street spots.
We signed up roughly the same number of businesses west of Bathurst, the area generally known as Koreatown, as east of Bathurst in the Annex. Some, although not many, Korean restaurants signed on. Language was sometimes a barrier suggesting that our cycling community must do better in its outreach work.
It would be a mistake for cyclists to consider all merchant opposition as a ‘scapegoating’ of the bike lanes.
Some merchants who were sympathetic to the bike lane told us that there has been a significant decline in patronage since the bike lane was installed. They suspect that many motorists now avoid the area given the congestion, reduced on-street parking, and difficulty turning across the bike lane. The City’s data shows that motor traffic in the pilot area has declined 22%, although the data doesn’t specify how much of the drop is during shopping hours compared to rush hour when most motorists use Bloor as a thoroughfare.
One complaint we heard several times, especially from merchants west of Bathurst, is that their clients are unwilling to walk from Green P lots behind their stores. Thus, as the recent city data suggests, the issue isn’t the supply of car parking --- which has been cut by less than 10% to accommodate the bike lane --- but the proximity of that parking to a store’s front door.
Change is difficult but it’s also difficult to sympathize with motorists who won’t invest a few minutes for the safety of their fellow citizens on bikes. On the other hand, it’s easy to sympathize with merchants whose sales are suffering as a result. The real issue is about how we plan for the changing reality of our city.
In the Annex area alone, there are almost two dozen pending or approved high-rise residential development applications, including the giant Honest Ed’s project, that will bring thousands of new residents into the neighbourhood. These residents won’t need parking for shopping trips. From a community perspective, therefore it’s hard to justify --- in an increasingly crowded downtown --- planning our city to suit motorists who are unwilling to walk 50 metres. Unfortunately, Toronto has for decades conveyed the message that motorists can expect free or cheap parking anywhere in the city, no matter the consequences for other road users.
While the cycling community can’t ignore negative impacts on a merchant’s livelihood so too it’s time for the broader community, including merchants, to address the peril on roads to cyclists’ lives. Cyclists’ safety shouldn’t be treated like an optional component of the road system -- chosen or rejected like a decision at a burger joint. “Would you like fries with that?”
Most businesses don’t ultimately care how their customers arrive, as long as there are enough of them passing through their doors. I’m reminded, in a different context, of the story (recounted to me by a canoe outfitter) about a European tourist in Algonquin Park. The tourist had rented a canoe for a week-long trip. On his return, the tourist, looking gaunt, complained that he had run out of water a few days ago. “But what were you canoeing on?” the outfitter asked.
The Tour de Bloor Passport is designed both to help merchants notice the presence of cyclists, and appreciate them as potential shoppers, and to ensure that more cyclists visit local businesses to help them prosper. There should be no question that there’s plenty of room for both the bike lane and local businesses to succeed.
Rachel Lee (far left) from local business Superfresh joined cycling advocates and local councillors to promote the Tour de Bloor Passport.
Tour de Bloor Passport in a nutshell:
- Passports are available at Curbside and Sweet Pete’s (Annex) bike stores
- Passport holders who shop at a minimum of 20 businesses are eligible for a draw
- Prizes include a Simcoe Classic bike (retail value $849)
- After making a purchase, participating merchants will initial (or affix a sticker) to the passport
- The passport is an initiative of Cycle Toronto’s Bloor Working Group, including Bells on Bloor
- The passport is also available to non-cyclists and runs until mid-September 2017
- More information from firstname.lastname@example.org (and watch for updates at BloorLovesBikes)
Albert Koehl (pictured below) is an environmental lawyer, writer, and founding member of Bells on Bloor. The Tour de Bloor Passport is an initiative of Cycle Toronto’s Bloor Working Group, which includes Bells on Bloor.
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