“Removing 160 parking spots to install a protected bike lane was, without question, a major change to Bloor Street. While the safety benefits are paramount and undeniable, the economic impact is important for the small businesses that line the street. This new research provides strong evidence that since most customers do not drive to Bloor, on-street parking is not essential to the street’s economic vitality,” says TCAT Director and project lead Nancy Smith Lea. “We also have confirmed that people who walk or bike are the best customers for small local business.”
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 study was launched in 2015, nine months before the bike lane was installed, with funding provided by the City of Toronto, the Metcalf Foundation, the Bloor Annex Business Improvement Area (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 deciding upon survey questions and economic indicators. Data was also collected on Danforth Avenue, a comparable shopping street with no bike lane, so that changes observed on Bloor could be placed in context.
TCAT partnered with academic researchers from the University of Toronto to design the study, and to collect, analyze, and interpret the data.
In total, the study collected estimated customer counts from 525 merchant surveys, estimated spending and visit frequency from 3,005 visitor surveys, and business vacancy counts from two street level scans.
"This study looks at multiple data sources to estimate economic impact — comparing estimated customer counts, estimated spending and visit frequency prior to and after the installation of the bike lanes. We didn’t ask businesses about sales because without solid point-of-sale data to verify their responses it would be insufficient, or subjective," Lea added.
Surveys and bike counts were conducted on Bloor and Danforth before and after the installation of the bike lane in three time periods: fall 2015, fall 2016, and spring 2017. The vacancy scans took place in July 2016 and again in July 2017.
“This study was expertly designed to capture representative and unbiased data on the economic vibrancy of Bloor Street in the Bloor Annex and Korea Town business districts, and how that has changed over time as a result of the bike lane,” says Dr. Steven Farber, a quantitative transportation geographer at the University of Toronto Scarborough, and the data analysis lead on the project. “The results are quite clear. Visitors to Bloor are cycling more, visiting more frequently, and spending more money in local businesses. All the while, a larger number of merchants are reporting higher customer counts when comparing 2015 to after the bike lane installation.”
The report is now headed to committee.
TCAT’s report is part of the City of Toronto’s comprehensive strategy 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, the City of Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee will review all the evidence that has been collected and make a recommendation about whether or not the Bloor bike lane should be made permanent.
Following the release of this report, and the concurrent City Staff report, Mayor John Tory was widely quoted as being in support of the bike lanes:
He told reporters that the bike lanes shows “a positive impact” on Bloor Street.
“And so I will support the staff recommendation to keep the bike lanes, with continued improvements to be made to safety, street design and practical improvements for local businesses,” he said.
Here's a Recap of the Key Findings: