Proposals to install bike lanes and/or widen sidewalks on main streets in Toronto almost always require the removal of parking spaces along the street. Such proposals have often triggered loud opposition from some local businesses, who fear that they will lose customers if the customers can’t find parking. But until now, there has been no rigorous study to show whether there is any basis for such a fear, or in fact to find out if these vocal opponents are representative of local businesses.
A 2006 study of a Manhattan street (PDF) showed that, in fact, local businesses would benefit if parking was removed so that sidewalks could be widened. Last summer, on behalf of the Clean Air Partnership, Fred Sztabinski, then coordinator of the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation (TCAT) (and sometime Spacing contributor), embarked on a similar exercise for a street in Toronto. The report, Bike Lanes, On-Street Parking and Business (PDF), has just been released. It’s a study of Bloor Street in the Annex (Huron to Palmerston), and it shows that removing parking for either bike lanes or a widened sidewalk would actually benefit local businesses in that area. The study surveyed both merchants and people walking along various parts of this stretch of Bloor during the month of July 2008.
The first part of the study shows that the majority of owners or managers of local businesses estimate that only a minority of their customers drive to their location, and also that they believe it would not harm, and might even benefit, their business if parking were removed to make space for either bikes or pedestrians.
The second part of the survey shows that the merchants are correct in their estimation of how their customers get to their store: 46% walk, 32% take transit, 12% cycle, and only 10% drive. Not surprisingly, walkers were also the most frequent visitors to the area, followed by cyclists, transit users, and finally drivers. Walkers also spent considerably more in the area than other types of customers. In other words, pedestrians were by far the best customers, followed by cyclists. Drivers, meanwhile, are the least frequent visitors and are low spenders.
Finally, the study shows that, if one lane of parking was removed, there would still be enough capacity in local “Green P” municipal parking lots within a 3-minute walk to accommodate the peak demand for parking.
Any such study will of course be specific to a location. It may be that this stretch of Bloor is less car-oriented, and more bike-oriented, than other similar streets in Toronto. But even if other areas are a little different, the general distribution — with pedestrians the majority and the best customers, and cars a real minority and not particular high spenders — is likely to hold true for any neighbourhood retail street in Toronto. It’s a valuable precedent to show to skeptical local businesses. As well, the methodology of the study, which is carefully laid out, provides a template for other studies in other locations where local businesses may have concerns. This particular study was originally developed with bike lanes in mind, and so ends up more bike-oriented, but the methodology could be easily adapted to any mix of new facilities for pedestrians and/or cyclists.
This study fills a major gap in our understanding and should make it easier to make the case for replacing parking spaces with facilities for pedestrians and cyclists in the future.
Photo by Commodore Gandalf Cunningham.