The current street design paradigm in this city seems to assume that one of the biggest opponents to bike lanes on Toronto’s major arterials are the local store owners who will raise hell at the thought of losing on-street parking. A new report released this week by the Clean Air Partnership challenges this, and demonstrates that in Bloor West Village businesses would not suffer if bike lanes were installed.
A study conducted in the area showed that 44% of merchants believed there would be “no change” in their customer base if half of on-street parking was removed and replaced with bike lanes. This number becomes slightly more convincing as an additional 10% of merchants thought they would probably experience increased business as a result. Thus, a majority, albeit a slim one at 54%, of merchants in Bloor West Village feel they would not be hurt at all by installing bike lanes in place of parking. Similar results were found when merchants were given the option of using the reduced parking space to widen the sidewalks.
The study also showed that numbers of customers arriving by means other than cars was greater than what most merchants anticipated. While only 21% of visitor respondents in Bloor West Village had arrived there by car, 61% of merchants surveyed estimated the number would be higher.
Visitors in the area showed similar numbers in support for altering the streetscape with 43% supporting the idea of replacing parking with bike lanes and 15% suggesting using the space for wider sidewalks. Not surprisingly, support for reducing parking was less amongst those who had driven to the area, it was not however uniform as 48% of those who drove still supported the idea of replacing parking with either bike lanes or widened sidewalks.
Interestingly, a relationship was also found between mode of transportation and spending habits.
The study found those who did not drive to the area were likely both spend more money and visit more often. Results showed that 86% of non-drivers spent more than $100/month in the area compared to 69% of those who drive. This fact significantly weakens the idea that on street parking is essential to business viability.
As the City moves forward with the bike plan, establishing the true consequences of removing on street parking will be very important. It would seem that mainstream attitudes on this issue today are not always correct, and it cannot be completely assumed that removing parking will negatively affect business, or that merchants will necessarily stand steadfast in opposition.
Of course, each area in the city is unique and has specific transport pattern. This study was conducted in July 2009 and reflects a specific type of destination, meaning the results of the study are useful but limited.
Other cities have been bold enough to remove on-street parking to create space for improvements to the pedestrian and cycling environment. While Toronto has been slow in this regard, studies such as this reflect the gradual process of shifting opinions about what we need from our streets and what is good for both merchants and all other users.
Combined with a previous study by the same organization that showed similar results in the Annex, the city can be assured of community support for a Bloor-Danforth cycling corridor in at least two important neighbourhoods on the route. Shifting paradigms about what role on-street parking plays and how stakeholders really feel about it will do a lot to move this city forward.
Photo by Harvey K