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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Study finds that removing parking to install bike lanes or widen sidewalk would benefit businesses on Bloor

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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.



  1. It’s interesting data, but I’m curious how much the results would change if they redid those surveys in January.

  2. The plans to redesign the Annex don’t include bike lanes. Councillor Vaughan suggested that if the narrowed streets don’t leave room for bikes, that the cyclists could walk on the sidewalk. We’ll see how that goes.

    Maybe a lane of parking should have been taken out instead.

  3. Jacquilynne raises an interesting point, though I would hypothesize that there would be only a small increase in the number of people driving cars during the winter. My guess is that the bigger change would probably be a drop in cyclists, leading to a slight increase in pedestrians and transit users (the latter being pedestrians by default anyway). My sense is that most of the people who walk, cycle, and take TTC around Toronto don’t pull their cars out of storage when it turns to winter, if they have one at all. If you prefer to drive then you probably do it most of the time, regardless of the weather. The same goes for walking or taking transit.

  4. Because streets in T.O. are relatively shorter and more condensed(compared to the suburbs) i believe converting parking lanes into sidewalk/bike paths is a great idea. An entire street(like Bloor) doesn’t need to be converted in its entirety, maybe segments of it, to encourage walking and more people interaction. Pedestrian streets all over the world have proven that shops “do not” suffer from business productivity, it enhances it. Toronto could do well with more wider sidewalks and even pedestrian only streets. I’d vote for it.

  5. Living in Toronto and getting everywhere by car or TTC… I can quite easily say the places I frequent the most are the ones I walk to… when I need to go somewhere that I drive to… I find parking somehow… so I encourage the city to remove parking and install bike lanes. Businesses in dense areas will *not* lose much of any business… down where I live there is *NO* parking on Yonge st!

  6. Winter driving is an issue for me. I unfortunately do drive my car(little one) during the winter months because it saves me time(*and actually money, since its already paid off) Walking thru mounds of snow to get across town is daunting. I feel like a north york commuter to downtown toronto. Though on a weekend i do take the ttc to interesting commercial streets because i know i’ll have time to walk around. I guess it comes down to how often do the “locals” of that commercial street walk around to their favourite stores, especially on week days. Roncesvalles, near my house is filled with people who walk. It’s a fair walk from Howard park to Queen but people do seem to prefer this over driving and parking out front. The only folks that would need parking like this are elders or handicap. So i think this particular street would benefit from a wider sidewalk.

  7. Bike lanes and wide sidewalks on Bloor just makes sense. The city has plenty of side-street parking but it is unfortunately monopolized by residents who treat these spaces as their personal driveways for occasionally used personal vehicles. Clean this up and you solve problems around snow clearance as well.

  8. I think the results of the study are representative of a lot retail areas / neighbourhoods…I am glad to see the shop owners were the ones that provided the data. Perhaps the results can be circulated to other retail areas such as the King theatre/restaurant stretch. A year or so ago when the TTC proposed a trial by removing street parking, expanding sidewalks and allowing only right hand turns and one way traffic on King the shop owners/theatres went crazy and demanded that the trial be held somewhere else. Obviously it never happened and king is still a mess…and navigating the three feet of sidewalk around patios and signs is still a pain in the ass. I think more of these business owner have to realize that most people walk, ride, ttc and as a last resort drive and if so park in green P lots or u/g in the financial area if we are still talking about king. Less street parking will not effect your business..!

  9. I’m so glad this study was done! It makes intuitive sense that businesses don’t necessarily get a lot of custom from on-street parking — what’s better, 20 cars parking on your street for 2 hours each, or 600 pedestrians walking past your store? — but it’s great to have actual numbers.

  10. Parkdalian, using your paid-for car does not save you money over cycling, transit, skateboard or walking unless it is uninsured, runs on water and requires no maintenance.

  11. Re: winter vs. summer — depending on the area, customer activity can fluctuate significantly as well. Cycling would likely go down a lot, but the number of customers using other modes would probably go down too… the question is whether the decrease is proportional across all modes.

  12. Boris — for short trips of this nature, the main cost of driving is parking… gas and maintenance are minor components for short trips, and we’re assuming the car is insured anyway. Obviously walking and cycling are free… transit is “free” if you have a metropass.

  13. Boris: I use my car during the winter months, i thought i mentioned that. During the spring, summer, fall months i ride my bike everywhere. So yeah, it does come out cheaper than a ttc pass(*PLUS any time i need to use a rental car) over the span of a year. But thanks for taking an interest in what i do or should be doing.

  14. So what happened on Spadina?

    Parking was reduced, and LRT was added along with pseudo bike lanes. Yet the business climate has suffered.

    As far as the report is concerned, there are way to many variables for it to determine anything. It acknowledges the potential of the proximity to U of T to bias the data on a numerical scale yet ignores the bias in demographics. Without a direct comparison there is little information of value in the report. In the end, the report did little more than repackage opinions and assumptions and passed them off as something more.

  15. ^Spadina LRT coincided with the shrinking of inner-city Chinatown’s in Toronto, likely the real factor.

  16. I think this study is a great first step – although, I think more studies should be done in other areas of the city to actually prove that this isn’t an area specific phenomenon. The problem being – the annex is full of UT students, who are more likely to walk, simply because of there location, income, and lifestyle. I think this study would be a hard sell to merchants in areas that aren’t already pedestrian oriented, or perceived to be pedestrian oriented.

  17. GLEN: The businesses only suffered through the construction. The others that suffered were crappy businesses that probably had no business being in business (holy mouthful). If you can’t survive in one of the most vibrant strips, with the combo of LRT and wide pedestrian realm, than you have a done a poor job of locating your business.

    The 5 or 6 businesses I know along this strip say business was great until recently. To say businesses have suffered is quite ignorant: you only have to look at how many businesses have moved into the area, especially south of Dundas. The LRT has allowed businesses to relocate to the neighbourhood knowing their employees can get there reliably.

    While you might be correct that the study is not scientific, but the people who matter most in this study — the businesses — are the ones with the opinions. They are the ones saying it will improve business and they are open to making the streetscape better. I’m not sure how you can deny the removal of a handful of parking spots, which will allow hundreds more pedestrians to use this strip, to be a substantially improvement to the public realm. That doesn’t need to be scientific, that’s just common sense.

  18. Brent and Parkdalian, it’s a good thing you two weren’t in charge of this study with your highly skewed methodology. Great that you don’t drive all the time but there’s no way the annual costs of insurance, maintenance, parking and gas are lower than a year’s worth of metropasses. Factor in your car loan or puchase price over the timespan you own it and you’re miles behind. If you want to play it your way compare two TTC tokens for a round trip to your selective auto trip cost analysis.

    And sorry, Brent but “….and we’re assuming the car is insured anyway.” is just delusional but many motorists are like that when it comes to the true costs. Just be real okay?

  19. I’m beginning to find it frustrating how a mostly thoughtful series of comments (even if I don’t agree with them all) can start to degenerate into name-calling. It spoils a good conversation.

    If people disagree with a comment, please provide evidence – either numbers or personal experience – for why you think they’re wrong. If you don’t have evidence, then just say you disagree without disparaging the other person.

    This doesn’t just apply to this, mostly interesting, comment series (and thanks for all the interesting comments), but to all comments on the blog.

  20. The methodology of this study is based on established social-science methods. Obviously, given limited resources, it can’t be perfect, and the study notes some of its own limitations. But it’s a necessary start. Other studies will build on it.

  21. Vicky,

    I know many store owners on Spadina. North of Dundas looks like a time capsule. The changes south of Queen are better attributed to the addition of residents as opposed to the removal of parking.

    Insofar as the notion of opinion = fact, again, no. Consensus does not equal fact. It is a common misconception, even the medical community falls victim to it.

  22. Yes, north of Dundas is a time capsule. I’m a rather progressive person, but I also believe in the market being able to lift or destroy a business. If the business can’t survive in such a friendly environment as Spadina than it needs to find a better location. Business on Bloor is good since the strip caters to the needs of those who use it. Adding wide sidewalks and bike lanes will make it more attractive. yes, there is no fact it will improve, but I think most would agree that an environment that is attractive, business can only get better.

    And, I would suggest that the removal of parking on Bloor makes a lot of sense: just like Yonge, there is no need to have parking above ground since there is such a viable alternative right underneath the street. Adding in bike lanes will go a long way to balancing the transportation demands o that corridor. I know I would use Bloor, like, all the time if it had bike lanes. I only use it on bike when I truly need to (or I’m feeling I want the challenge of NOT getting run off the road).

  23. Glen makes one of those strange arguments that seem to come from the position of the free market, but then make excuses why bad businesses do not thrive. The sidewalks north of Dundas are often crowded — the people are there. The LRT is often full, I’m on it, a lot.

    What new people are he talking about south of Dundas? Condoland? Seems a stretch to attribute that to SODUN while making stretches on why NODUN is “time capsule”.

  24. Boris: If you don’t like what i do for commuting during the year(*or if mathematicly it doesn’t “compute”) KEEP IT TO YOURSELF! No one wants to hear about it man, grow up.

    Like Dylan mentions above, i’m not going to skew this important discussion, which it’s on sidewalks and bike lanes by the way, to a whole other discussion(*my car) How is it your business anyway?

  25. Boris — I don’t see how insurance being a pre-assumption is unusual or unrealistic in this context — i.e., deciding how to make short trips to a local commercial strip.

    If you don’t already have a car or otherwise need to have one, obviously you’re not going to buy one just for that purpose, which I think the study reflects. If you already have a car for some other purpose (whether work, family, whatever), it has to be insured anyway, so when you make your decision whether to drive to the local strip or not, insurance has nothing to do with it. It’s a predetermined fee I’m already paying that will not change if I decide I want to make a trip to Queen Street (or to Barrie or wherever).

    We are assuming that the car is already available and the question is whether you use it for a short trip or whether you use an alternate mode. On a short trip of that nature, there are lots more constraints than insurance and even gas (at current prices I get about 5c per km on a moderately fuel-efficient car). The biggest one is parking … both the time and challenge of finding a parking spot, and then the fee to pay for it, which is most likely to be significantly higher than the other incremental auto costs combined (I think it’s around $2-$2.50/h to park on Queen St. E.).

  26. The city makes money from street parking. You think they’ll give that up for cyclists’ safety, or a better pedestrian environment?

  27. Parkdalian, it’s not a matter of whether or not anyone likes or dislikes your individual travel modes. You are not that important. You made a point which was highly fallacious – that driving is cheaper than other modes.

    Anyway you slice it, per km or per time unit, it is more expensive to drive. If you cannot bear to face that fact or debate it rationally then YOU need to take your own advice to grow up or shut up. This is an open forum.

  28. jamesmallon wrote: “The city makes money from street parking. You think they’ll give that up for cyclists’ safety, or a better pedestrian environment?”

    Yes I do.

    There is a receptive city councillor, a possibly receptive residents association, and receptive businesses.

    You may be eternally cynical about the City but good stuff does happen. The TPA is making other parking lots in the city so losing 30 or 40 on Bloor is easy to make up somewhere else.

    To Parkdalian, Boris and Brent: we’ll no longer approve your comments on this topic if it continues to be a personal conversation between the three of you. No offense, but its ranged so far off topic that its beginning to detract from the initial post.

  29. Matthew, if you want to act as censor give your government grant back.

    If responding to absurd financial assertions that various auto-related expenses don’t count for one reason or another is verboten (on Spacing of all sites!) then it’s no wonder the world is going into an economic tailspin. GroupThink is dangerous.

    As for wider sidewalks and bike paths on Bloor – fabuf*ckingtastalicious!

  30. Boris: read our comment policy. You agree to it each time you comment. Your discussion is totally off-topic now and has nothing to do with GroupThink. Its about respecting the fact that others get put off by personality-dominated discussions. We get emails about it from readers. Lots of emails.

    All we want is to keep the conversation on topic and allow for an inclusive discussion. We’re now at the point where there is 12 of 29 comments just from you three that has gone way off-topic. Your back-and-forth veered away from the study or Bloor street long ago. You’ll have many other opportunities to debate driving habits and the merits of its cost.

    But I’m glad you like wide sidewalks and bike lanes.

  31. Vicky,

    You agree that Spadina north of Dundas is stagnant (time capsule). Yet you also support the findings of the report and that they would translate elsewhere. What I am saying is that, at least in the case of Spadina, that is presumptuous. If removing parking and adding bike lanes makes an area more attractive for the general public then rents would rise and their would be a commercial gentrification. Like that we have seen on Queen West or Yorkville in years past. The fact that it did not, despite the addition of the bike lanes and removal of parking suggest that the benefits of such are not globally applicable. Furthermore it may mean that the reverse is also true for areas of different demographics and needs.

    Of course in Toronto we always have the confounding variable of having among the highest commercial property tax in the world.

  32. Even if this study is biased and incomplete, it doesn’t matter. Just open your eyes and use some common sense:

    No one goes shopping in their car and expecting to find an empty parking spot on Bloor St. Such spots would only be available, say before 7am, or after 10pm – and by that time all the stores are closed. If your plan is to shop in the area, it’s a given that your best bet is to head straight for Green P, or trawl the sidestreets. Bike lanes along Bloor wouldn’t frustrate shopping motorists, because they don’t expect to park there anyway. Maybe St. Clair merchants have a different case, but I say for the Bloor Bikespressway.

  33. I meant “I say YAY for the Bloor Bikespressway” Doh.

  34. Matthew Blacket wrote:

    There is a receptive city councillor, a possibly receptive residents association, and receptive businesses.

    I know that I wrote this before, but I don’t think that this is true.

    There was a public consultation for redesigning Bloor through the Annex a while back which I attended. There did seem to be a fair bit of support for bike lanes, but there was also a vocal contingent against the idea. Councillor Vaughan (who I think is a timocrat) rejected the idea and actually raised his voice at a woman who was advocating for bike lanes.

    I was turned off and didn’t attend any more meetings. This was a while back as I said; maybe there are developments I am not aware of.

  35. Matthew, I “may be eternally cynical about the City but good stuff does happen.” It happens at a pace that makes me cynical. I am 39. We had the same transit (bar one more useless line), and other infrastructure when I was a child. We’ve lost a generation, and will never catch up. Love to be wrong, but won’t be.

  36. Jamesmallon> Then do something. Get involved — when you’re involved you can get frustrated, sure, but you don’t sit in your armchair and throw cynicism around. How is that helpful?

    Being involved does not mean everything changes, but you get to see that change is incremental – and the more people involved, the quicker that incremental change comes.

    Your street parking comment above – it’s ridiculous because the city has in fact removed on street parking in many places. It’s a fact, but your cynical POV requires you say a lie.

    So work for change, if in fact you want change — otherwise I’ll assume you simply enjoy the cynicism, and will fall back on the usual excuses as to why that’s the better position. Nobody finds that interesting but you.

  37. Ben> What’s a “timocrat”? How is Vaughan one? Never heard that before.

  38. A timocrat is someone who believes in governance by land owners. To me, he seems to care a lot more about what home owners opinions than those of apartment dwellers. IMHO.

  39. Yes, this is a useful study, building on the work of such groups like TaketheTooker.
    It’s also only possible because of the mammoth subway that provides huge amounts of access without a car. And sometimes there’s even car parking atop it.
    Mr. Vaughan has become more supportive of the Bloor bike lane initiatives, and the City’s study of the long bikeway from Royal York to Victoria Park is now overdue, but should be emerging sometime this spring.
    And the Bloor segment in the Annex has a lot of bike traffic even in the winter, though it’s declined.
    Of course there are other European studies about the economic benefits of bike safety/provision, but it’s good to have a Canadian/TO example.
    We still need to watch for the Bloor Revisioning project – we could do a repainting without a rebuild.

  40. One reason a business may move out of a good area is the rent is being increased too high. To save on the rent, they either decrease the sales staff, try to decrease the floor space, promotions to customers, or they move to a place with lower rent.
    With the economy being in recession, there will be a lot of businesses moving to a place with lower rent, if they can.

  41. The idea that parking brings customers is one from the 1960s. Like when malls didn’t want to associate with any form of public transit.
    As a business case, I’ve always thought there were more people walking by shops, where they can see what’s on display, than there were those driving by slow enough to know what the shop is. Or those fiinding a parking space and walkinginto the store. People don’t shop downtown for convinenace. They do so for the atmosphere. Otherwise, they could buy that new T-shirt at the mall near their house.

  42. Finally, common sense prevails. We’ve know this connection between bike lanes and better commerce for decades in Europe. Glad to see it’s being imported.